I spent time recently in Detroit at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly, where they considered an historic divestment resolution from three American companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. I was there with a delegation of rabbis and young Jews, all members of Jewish Voice for Peace, part of a large multi-faith coalition invited to be present as a witness and support to the Presbyterian process.
After 10 years of deliberation, and an intense week of praying, talking, listening, crying and arguing together, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took the courageous step of acting to divest, despite strong pressure against it.
As anyone watching the debate can attest, this is a church of people seeking to do right. Commissioners were earnestly wrestling with their own prophetic witness, their own moral compass, their own call to act in the face of injustice. Dozens approached me throughout the week, often tearfully, seeking counsel in their careful decision-making process.
While I was impressed with the openness Presbyterians modeled in their inviting outside opinion to their process, I was deeply saddened that the most insistent voices against divestment were from my own community. Why does the mainstream Jewish community insist on fighting divestment instead of the Israeli occupation? Why label the moral, deliberate, thoughtful decision of the Presbyterian Church “outrageous,” instead of Israel’s continuing subjugation of the Palestinian people?
There was not one fresh, practical idea from those opposing divestment in Detroit.
Not one idea for what will compel Israel to end settlement construction.
Not one feasible strategy that would pressure Israel to ensure equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
Not one suggestion for what might lead Israel to cease a practice of uprooting fruit trees, as took place just last month when Israel destroyed 1,500 fruit trees at the Tent of Nations, a prominent West Bank farm known for promoting interfaith peace and reconciliation.
It is no wonder the vote was in favor of divestment when there is no real alternative to end the impasse being presented by the anti-divestment camp. Dialogue is critical, as is investing in the Palestinian economy, but neither can fully bear fruit while the occupation continues. Indeed, I wonder what Rabbi Rick Jacobs thought could be accomplished by his eleventh hour offer to barter a meeting between church leadership and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if they voted against divestment.
It is taught in Jewish tradition that “Every generation must scribe its own Torah.” That is, it is up to each generation to leave behind for the next generation our own code for ethical living, our own stories of pursuit of God, pursuit of peace and justice, our own efforts to honor that each of us is made b’tselem elohim, in the image of God. It is my hope that our generation’s Torah, our generation’s sacred legacy, will be one scribed together by our sacred, delicate and valuable work of interfaith cooperation. I want to be able to tell my children about the “interfaith Torah” we wrote together, Jews, Christians and Muslims, coming together l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven, to take concrete action to end the occupation.
Rabbi Alissa Wise, director of organizing,
Jewish Voice for Peace