Saturday, June 21, 2014

The words below are my response to a John Henry Bell, Jr.'s blog attempting to shed more accurate light on the smoke and headlines emanating from the Presbyterian Church's vote this week to divest from 3 American companies because of their role in supporting Israeli policies on the West Bank which they (justifiably, if not 100% accurately) find morally troubling.

His blog can be found at:

and should be read in their totality to fully understand my words below.

I was impressed by his sincerity, his apparent passion for peace and understanding, and the clarity of his writing.  My response was made, in kind, in the hopes of bridging the self-created obstacles towards continued partnership, dialogue, and working for common goals that this vote must inevitably create between Presbyterians and Jews, to help him and others try to similarly understand the places where his words do not fully recognize the issues that I, and many of you, my readers, have in the PCUSA's action.

My tone is muted, and my focus limited to his words, in contrast to the powerful response of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), issued after I originally posted.  That statement can (and should) be read here:

In addition, I also highly recommend the printed statement of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), distributed in advance of his speech to the PCUSA assembly:

I shared there, and here, in the hopes of continuing a discussion that many may now be pressured to end, at least temporarily -- a critically important partnership between partners that have a great many common agenda items.  As always, I invite response.


I thank you for your attempt to clarify, against the sound bite mentality of our modern day, the actions you believe were taken at the PCUSA gathering this week.  I also thank you for you passion -- both to your faith, and to the truth, as well as to the effort to bring true and lasting peace to Israel and the Palestinians.

I do not know you -- so I do not even know if I should be addressing you by a particular title… I came to your post because of the response to it from my colleague, Rabbi Joe Black.  So the above comments are based upon my reading of your words here.

In the interest of a shared desire to work together towards peace, in the spirit of shared mission that Rabbi Black shared in his blog on this subject, I must speak to a couple of specific points as a Rabbi.  First, your failure to mention at all the continued presence on the PCUSA website of the anti-Israeli and factually untenable screed that your own votes disavowed this week, and the role that it played in influencing opinion on this matter is an unfortunate oversight.  The continued influence of this blatantly biased propaganda severely undermines the power of your own words, and those of the resolution, of support for the State of Israel, words which I dearly want to believe, and DO see played out in my own relationships with our local Presbyterian church's clergy and laity.  At best, this appears to be a deliberate effort on the part of the framers of the resolution to have it both ways on the issue -- a position which is NOT in the best interest of sincere efforts towards peace, but rather a calculation to get a resolution passed.  I hope I am wrong -- but the "eye test" on this leaves me little other choice of interpretations.

Second, the deliberately featured involvement at the conference of a fringe group of Jews, who represent only their minority extreme viewpoint, whose funding is shadowy and suspect, whose Jewish support for their position in favor of BDS is hardly mainstream, cherry-picked by the same long-standing anti-Israel wing of your movement responsible for the flawed, inaccurate "study guide" in order to give Jewish credence to their positions is an affront, and a serious obstacle to continued good-faith efforts in dialogue and partnership in these and the many other areas of common cause between our movements.  The absence in your words of any recognition of the internal politics, or the role played by this group in such a close vote, much less a repudiation of the same, does nothing to overcome that newly created obstacle.

Third, I appreciate your attempt -- both in your own words, and in those of the resolution -- to distance your vote to divest from American companies from support for the global BDS movement, which has, as its clear goal, the delegitimization of the State of Israel in the court of public opinion, by convincing organizations like yours to put economic pressure on Israel.  However, emphasizing that you were only acting to divest from American corporations in this resolution is disingenuous at best, and will be lost on the majority of those who hear of your action, because your reason for doing so is an objection, however morally based, to their perceived role in supporting Israeli settlement policy to which you object.  Further, your decision ignores, in particular, the efforts taken by Caterpillar to work FOR the same peaceful, two-state solution I join you in supporting.  But most dangerously, in the spun bite environment you rightly express concern for as your reason for writing this blog, I assure you that the leadership of the BDS movement is already trumpeting their victory as seen in your vote!  They have every right to do so, now that you have placed your vote into the public discussion -- and their doing so will only weaken your ability to act as agents in bringing the peace we all seek to bring.

And that would be true even if the language of the portion of the resolution which allegedly rejects such a connection were clearly and unambiguously written.  The vague language, and use of an obfuscating double negative in the last sentence of that resolution point have created a text whose meaning is virtually unintelligible.  If the version you have included is the correct actual text, your movement has not disavowed anything in those words.  If it is not, please do yourself, and the rest of us, the service of correcting what the text actually says, hopefully in favor of clarity of language that matched the moral clarity you seek to assert.  As currently shared, your contention is not matched by the evidence you provide.

I thank you for this opportunity to organize and put into writing my disappointment at the outcome of this vote, alongside my desire to continue to work together with my Presbyterian friends and colleagues to improve our world and bring peace to the Middle East.  I hope you can understand the concerns of the Jewish community better from my sharing, as I believe I better understand both the sincere desires of the majority of your movement, and the real issues moving forward.

It is my intent to post this response to you on my own blog, and for the sake of better understanding for my readers, I will be posting a link to your blog as well.  I hope I cause no offense or problem for you in doing so.  And most of all, I wish you peace.