Parsing the (Odious) New Term, “Jew-Washing”

photo: Jewish Voice for Peace

Cross-posted in the “Forward Thinking” blog of the Jewish Daily Forward:

In his latest column, Philologos correctly parses the linguistic problems with Yitzhak Santis and Gerald M. Steinberg’s invented term, “Jew-washing.” His political analysis, alas, fails miserably.

Philologos has it completely wrong when he speaks of the “anti-Semitism in boycotts of Israel.” To begin with, Santis and Steinberg did not use the term “Jew-washing” in reference to a boycott of Israel as a whole, but rather to a resolution recently brought to the Pittsburgh General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that called for divestment of their pension funds from three specific companies that profit from Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of the West Bank.

Regardless, it is highly disingenuous for Philologos to accuse the Presbyterian Church of anti-Semitism. Our Christian friends’ response to the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), reflects their deeply held commitment to justice in a land their tradition also considers holy.

Philologos asks, “Have the Presbyterians considered boycotting China because of Tibet? India because of Kashmir? Russia because of Chechnya?” This, of course, is classic misdirection. The issue at hand is not global human rights, but a very specific call from Palestinian civil society for international support in ending their oppression. The real question before them (and us) is not “what about Tibet, Kashmir and Chechnya?”

The question, rather, is: “will we or won’t we respond to the Palestinian call?” To this question, many members of the Presbyterian Church are courageously responding “we will.” So too are increasing numbers of Jews who believe that our legacy of anti-Jewish oppression leads us to stand with Palestinians being denied basic human rights in our name.

No, we are not being used as pawns by Christian partners to further some nefarious “anti-Semitic plot”. Rather, we are standing in solidarity with the oppressed, as the most basic of our Jewish teachings demand that we do. What irony that other Jews should stand in the way of the Jewish imperative to end injustice. How heartbreaking that some in the Jewish community pervert this imperative by labeling the best intentions of our Christian friends as “anti-Semitism.”

We do, however, fully share Philogos’ distaste for the term “Jew-washing,” the coining of which is a sign of abject desperation that itself crosses the line of anti-Semitism, as blogger Jeremiah Haber pointed out last week. We predict that odious terms such as this will soon be relegated to the history books as part of a last, flailing effort by a fearful generation of Jewish leaders unwilling to recognize the moral urgency of the moment. It also reflects the short-sightedness of an establishment that continues to support war and occupation while deliberately alienating itself from the next generation of courageous Jewish leaders.

Why I Work With Christians To Divest From the Occupation

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

At first glance, my work as a rabbi may look untraditional. Instead of serving a congregation, I do my rabbinic work by organizing for justice and equality for all the people of Israel and Palestine. This work includes supporting the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s efforts in Pittsburgh this past week to pass an overture calling for selective divestment from companies that profit from human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

As a spiritual leader, I feel blessed that this work allows me to engage with my Christian counterparts in deep and transformative ways.

My work alongside Christians is one way I live my commitment to interrupting today’s violence and hatred. I no longer believe Jews are inevitably alone in the world, but in fact quite the opposite. I now see just how much we are there for each other, as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu reminds us in speaking of the effort to end apartheid in South Africa: “We could not have won our freedom in South Africa without the solidarity of people around the world who adopted non-violent methods to pressure governments and corporations to end their support for the apartheid regime.”

We together, Christians and Jews, are speaking out against injustice when we see it — as our faith demands of us. That is what happened in Pittsburgh this past week.

I have never been so hopeful for the future of Israelis and Palestinians as I am after witnessing the strong show of opposition to the Israeli Occupation earlier this month by the Presbyterian Church (USA). The PC (USA) General Assembly passed a resolution to boycott settlement goods with 71 percent of the vote, while divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli Occupation was defeated by a razor thin margin of two votes.

While the call for divestment was not fully heard due to parliamentary maneuvers, it has never been so incredibly close. Unfortunately, the futility of the approved “positive investment” overture was not clear to the commissioners, who failed to see that until the infrastructure of occupation is dismantled, “positive investment” is just painting rubble with a fresh coat of paint. During the push for divestment from South Africa did anyone believe investing in banstutans would work to end apartheid?

