Amid concerns raised by church justice advocates, United Methodist Church Pensions
sells all stocks in G4S, a supplier of security services and equipment for Israeli prisons, settlements, checkpoints and Separation Wall.
Los Angeles – The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) of The United Methodist Church, which manages an investment portfolio of over $20 billion, has instructed its investment manager to sell immediately all shares in G4S, due in part to concerns about the company’s involvement in human rights violations in the Israeli prison system and the military occupation of Palestinian territories.
According to David Wildman, United Methodist Executive Secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice at the General Board of Global Ministries, “This is the first time that a United Methodist general agency has included human rights violations related to Israel’s illegal settlements and military occupation in a decision to divest from a company. We celebrate this strong human rights message both to G4S specifically and to other companies whose business operations support longstanding human rights abuses against Palestinians.”
In addition, the church agency has placed a moratorium on any future purchases of G4S, the world’s largest security company with operations in over 120 countries, until a new investment screen is implemented that addresses human rights violations such as those by the Israeli Defense Forces against Palestinians.
A top executive of GBPHB contacted United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) leaders this week about the sale of G4S stocks, informing them that this decision was due in large part to the serious concerns about G4S activities raised by United Methodists seeking a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
UMKR, a church-wide advocacy movement focused on Israel-Palestine issues, has raised questions within the church for several years about companies in the denomination’s investment portfolio, including G4S, that are involved in the Israeli occupation. “We greatly appreciate the news and we commend the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for taking this groundbreaking action to address the concerns of many United Methodists about human rights violations in Israel and the occupied territories,” said Rev. John Wagner, UMKR Convener and a church pastor in Ohio.
G4S contracts with the Israeli Prison Service to provide management of security systems at prisons within Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. According to Amnesty International, B’Tselem an Israeli human rights organization, and Defence for Children International-Palestine, Palestinians held in these prisons, including hundreds of child detainees, are routinely subjected to abuse and torture. G4S also provides equipment and services for Israeli settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank and for the Separation Wall, constructed in violation of international law in Palestinian territory.
Last month, under mounting pressure from an international advocacy campaign, the Gates Foundation also made a decision to sell its holdings in G4S.
UMKR welcomes the church’s landmark divestment action as part of a larger and long-term process in which United Methodists seek to address human rights issues, including the 47-year-old Israeli occupation, more comprehensively in the denomination’s investment decisions.
For more information visit UMKR’s website at www.kairosresponse.org or contact:
M. Theresa Basile: email@example.com, 323-253-9087
Rev. John Wagner, Convener, United Methodist Kairos Response: firstname.lastname@example.org, 937-269-1661
David Wildman, Executive Secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice, General Board of Global Ministries, UMC: email@example.com, 212-870-3735
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Presbyterian Church to vote on divestment from companies that profit from Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Jewish leaders support growing movement to divest from Israeli occupation.
[June 5, 2014. New York] At its biennial General Assembly, June 14th to the 21st in Detroit, the 1.7 million-member Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) will consider proposals to divest church funds from three companies that profit from operations in occupied Palestinian territory— Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. If passed, the divestiture would be the largest church divestment in the United States to date regarding Israeli occupation and settlement of Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace, which is sending a delegation of young Jews and Rabbis to the General Assembly at the invitation of Presbyterians pushing for divestment, released this statement from their Rabbinical Council, “Every day Jewish leaders – we among them – are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and the daily harassment against Palestinians. Members of our Jewish communities are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of principled, targeted divestment efforts such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) is preparing to undertake.”
At the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly, a similar divestment proposal failed by only two votes. A boycott of settlement goods was approved instead. Since that time, numerous institutions have embraced divestment as a way to pressure Israel to end its occupation including: student governments at 5 out of 9 University of California campuses; numerous European banks; and the Dutch firm PGGM, one of the largest pension funds in the world.
“A religious community that proclaims justice and peace as its primary mission cannot accept funds from corporations that help maintain the vast system of repression used to occupy Palestinian land and harm Palestinian society,” says Interfaith Partners in Action (IPA), a multi-faith coalition that includes Jewish Voice for Peace members, in “support of the Presbyterian Church in its quest to align its prophetic principles with actions that support the end of Israeli Occupation”, according to a petition IPA is circulating online, with nearly 10,000 signatures.
