Protestant ties to Jews loosen
Denominations divest from firms in Israel
By Nancy Glass
Religion News Service
Published August 5, 2005
But after decades of shared struggles on everything from debt relief to the death penalty, efforts by mainline Protestant churches to divest from companies in Israel are threatening their fragile alliance with Jewish groups.
"This divestment movement is the bite on the rear end of 40 years of ignoring our differences," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League in New York.
One year after the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to study divesting from some companies in Israel, Jewish groups are still scrambling to stop divestment from taking root in other churches.
They are also bracing for recommendations expected this month from a Presbyterian committee on how the church should redirect portions of its $8 billion investment portfolio away from Israel.
Fight has spread
The divestment fight sparked by the Presbyterians in July 2004 has since spread to other denominations:
- November 2004: The Episcopal Church voted to undergo a yearlong study of its investments in companies linked to the Israeli occupation, as well as to groups responsible for violence against Israel.
- February 2005: The Geneva-based World Council of Churches urged its 347 member churches to consider using economic pressure in the Middle East.
- June 2005: The policy-setting panel of the worldwide Anglican Communion commended the efforts of the Episcopal Church and encouraged other Anglican churches to consider initiating similar studies.
- June 2005: The Virginia and New England conferences of the United Methodist Church approved resolutions to investigate whether they have holdings in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
- July 2005: The General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted to investigate the possibility of using "economic leverage" as a way of pressuring both sides in the Middle East conflict.
Caterpillar, which has been accused of selling the equipment used to bulldoze Palestinian homes and farms, is frequently cited as an example of the type of company the Presbyterians and other denominations might target. Other possibilities would be companies that sell weapons or are involved with building the barrier between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.
In addition to considering divestment, many denominations--most recently the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)--have also raised resolutions calling for the Israeli government to dismantle the barrier.
Bretton-Granatoor said Jewish groups were blindsided by the Presbyterian vote last summer. In news releases and interviews, critics accused the Presbyterians of singling out Israel as a human-rights abuser.
"Why do U.S. mainline churches have almost nothing to say about human rights in Saudi Arabia, where it's illegal to be a Christian, but everything to say about Israel, where by and large there is religious liberty?" said Mark Tooley, an organizer at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a Washington think tank that is frequently critical of mainline churches.
Allegations of anti-Semitism underlie much criticism of the divestment resolutions.
"When we see Israel isolated as a unique, egregious case as an attack on a minority, when thousands of Israelis have been murdered, maimed--families destroyed--it's hard for Jews and Israelis not to ask the question if something else is going on," said David Elcott, the U.S. director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.
Protestants say the anti-Semitism charges are unfair and misplaced. Rev. William Somplatsky-Jarman, who is overseeing divestment for the Presbyterians, said his church has reached out to Jewish groups.
"I think it's been a tough conversation," he said, "but that doesn't mean that it hasn't been productive."
The debate over divestment has, for the most part, remained at the national level, with churchgoers mostly unaware of the controversy. Robert Wuthnow, a professor of religion and sociology at Princeton, said it is typical for members of local mainline churches to pay little attention to activities of their national headquarters. "It's just largely irrelevant" at the grass-roots level, he said.
Some of the sharpest critics of the divestment movement agree that it has yet to have much traction at the local level.
"This is not a disease, if you will, of the grass roots. God forbid, we're not talking about our next-door neighbors--it's not at that level," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
But Cooper is not waiting to see whether the debate over divestment spreads to the pews.
Speaking by phone from the recent General Assembly meeting of the Disciples of Christ in Portland, Ore., where he lobbied unsuccessfully against a resolution urging Israel to dismantle the barrier, Cooper said Jews cannot afford to back down.
"I cannot afford to wait until that kind of blindness and deafness to the Jewish narrative seeps down to the grass roots. Then we'll have a real disaster," he said.
Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies, has some further tips for the protestant churches considering how they should deal with the Jews:
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing, and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves ... I shall give you my sincere advice:
Set fire to their synagogues and schools, burying and covering with dirt what won't burn, so no man will see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and Christendom.