We will be held accountable should we stay silent as the land theft, home demolitions, restrictions on movement, economic strangulation and other human rights abuses that are the daily realities of life under occupation for Palestinians continue. Instead, we will together continue to highlight the wrongdoings of specific corporations profiting from human rights abuses and urge them to cease their activities so that “positive investment” in Palestine can actually bear fruit.

When the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted earlier this month on selective divestment from companies — Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — profiting from the Israeli occupation and for boycotting products made in illegal Israeli settlements, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) was standing alongside Presbyterians and Palestinians in asserting that this sort of nonviolent financial protest is appropriate in order to pressure Israel to end its control over the Palestinian people.

Despite being overwhelmingly out-resourced by large Jewish institutions with ties to the Israel lobby, our JVP members succeeded in galvanizing a nearly identical amount of support for divestment as the opposition, and overwhelming support for boycott. This accomplishment is despite heavy-handed fear-mongering by Jewish establishment organizations that included threatening the future of interfaith cooperation and raising the specter of anti-Semitism.

The Presbyterian Church’s decision to openly look at its investments and to call for divestment, let alone passing a boycott resolution that includes all Israeli settlement products, is so brave in part because this stand for human rights is distorted into accusations of anti-Semitism. The legacy of persecution against Jews runs deep and the prejudice is real even today. Accusations of anti-Semitism should not be taken lightly. But advocating for the end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic. Making financial decisions in alignment with one’s own values is not anti-Semitic. Withdrawing money from companies that destroy homes and livelihoods and take human life — this is not anti-Semitic.

Quite the opposite, it is by working together with a focus on justice and universal human rights that we can all truly transform the painful legacies of anti-Semitism within both Jewish and Christian communities. We can, each of us, call on our traditions’ best values and our own gut sense of right from wrong, and together write a future of which we are all proud.

Censorship on Shavuot

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

“Whoever has the ability to denounce [the sins of] his 
family members, but fails to denounce them, is held 
accountable for [the sins of] his family members; if 
[he has influence] over the residents of his city [but
 fails to denounce their sins], he is held accountable 
for [the sins of] the residents of his city; if [he
 has influence] over the entire world [but fails to 
denounce their sins], he is held accountable for [the
 sins of] the entire world.”

- Talmud Bavli, Tractate Shabbat, 54a

On Sunday, May 27, an event organized by Young, Jewish, and Proud (YJP) (the youth branch of Jewish Voice for Peace) was cancelled by the 14th Street Y—a Jewish community institution.  The irony is not lost on me that the event was to be a Shavuot study session, complete with blintzes.

Shavuot is the holiday, after all, that commemorates revelation — the receiving of the Torah at the foot of Mt. Sinai — and is commemorated partly by an all-night study session. The  Tikkyn Leyl Shavuot, is not just a night of Torah study, but is a night for learning of all kinds: Torah, Talmud, Hassidut, and beyond.

Why, then was the YJP event beyond the pale for the 14th Street Y?

Well, the Executive Director of the Y, Stephen Hazzan Arnoff would have you believe there was nothing wrong with the content, although he cancelled the event on 8:00 pm Friday evening (yes, on Shabbat!), less than 48 hours before the event. His stated reason was concern over attendance exceeding the 75 person limit in the room (for which YJP had already contracted and paid.) Of course, that claim holds no water -  the event had only 40 RSVPs as of Friday evening. Even so, there could have been a myriad remedies to the issue of over-attendance, such as limiting entry to 75 people.

The real issue, of course, was the event itself. Titled “Go & Learn,” this program was to be part of a series of educational workshops in Jewish communities across the US held to learn about and discuss the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. So far events have taken place in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and Philadelphia, with Los Angeles and Chicago upcoming.

“Go and Learn” was designed by a group of young Jews across the country for all members of the Jewish community—those who have never heard about BDS, those who are opposed to BDS, those who are unsure how they feel about BDS, and those who are in full support of the Palestinian call. The workshop includes, for example, an activity where participants reflect on boycott and divestment campaigns throughout history (such as South Africa, California grapes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Darfur). Participants indicate through color-coded stickers whether they support, oppose, have participated in, or still have concerns over each of those campaigns. The activity invites the participants to look at how they make their own ethical decisions around calls for boycott and divestment campaigns in general which are, at the end of the day, tried-and-true social movement tactics for shifting power and agitating toward change.