After a ten-year failed corporate engagement strategy, PCUSA’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment, the church body in charge of socially responsible investments, recommends full divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, who profit from the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the creation of a segregated biometric ID system, and the provision of surveillance services to illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land, respectively.
This year, in addition to divestment, the church will consider a proposal calling for a boycott of all Hewlett-Packard products.
About Jewish Voice for Peace www.jvp.org
Jewish Voice for Peace has over 130,000 online supporters, 40 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Cabinet, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.
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With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, the liberal lobby is fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right. Next stop: the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly.
What is J Street doing? Why is it acting in concert with right-wing Zionist organizations like AIPAC and StandWithUs in fighting against boycott, sanctions and divestment, while offering no alternative of its own for ending the occupation?
Because the truth is that J Street offers no alternative anymore; now that the Kerry talks have failed, and all the secretary of state has to show for them is a footprint on his pants seat courtesy of the Netanyahu government, America is through trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And everybody seems to acknowledge this except J Street. Which is not a surprise, because without America in the peace process, J Street’s reason for being is gone.
That’s tough; the organization is going to have to change or close shop. And I hope it does change successfully by finding a new way to advance the two-state solution. Moreover, I hope it finds a less antagonistic way than BDS to accomplish this. And if it does find such a way, I will join J Street in a minute, because as an Israeli I don’t particularly enjoy supporting the boycott of Israel – but I do it because I see no other way anymore to end the occupation and allow the two-state solution to come into being. And nobody else has come up with another way, either. So as far as anyone can see, it’s either BDS or occupation forever.
Yet J Street, by default, has thrown in on the side of occupation forever. With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, it’s fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right.
Its Seattle branch just joined with AIPAC, StandWithUs, the Jewish Agency and Hillel (the last is not a right-wing organization; the first three are) to defeat a BDS motion before the University of Washington’s student government. Not only that, its Seattle branch wrote on its Facebook page that “global BDS is an ineffective, and worse, anti-Semitic, movement.”
Anti-Semitic? Is Jewish Voice for Peace anti-Semitic? Is Stephen Hawking anti-Semitic? Is the European Union anti-Semitic? That’s slander. That’s not liberal Zionism, that’s McCarthyite Zionism. What’s gotten into these people?
And now it’s moving on to the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly in Detroit, June 14-21. There it will argue against a motion for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola, whose bulldozers, segregated biometric ID system and surveillance services, respectively, are used by Israel in its military dictatorship over the Palestinians in the West Bank.
J Street was instrumental in beating back the same motion in 2012, when it failed before the church’s General Assembly by a vote of 333-331. But that was then. Then it was possible to argue (although I’d already stopped) that there was still hope the United States would pressure Israel into making peace. Then it was still at least reasonable for J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami to tell the Presbyterian Church: “Reject divestment, and embrace full-on pursuit of the diplomatic efforts necessary to create genuine and lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinian people.”
But now? What argument can an anti-occupation movement make to the Presbyterian Church in June 2014 about why it should not divest from Caterpillar’s bulldozers, Hewlett-Packard’s ID system for Palestinians, and Motorola’s surveillance machines? Because it would interfere with U.S. diplomacy in the Mideast? Because it would harden the Netanyahu government’s stance in the peace talks?
From an anti-occupation perspective, what is there to lose by a Presbyterian Church vote for divestment? Nothing. But what is there to gain? A blow against injustice, the kind that has been scaring the Netanyahu government and Israel lobby like nothing else – certainly not the Obama administration – which is a very good sign that the BDS campaign is on to something.
This time around, J Street will again be joined in the opposition by at least one right-wing Zionist organization: NGO Monitor, headed by one of the world’s leading McCarthyite Zionists, Gerald Steinberg. A friend of mine was at a talk he gave late last month and said Steinberg was going on about how “he spends time working with the Presbyterians documenting why divestment represents classic elements of anti-Semitism.” Great stuff.
But this is the sort of company J Street keeps these days in the only meaningful action it’s involved in anymore: fighting BDS. With no peace process left, the organization has inadvertently gone from being “pro-Israel, pro-peace” to “pro-Israel, pro-occupation.” I know that’s not what J Street wants to be, but that’s effectively what it’s become by offering no path to peace while opposing the one way that still shows any prospect of success.