Second, I advise that their houses be seized and destroyed.
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that the rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of life and limb.
Fifth, I advise that safe conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews, for they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, or tradesmen. Let them stay at home.
Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and all cash and treasures be taken and kept for safekeeping.
Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an axe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses, letting them earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Genesis 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time ... boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat ... For, as we have heard, God's anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them!
Is this serious? Do mainstream Protestants really feel this way? Let's find out:
[T]he Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has gone on record to oppose the construction by Israel of the so-called "Separation Barrier."
File under: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Israel, Palestine, peace, justice posted by Stewart @ Saturday, July 30, 2005
At Saturday, July 30, 2005 11:30:16 PM, Stewart said...
Thanks for joining me on my bench. I don't accept the claim that the PCUSA is anti-semitic.
Contrary to what you may have heard, the PCUSA is not boycotting Israel. It is in the process of determining how to boycott specific disapproved activities by the government of Israel.
At Monday, August 01, 2005 5:08:17 PM, Stewart said... Ad hominem arguments such as those you have offered are inherently fallacious.
Moreover, ad hominem arguments tend to distance and alienate the person spoken against, making it less likely that you will change that person's mind.
This conversation started when I drew attention to the plight of a 70 year old man who was given one hour to remove whatever he could from his home. The responses to that post justified the rapid demolition of an inhabited residence by the fact that someone else in another place had bombed a bus or a shopping center. None of the responses have connected this 70 year old displaced person with the bombings except through the implication that Palestinians were involved in the acts of terror, and the stated assumption that he must not have wanted peace and prosperity enough to deserve to keep his home. What I am hearing appears to me to be a racist argument, and I have given opportunities for you to clarify so that I could hear it in any other way. Instead of hearing clarifications, I hear repeated slurs against myself, my church, and the Palestinians in general.
I sense a lack of congruity between your insulting statements and my experience of Jewish people in the carbon-based world. Accordingly, I am consciously reminding myself not to allow your words to affect negatively how I relate to the next person I meet.
It is my expectation that guests who join me on my virtual park bench will speak respectfully to and of others. If you want to rant against people or insult them, you have or can start your own blogs for that purpose.
If you know of multinational corporations that provide products and services, including financial services, to Palestinian organizations/groups that support or facilitate violent acts against innocent civilians, please make sure the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) knows about them. Such corporations should be considered for the progressive steps the Church is following.
When a person has a negative interaction with another there are a number of possible responses. One can consciously take steps to ensure that it does not affect future interactions with others. One can allow the experience to function subconsciously to color future interactions. Or one can consciously decide to let the experience govern future interactions.
Those who endorse racial profiling fall in the last category.
I deny that the PCUSA is antisemitic.
First, the PCUSA is not boycotting Israel; it is engaged in phased selective divestment.
I've answered this above, denying that there is a boycott, denying that Israel is being boycotted, and denying that Israel is singled out.
No I have not been to Israel or the Palestinian territories. Perhaps I should. But when other Presbyterians whom I trust visit those places and tell me about their experiences, I'll rely on their reports.
We were thinking the author, a Presbyterian minister, is a f*cking weasle. We were thinking, "Hey, we're Presbyterians here, and this guy doesn't speak for any of us. Who is this?"
Ah, but we're Scottish Presbyerians, not advanced people like the good minister who cares about the down-trodden and the bull-dozed. No, we Scots are all living in mansions and eating sheep all day. We know only of persecution at second hand. Look what we do to those wanker English!
When we lived in Ramallah and saw first-hand the terrorism of Arab on Arab, of man on woman, of families driven to madness and death by a vile poligion, well, we should have asked the good American in Pennsylania for the truth. He knows. He knows people who know, at any rate. Why, the man must be close to God to know so much.
Forgive us, Our Father, for being so stupid and blinded by our own eyes and living in our own minds that we didn't take up with the American minister to find out the truth about Israel. And especially forgive us for soiling the man's park bench. Amen.