Participants also engage in a close reading of the actual text of the Palestinian call for BDS from 2005—a document that most people have never read. Throughout the entire program, space is made for questions and discussion. There is no end goal of the event other than for everyone to have had a chance to share their thoughts and hear from others.

How terribly disappointing – and frankly embarrassing – that the holiday of Shavuot, a festival based on Torah study and discussion did not inspire the Jewish community to keep its doors open to young Jews eager to discuss and learn. This incident raises the deeper question for me: what is the purpose of a Jewish holiday if its deeper lessons and purposes don’t inspire reflection on how we are or are not living out those values as Jews?

The state of the institutional Jewish world these days is truly a shameful one – and I am not afraid to say so. As a rabbi, a Jew, a young person, and someone invested in a dynamic and diverse Jewish community, I feel that must challenge the gatekeepers in the Jewish world to reflect on what they want their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to inherit. Do we want a fearful, closed community more concerned with silencing discussion then having challenging conversations? Do we really want to bequeath a deeply fractured set of communities unable to share space or holiday celebrations?

This Shavuot left me with a sour taste – not the sweet taste of Torah I typically experience. I left the mountain feeling profoundly disappointed in what Jews have have made from that ancient experience at Sinai and the gift of Torah.

The soul searching of Elul and the Yamim Noraim, the Jewish Days of Awe, are just around the corner.  It can’t come soon enough.

Please consider adding your name to this letter to the Executive Director of the 14th Street Y urging him to reconsider and allow the event to take place at the Y.

You can watch a short video of what happened with the Go & Learn participants gathered Sunday outside the Y and were barred from entry.

To organize a Go & Learn event in your community, send an email to: golearnATjewishvoiceforpeace.org.

From Jerusalem to Chicago: My Journey from Settler to Clergy-Activist

by Cantor Michael Davis (cross-posted at his blog, Kol Shalom)

I was raised to be a settler. My family moved to Israel during the peace negotiations with Egypt. As a high school student in Jerusalem, I regularly took off school to attend demonstrations against the peace treaty with Egypt. My yeshiva high school bussed us – students and faculty – to these anti-peace rallies. Similarly, we supported our teachers when they went off to fight the PLO in Lebanon in 1982. At the Shabbat dinner table at the yeshiva, we sang an anthem celebrating the occupation in the West Bank, which we knew by its neo-Biblical name: “Judea and Samaria.” Most of my classmates went on to study in adult yeshivot on the West Bank.

We were the lucky ones. The Messiah may not yet have arrived in person, but we had the unique good fortune of living in the epoch of Atchalta d’G’eula, as foretold in the Talmud. We were partners in the Redemption of Eretz Yisrael, heralding the birth of a Messianic age.

I was a settler. I grew up on a suburb of Jerusalem that was a West Bank settlement. Later, I served as a soldier in the IDF, on the West Bank. As a teenager, there was no daylight between my Israeli identity and my settler ideology. We went on hikes – under armed guard – through the hills and by the villages of the West Bank. We bravely went where no Jews had settled before. The Palestinian territories were our Jewish frontier.

Settlers, so we were taught, embodied all that was good in Israel. We, the settlers, did not care about money. Unlike secular Israelis, we were not materialistic, not hedonistic. We gave our admiration and love not to the idols of Israeli and American pop culture but to the Land.

We loved the Land of Israel, or, more accurately, the part of it known as Greater Israel. Our love for Eretz Yisrael was given, not to Tel Aviv, but to Hebron; not to Haifa but to Sh’chem (Nablus); the Golan Heights, not sinful Eilat. As Jerusalemites, we turned our attention to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. On Sukkot, we gathered there in a yeshiva, a settler outpost, on Bab el-Wad street, just a few minutes walk from the Western Wall. We heard our rabbis teach Talmudic and Kabbalistic discourses on the rebuilding of the Third Temple.