If J Street still wants to help heal Israel and Palestine, and I have no doubt it does, let it act like a healer and remember the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm.
This article appeared originally (with minor style changes) in The Jewish Daily Forward on June 9.
Dear friends in the Presbyterian Church (USA),
I am an Israeli Jew living in Tel Aviv. I will not be able to be present with you in Detroit this coming week. I volunteer my opinion with the hope that it may be of assistance to you as you make difficult decisions. I wanted to tell you that your church’s divesting would be a much-welcomed help for us Israelis and Palestinians struggling here for justice and peace. It would send a clear signal that the church does not approve of the ongoing Israeli occupation. I believe that such a signal would be heard by Israeli policy-makers and, most importantly, by Palestinians who have been forced to live under a nearly 50-year-old occupation that denies them their basic rights.
Unlike what you might have heard, opposition to settlements is very prevalent in Israel. Like me, many other Israelis would welcome divestment from companies involved in the occupation. Those who would oppose this most principled resolution in the name of Israel or even in the name of Jews have no right to do so. They do not represent me and they misrepresent the nature of this resolution.
Some of them are attempting to counter this campaign for justice and equality by claiming that we need reconciliation, not divestment. But, as was the case with South African reconciliation efforts, these can only succeed once the peoples are free to engage as equals. They are futile amidst a system that places one population in control of the other. Once the systems of discrimination and destruction are no longer in place, the door opens to genuine coexistence. Divestment helps to open that door.
Today, Palestinians’ land is continually stolen and their rights denied, and Israelis suffer too by being condemned to perpetual conflict. Please make your church a leader in setting moral standards — not simply by issuing statements but in actually refusing to profit financially from the occupation. We will be with you in spirit as you deliberate in Detroit. Please remember our voices and have no fear in following your conscience.
Tel Aviv, Israel
I am writing this letter on behalf of a group of Americans of Palestinian Christian heritage, the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace. We feel deeply indebted to the Presbyterian advocates for the divestment overture, and we urge all Presbyterians to support it. Palestinian Christians, like the rest of Palestinian civil society, overwhelmingly support the use of economic measures to pressure Israel to end its oppressive occupation that has lasted 47 years.
Young Adult Delegation to Israel-Palestine Confirms Call for GA Divestment
As part of its larger Endowment Campaign, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has launched an Occupation-Free Fund for donors who do not want to invest in companies that enable or benefit from the Occupation of Palestinian Territories by the State of Israel. On May 28, 2014, the Fellowship’s new Occupation-Free Fund reached $150,000. Celebrating its 70th year in 2014, the Peace Fellowship is a national community of Presbyterians who follow the nonviolence of Jesus Christ by working to reduce war and violence in the world.
“The Occupation-Free Fund takes our social investment screen to a new level,” said Rick Ufford-Chase, Executive Director for the Peace Fellowship. “In addition to non-investment in Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions, which are under consideration for General Assembly divestment, we worked hard to identify a partner who could assure our donors that our screen would also limit a larger range of other companies that support and profit from the Occupation.”
The new Occupation-Free Fund is managed by Just Money Advisors of Louisville, KY. The majority of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Endowment Fund is managed by the New Covenant Trust Company at the Presbyterian Foundation. Total funds under investment have surpassed $550,000, with a goal of $700,000 by 12/31/14, in celebration of the Peace Fellowship’s 70th anniversary. An additional goal of 70 legacy gift commitments currently stands at 45 planned gifts through wills, bequests or other vehicles for long-term giving through the Presbyterian Foundation.
In January 2014, the Peace Fellowship’s first Young Adult Delegation to Israel-Palestine met with Palestinian American businessman Sam Bahour, who talked about the importance of a dual strategy for investors who are concerned about peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. A strategy of investment in Palestinian-owned businesses provides potential jobs to Palestinians, and supports them to resist the Occupation simply by helping them to remain rooted in their communities.
Then Bahour firmly lauded Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a powerful, nonviolent strategy to pressure the State of Israel to actively dismantle the Occupation. The group also met Israeli citizens working to end the Occupation and with Omar Barghouti, a leader in the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, who called on the Presbyterian Church to divest itself of stock in companies that support or benefit from the Occupation. “What we are asking for is hardly heroic,” Barghouti said. “We just want your church to stop paying our oppressors to oppress us.”
