The RP: Presbyterians — Help Prevent Injustice Against Israel

Were you aware that this coming week, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will be taking a critical vote to divest from companies that do business in Israel?

Many of my Presbyterian friends and family were not aware, and they strongly oppose such action.

Please read my piece in today’s Huffington Post, and if you are moved to take action, I urge you to do so before the weekend’s convention:

On June 30, the biennial General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will consider the church’s divestment from three American companies because of their sales to Israel.  This misguided, ineffectual proposal would have only one meaningful ramification — It would seriously deepen a growing chasm with one of the church’s strongest allies on nearly every issue of social justice:  the Jewish people.


Although I am a devout Jew, I have always enjoyed a special kinship with the Presbyterian Church.  My paternal cousins, though intermarriage, are active Presbyterians, and I have been proud to celebrate a lifetime of life cycle events at their church.  As a child, when my small synagogue in Lexington, Kentucky could not field a basketball team, I played point guard for First Presbyterian; and as a requirement of my team membership, I attended church at least once a year.  And with Presbyterian Church (USA)’s headquarters in nearby Louisville, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with several of its national leaders in my former roles as Kentucky’s State Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer.

I learned from these experiences about the wide spectrum of values shared by Jews and Presbyterians.  First and foremost is a passion for social justice — whether our inspiration comes from the Hebrew Prophets or the Gospels of Jesus, one of our most sacred missions is to serve the poor, promote the rights of the disenfranchised, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It’s no wonder that over the past several decades, Jews and Presbyterians have walked arm in arm in efforts to establish equal rights for women, African-Americans, and gays and lesbians; to battle callous government policies that exacerbate income inequality; and to promote peace throughout the world.

A serious cleavage in the interfaith relationship emerged, however, upon passage of a policy by the 2004 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a “phased, selective” divestment of Israel.  After strong protest by Jewish groups — as well as many Presbyterian parishioners — the 2006 General Assembly reversed course, calling for “corporate engagement” to promote peaceful solutions in the Middle East.

This February, however, citing the failure of corporate engagement to produce results, the church’s General Assembly Mission Council recommended that the church divest its stock from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard “until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”  The church will consider this resolution at its 220th General Assembly meeting that begins June 30 in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, the church’s proposed actions have little grounding in reality.  Caterpillar, for example, does not actually sell equipment to Israel; it sells tractors to the U.S. government which then transfers them to about 150 countries around the globe, including Israel.  To address the church’s objectives, Caterpillar would have to refuse to sell bulldozers to its own government, a move that would level a devastating,, if not existential blow to the company, its shareholders, and its thousands of U.S. employees.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard is charged with selling “hardware to the Israeli Navy that is used for its operational communications, logistics and planning including the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.”  Yet, as an official report of the notoriously anti-Israel-leaning United Nations declared in 2011, the blockade was manifestly legal and instituted for the very purposes of upholding the peace: “Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza…The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

Click here to read myfull column at The Huffington Post.


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