So what if settlements were illegal? Our mission as agents of the Messiah superseded the rule of law. To be a good Jew was to be an Israeli, and to be a good Israeli was to build new settlements.

Our older peers, the ones who built settlements all over the West Bank, were the spiritual heirs of the original Zionist settlers, only better. Those teenagers, who a hundred years before us, had spurned the creature comforts of Bialystok and Berlin and sailed off for Jaffa to reclaim the Land. The West Bank settlers were every bit as self-sacrificing. In addition, they were not religious rebels but yeshiva boys.

And then, I left all that behind. I “took off my kippa (yarmulke)”. I severed my ties to Israeli Orthodoxy and its settler ideology. I rejected the Messianic purity of thought and that cozy camaraderie of my peer group. I no longer marched through the Arab market on the eve of Yom Yerushalayim with thousands of fellow settler supporters, banging on the metal-shuttered stalls. I no longer went to the demonstrations supporting the Occupation. I did not travel to Hebron to dance the hora in a city under curfew. I gave up the dream of a suburban house with a garden in the middle of Palestine, dodging bullets and stones on the daily commute to work in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

However, even in my apartment in genteel West Jerusalem, it was impossible to escape the reality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank just a few miles down the road. In my 20s, my friends routinely, if reluctantly, served on guard duty at West Bank settlements. As a reservist in the Israeli army, I strategized how to dodge these annual call-up orders. I wasn’t quite ready to serve time in the stockade. Fortunately, for me, the Israeli army wasn’t interested in jailing large numbers of conscientious objectors either. I regularly managed to set up alternate service at my old military base in Tel Aviv and thus avoid ever being posted to the West Bank.

In other ways too, it became increasingly clear, that the Green Line, the border between the West Bank and the State of Israel could not insulate me from Israel’s settler ideology. As a university student in Jerusalem, I watched with concern the rapid rise of the so-called “Modern Orthodox” in the military. This segment of Israeli society is almost completely pro-settler.  It became common to see a knitted kippa on the heads of young officers carrying assault guns. The Israeli army famously plays an over sized role in Israeli public life. The influx of religious officers was a coming of age for Orthodox Zionism. The emergence of the  Orthodox officer corps was the final nail. The age of kibbutznikim and Labor Zionists is long gone.

Predictably, the rise of the pro-settler camp in the junior ranks eventually reached the senior officer corps too. Today, several generals are now Orthodox pro-settler. Other leadership positions in the State of Israel are now filled by settlers. A settler was recently appointed to serve as a justice on Israel’s Supreme Court.

In 1992, when Yizhak Rabin returned to power, replacing Yizhak Shamir as leader of Israel, my friends and I were jubilant. Yizhak Shamir had stonewalled any attempts at reconciliation with the Palestinians. For us moderate Israelis, Rabin’s rise to power as leader of Israel was our equivalent of the toppling of the Berlin Wall. Over a period of months, new and exciting horizons of hope for peace opened up.

During this time, as a reservist in the IDF, I participated in the first military withdrawal from Gaza in May 1994. I saw Palestinian officers working with IDF officers on Israeli military bases. I saw the first joint patrol jeep of Palestinian and Israeli soldiers. The Messianic promise of the wolf and the lamb laying down together was here. Who knew, perhaps Prime Minister Rabin would indeed be the one to undo Ariel Sharon’s legacy in the West Bank?

As we now know, the idyll lasted for a just few, short years.

At that fateful peace demonstration in central Tel Aviv one Saturday night in November 1995, I was one of the thousands who heard the three gunshots that ended Rabin’s life. We ran for cover into the side streets off the main square. I didn’t stop moving until I left Israel. The rise of Netanyahu sealed the deal. I left Israel and moved to the United States.

At some point, while I was still living in Israel, I came across an American dictionary. I was flipping through the back of the book when I came upon the opening lines of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. I was then still unfamiliar with the iconic lines: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

Such straightforward clarity!  Of course, I realized that the United States was not without its own problems, but, at least here was a theoretical framework that made sense. It gave me hope.