After meetings and reflection experiences with Israeli Jews, Palestinians Christians, Israeli Palestinians and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the 28 member PPF delegation voted unanimously to support the Mission Responsibility through Investment call for General Assembly divestment from three corporations that strategically enable the Occupation.
“This plea from our inter-faith partners in the Middle East is what we are responding to with the Occupation-Free Fund,” said Ufford-Chase. “At the same time, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship will do everything that we can to encourage the upcoming General Assembly to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions so that the witness of the whole Presbyterian Church stands for an end to the Occupation.”
The Occupation-Free Fund brought renewed enthusiasm to the endowment campaign which was suspended during the recession years and re-started in 2013. “This fulfills a long-held dream,” said PPF National Committee member Jan Orr-Harter, Chair of the Endowment Fund Investment Committee. “This is a way that Presbyterians who are committed to nonviolence can leave a legacy to continue the work of peacemaking in future generations.” Noted Presbyterian poets J. Barrie Shepherd and Ann Weems serve as PPF Endowment Campaign Honorary Co-Chairs.
At the June 18, 2014 Peace Breakfast, held in conjunction with the 221st meeting of the PC(USA) General Assembly in Detroit, MI, Barrie Shepherd will lead the presentation of an oversize check for approximately $25,000 from an older generation of Peace Fellowship members to the emerging young adult constituency who will carry the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship witness into the future. The check represents the first use of endowment income for the 2014 operating budget of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. These funds will help support the Colombia Accompaniment Program, education and action to reduce gun violence and other work of the PPF, including efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear and conventional war.
For more information on the Occupation-Free Fund or the Young Adult Delegation to Israel-Palestine, contact Rick Ufford-Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on making a cash or stock gift or a planned legacy gift to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Endowment/Occupation-Free Fund, contact Jan Orr-Harter, 817-291-3952 or JanOH4@aol.com. Donate here.
May 28, 2014
Dear Presbyterian Friends, Colleagues and Community,
This is a response to a letter from Rev. Joanna M. Adams, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and the church session.
We are Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) members in Atlanta who have been working with Presbyterians to support efforts for divestment and boycott from US corporations benefiting from the Israeli military occupation. On behalf of JVP Atlanta and our membership, we wish to make a statement supporting divestiture and boycott of selected U.S. corporations because these corporations support the occupation of Palestine.
We all have a higher calling to follow G-d’s word to not oppress the stranger. We believe the divestiture and boycott follow Micah’s words (6:8) of “do(ing) justice” and the words of Leviticus (19:18) V’ahavta L’re’echa Kamocha’, Love your neighbor as yourself; every neighbor is worthy of love and compassion.
US citizens are obligated to ask US corporations to be accountable for their actions
Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard have been selected for boycott and divestiture because they have chosen to profit from Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and from the Israeli settlements. Boycotts are a personal, nonviolent way to show our displeasure with that behavior and to say “not with my money.” It is not a way to advocate for one side against the other. Boycott and divestiture is a “third way,” as it sends the message, nonviolently, that companies that support oppression of civilians living in Palestine are not to be valued by Presbyterians in the US.
Many Jews understand, from their long history of oppression by their neighbors who had superior military forces, that those who stand by and say nothing are supporting the idea that “Might Makes Right.” The US corporations who have been selected for boycotting and divestiture are supplying the tools used by the government of Israel that support the military occupation of Palestine. Supporting boycott and divestiture will create a more positive means of addressing the occupation and send a message that as US citizens we do not support US companies’ ongoing involvement and support for the occupation for corporate benefit.
Focusing on particular US companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola, that continue to profit from the Israeli occupation, is one clear way we can stand on the side of justice rather than silently agreeing with the status quo of occupation that continues to make a lasting and harmful impact on Palestinian and Israeli lives. Because it is specifically focusing on US companies, it gives us an opportunity as US citizens to follow our conscience and promote US leadership for justice and peace rather than ongoing Israeli military occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
How will the relationships between Presbyterians and Jewish people be affected if we support boycott and divestiture from US corporations?
Sometimes as friends we have to challenge one another to become the best people we can be. If we remain silent about issues that may disrupt the status quo, then we are not fully honoring the authentic relationships we have built. To put it more simply: “ friends don’t let friends drive drunk” because we care too much about one another to do nothing.
It is important to note that there are Jewish Israelis who have asked us, as U.S. Jews, Christians and others, to support Boycott and Divestment as a nonviolent strategy to pressure the state of Israel to end the ongoing oppression of Palestinians through human rights violations and different forms of violence. The Jewish Israelis who have heeded this call are doing it at great risk of being targeted by the Israeli government and society by vocalizing this support, and of alienation because they are speaking truth to power. Their call for allies in the United States and around the world is specifically to address the injustices they see toward Palestinians; it comes from their desire for a genuine just peace with Palestinians and for a state that acts ethically toward all people.
Silencing the inevitable support for the movement to boycott and divest from US companies that benefit from the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine only serves to alienate ourselves from Jews of conscience, Palestinians and others in the US and around the world who already understand that a 47 year occupation has been ineffective in bringing peace and must end.
Genuine relationships challenge and help all of us grow to be better people; taking risks for justice is imperative
The strangling status quo of military occupation will continue as long as the true and honest friends of Israel and of Jewish people are silent and inactive. While we acknowledge the patient, loving and forthright bridge building which has been occurring between First Presbyterian and The Temple or between other Presbyterian Churches and Synagogues, we also have to speak out when there is indifference and silence to ongoing suffering. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked by the Jewish and Christian religious leaders from Birmingham to be ‘patient’ he responded with the imperative that we have waited too long…”It is always the right time to do the right thing.” The Palestinians have also waited too long; many strategies have been tried over a long period of time to end the occupation. We believe the time for pressure in the form of divestiture and boycott is now because there comes a time when one must “take a stand” as Viktor Frankl wrote.
As Jewish people who also have strong relationships with Presbyterians, Palestinians and Israelis, we feel we have a significant role to play in addressing and helping to end this suffering. Sometimes alienation does come from taking personal risk; however, when one person stands up for rights and justice and others support this, there is also a chance to build real community and to contribute meaningfully to a movement that brings about change to enrich everyone’s lives. Supporting Boycott and Divestment from US corporations benefitting from the status quo under occupation is a call to end suffering and a chance to redeem the strengths of our traditions through meaningful and restorative action.
There are many relationships that have formed between American Jews and Presbyterians who are taking a real stand and speaking out with moral outrage at how the US benefits from the occupation and the occupation’s ongoing impact. This relationship is not based on ‘balancing’ a Jewish voice with a Palestinian voice, but on finding the spaces of justice in which to work that include Palestinians, Israeli Jews and us as Americans, and demanding a more ethical world that is both righteous and a call from our various traditions.
Expectations of Conscience
We expect that some Presbyterians who have been in a dialogue with Jewish community members for a long time might feel anxious about how some of their Jewish counterparts might respond to boycotting and divesting from the US corporations that benefit from the occupation. However, you will also stand more proudly for having spoken in support of ending the injustices of occupation as US citizens. And you will be standing with other Presbyterians, other Jewish people and Palestinians. The anxiety is the moving force of change that gives us the opportunity to work together to reflect on where we can be better in our humanity. Could we go back in time, would we be proud of remaining on the sidelines while the Cherokee, the Black South Africans, or as Niemoller said, the Jews, the Trade Unionists, or the Catholics were being persecuted? Substitute Palestinian for any of those communities. We, as Jewish people in the US, are in support of the Presbyterian overture for Boycotting and Divesting from US corporations that benefit from the occupation. We will stand proudly with you as you speak with a conscience and against oppression.
In response to the Statement Concerning Divestiture and Boycott Adopted by the Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, April 15, 2014:
• The conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinians is one about human rights and land and the desire for Palestinian self-determination rather than remaining a population indefinitely controlled by the Israeli military under occupation. The conflict is not cultural or religious; it is a 47-year military occupation.
• It is not an inability of both Palestinians and Israelis to reach a peaceful solution as equal partners in a conflict (because it is unequal and a situation of occupation), but a decision to prevent Palestinian self-determination since 1948 as archived in Israeli official documents. There have been at least three Arab Peace initiatives to have comprehensive peace with Israel along the 1967 borders which the state of Israel has refused to engage meaningfully as a possibility to have permanent and peaceful borders and neighbors. There are powerful interests that prefer occupation to peace. The US government has been engaged in this for decades.
• There are those in Israel who are determined never to grant the Palestinians independence. Unfortunately, the language of peace has been used as a ploy to fill the West Bank with settlement after settlement until the facts on the ground are such that an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank (and Gaza) is impossible. We must acknowledge that there is no such thing as a gentle occupation –occupation corrodes the humanity of the occupier and makes the occupied vulnerable to brutality.
• Any form of violence is untenable whether it is rockets fired on civilian populations or the everyday systematic control and oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli military and state. Daily violence including imprisonment (Palestinian children who are 9 years old are now being detained), house demolitions, limited movement and military court are just a few examples. It is clear that the massive power that the Israeli state has over Palestinian every day life is a different form of violence. Additionally, the majority of Palestinians have shown a constant commitment to nonviolence to address the violations of their human rights. We are heeding this call and are grateful for their compassion under such oppression and are proud to stand with Israelis and Palestinians who are doing the same.
• Our role to engage this occupation in a meaningful way is not between Jews and Christians—Christians have a history with Jews that will always need specific tending to because of the 1500 years of anti-Semitism. However, the responsibility we have as US citizens is to act ethically rather than stand by as our government continues to support the Israeli occupation of Palestinians. Doing so may risk some alienation but may also create opportunities for people to act in an ethical way rather than profit from occupation. By supporting the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, we allow people to do the right thing by refusing to contribute to ongoing injustice. Refusing BDS is not neutral–it is one sided and a form of advocacy. It is a refusal to be in alliance with Palestinian civil society that called for BDS and with Jews of Conscience in Israel and around the world, including the US. Investment in relationship building must include Palestinian voices and experiences also.
• Recognize that there is no such thing as positive investment in a system of occupation–it actually makes it impossible for the majority of Jews and Palestinians in the region to have a relationship. In order to build bridges, Palestinians have to have the same rights as Israeli Jews. We have to be committed to dismantling the system of oppression; otherwise there is no real way to have friendships, relationships and alliances.
JVP Atlanta would be happy to speak and/or meet with anyone in your communities. We wish you success in the Presbyterian GA in June to pass the resolution for boycott and divestiture from US corporations. We also look forward to working with you and continuing to build meaningful relationships as people of faith and conscience, supporting justice and peace.
In peace and solidarity,
Ilise Cohen, Steven Bell & Free Polazzo
Jewish Voice for Peace-Atlanta
Jewish Voice for Peace submitted this paper to the Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group for inclusion as an attachment to “PCUSA Support for a Just and Peaceful Compromise,” but the Group refused to include it in the final paper, reportedly for fear that other Jewish groups would refuse to participate.
American Muslims for Palestine issued a separate response as well: American Muslim for Palestine’s response to EIWG’s position paper on Palestine/Israel.
We have the greatest respect for the Presbyterian Church-U.S.A. in its deliberative, conscientious process of seeking to serve the cause of reconciliation and peace in Israel and Palestine and elsewhere in the world. An important part of your work over many years has been building relationships with Jewish leaders and institutions in the United States. These relationships are clearly important to the Presbyterian Church and to us as American Jews.
What may be less clear is that, by maintaining an allegiance to certain mainstream Jewish organizations who have traditionally been your dialogue partners, you are — as are these organizations — less and less representative of the actual American Jewish community, which is much broader and more diverse than these organizations. They no longer represent the vision of the Jewish people for its own future, and, by adhering to their political agenda with regards to Israel and Palestine, you will increasingly be viewed as they are: out of touch.
Our organization, JVP, is a national organization comprised of 37 chapters, 140,000 supporters, and over 50,000 “likes” on Facebook. Our members and supporters are from all corners of the Jewish world–secular, traditional, progressive. We are clergy, young people, parents, and professionals. We are growing daily.
The Jewish world is changing fast. We would highlight the fact that a significant percentage of our membership is under 50 years old. The recent Pew study showed that the majority of the younger generation of American Jews does not support the “Israel first and only” positions of the leadership of the mainstream Jewish organizations who guide your position against selective divestment. There is a lively student movement on campuses across the country calling for boycott of settlement products, just as the church has done, and calling for divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, just as the church is now considering.
We within the Jewish community are moved and motivated by the courage of the PCUSA to engage the question of selective divestment of your shared resources from companies that advance the occupation of Palestinians. By taking this step you may lose friends you already know in Jewish communities (though you may also be surprised by how many Jews will be supportive) — but you will gain many other Jewish friends and allies anxious to collaborate with your Church towards a goal we share with all our hearts, on the question of Israel/Palestine and beyond.
Your paper speaks of the complicated nature of the conflict between the State of Israel and Palestinians. No geopolitical conflict is uncomplicated; but fear of engaging complications eliminates all but the most strident and single-agenda actors from being involved. You have clear guidance from Church leaders in Palestine in Kairos Palestine. To thwart the modest and thoughtful next step of MRTI is not to be cautious; it is to actively side with the status quo of occupation and disenfranchisement.
As Jewish leaders ourselves, we are of course sensitive to the charge that Israel is singled out among the countries of the world and held to an unrealistic standard of moral purity. For this reason we feel that the PCUSA — exactly because of its long history of applying consistent standards to the stewardship of its own investments through the years of apartheid in South Africa and with regard to myriad other issues such as tobacco, workers’ rights, and political conflicts in other countries as that in Sudan and Burma– is a credible voice in holding the state of Israel to the same moral standards as it has other governments and private corporations that support their policies. What is being considered here is selective divestment from three American-based multinational corporations. This is distinct from the larger Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions and is a process consistent with PCUSA policies and procedures that have been applied in places of political oppression across the world over many years.
We agree with your statement that the current situation in Israel and Palestine is tragic, that it has real ambiguities and calls for a dose of realism in organizing our own responses. And we strongly agree that the PCUSA, by investing in companies whose products and profit enables this tragedy, has a measure of moral responsibility for the present state of oppression.
Where we disagree is in the steps you recommend to exercise your responsibility. They are necessary but in no way sufficient without supporting selective divestment of your own funds:
“Supporting Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers” means supporting selective divestment at the very least — the most energized and widely supported engine for change in the region;
“Seeking partnership with those working together for a just peace” means partnering with those like ourselves who support these measures;
“Humanizing the other” means hearing the call of those who are tormented daily by HP-engineered surveillance, by Motorola Solutions-empowered checkpoints and by specially-designed Caterpillar tractors;
“Establishing relationships locally” means expanding your partnership within the Jewish, Muslim and broader Christian communities beyond the most conservative forces within these communities;
“Getting information first-hand from those working for just and peaceful reconciliation” means asking your fellow Christians living under occupation today what actions they commend. We believe it means attending with particular care to the call of Kairos Palestine. It also means challenging your present partners in the Jewish community as to how they are advancing (or thwarting) peace and justice in Israel and Palestine;
And finally, we strongly support your call to visit the West Bank and Gaza with Jews and Palestinians. Nothing is more compelling than witnessing first-hand the injuries of occupation. Many of us in JVP have had our hearts broken open and our preconceptions shattered by visiting the West Bank and Gaza and seeing for ourselves how urgently what we saw needs to be healed.
by Sam Jadallah
Silicon Valley, to my mind, is about equality, empowerment and equal access. Consequently, it’s been very disturbing to see technology companies such as Apple and WhatsApp meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while disregarding that his country treats its non-Jewish population like second-class citizens and implements harsh military rule on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Continue reading Netanyahu’s Silicon Valley visit a lost opportunity
Jewish Voice for Peace salutes the open letter from Gradye Parsons, Stated Clark of the General Assembly, where he reiterates the church’s support for a boycott of products manufactured in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. He explains that this action “is a response to a call by Palestinian civil society, as well as many in the Jewish community who are committed to a just peace. Israeli settlements have been built on occupied Palestinian territory and are illegal under international law. They are part of the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land and displacement of Palestinian people, enforced by a system of walls, fences, and military checkpoints. Companies such as Sodastream seek to justify the location of their production facilities on illegally occupied Palestinian land by arguing that it allows them to provide employment for hundreds of Palestinians. The downside of that, of course, is that this arrangement, which may seem beneficial in the short term, actually perpetuates the injustice of the occupation. Our intent is that this use of economic pressure will encourage Sodastream and other companies profiting from the occupation to use their influence to support a genuine peace marked by an end of the occupation and justice for the people they are employing.”
Go here to read the full letter.