Over time, I came to understand that what was written in opposition to the rule of King George was also a rejection of an ethnic state. If all men are created equal, how can one justify a state that on principle favors one ethnic group over another? From the State of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence that declares the formation of a Jewish State, through the State’s Basic Laws (the building blocks of an Israeli Constitution) that favor Jews over non-Jews, to State institutions that limit land ownership for non-Jews, the State of Israel officially favors Jews and discriminates against non-Jews. The State of Israel was constituted as a Jewish state with limited democracy. The United States, on the other hand, gave the world the model of a democratic state. I knew which theoretical model I preferred.

For years, I placed myself in the Liberal Zionist camp. I wanted to believe, like Amos Oz and his camp, that a Jewish State was both necessary and could be fair. Today, I no longer believe either of those. I believe today that time has finally run out for the philosophy that upholds that Israel can both institutionally, legally and constitutionally favor Jews on the one hand and still deal justly with its non-Jewish, indigenous population, on the other. I also do not see how a Jewish State offers greater security for Jews, either now or in the event of some future threat.

My Israel/Palestine activism in the States was, initially, my way of staying connected to Israel. This is an area I knew well and could contribute my expertise to the political effort. Yet, over time, as I became integrated into American life, I came to understand Israel, not only as an Israeli ex-pat, but within the context of the U.S. and American Jewish life.

I love American Jews for their proud, social consciousness: their stand for civil rights, their fight to keep church and state separate, their visceral support for immigrants, and their overall, vigorous civic engagement.

I was therefore dismayed to see all these values firmly set aside when it came to Israel: the organized Jewish community’s stand with Israel in bombing Gaza, the unquestioning support of a Jewish state with limited democracy, vilifying those who work for full democracy, including Jews and even Israelis, ostracizing those within the community who cross the approved line. Some days I feel that, since I did not grow up in the American Jewish community, I will never understand the emotional context for, what I see as, a bifurcated values system. My commitment is to work at getting closer to these Jews whom I love. I try to follow the path of listening, and not judging. Being present and not preaching. I have evidence that this approach works. The many different and conflicting ways that Jews love Israel need not be a cause for strife.  Instead, it can be a powerful way of connecting Jews to each other. I have seen Jews with opposing beliefs on Israel sit at the same table and listen to each others’ opinions. Each one felt validated in being heard.

For myself, I feel that I am heard in the context Jewish Voice for Peace. I am proud to be a founding member of its Rabbinical Council. JVP is the place where I can speak my truth without fear. My colleagues on the Rabbinic Cabinet speak the same language I do. At times we disagree, but we share a deep connection to Israel and to our values, and the commitment to bring those two sentiments together.

There is much exciting work to do. The separation barrier between Israelis and Palestinians is emblematic of mental barriers that we each carry within us. Our leadership is needed. We need safe places for Jews to work through their concerns about Israel. There is a need and an opportunity for a new model of interfaith dialog with Christians. They, too, share our deep love for the Holy Land rooted in their own religious tradition. We have the opportunity to make meaningful connections with Christians, not based on formal politeness or supporting Israel right-or-wrong, but through acknowledging our common love for Israel/Palestine and standing in solidarity with Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

As American Jews, we need not follow Israel into its self-imposed bunker of isolation. We, American Jews and Christians, can also play a role in helping Israelis to heal. American Jews can model for Israel a better way of engaging with their neighbors and the world. We can support the brave Jewish and Palestinian activists in Israel and the Occupied territories.

Zionism set up a new paradigm which held the Land of Israel to be the center of Jewish life and the rest of the world at the periphery, known as the Diaspora. Today, the time has come to claim our place as the dynamic heart of the Jewish tradition. We are leaders in engaging with our non-Jewish neighbors and expanding the scope of Jewish life to include those who had previously been excluded. Israeli leaders, including Orthodox Jews, are coming to America to learn from us how to be good Jews.

I support the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). This non-violent strategy allows me to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. The debate around BDS has the potential to break through the passive support that mainstream America offers the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the disenfranchisement of indigenous non-Jews in the State of Israel. My support of BDS is not intended to bring Israel to its knees – there is no chance that that will happen. BDS, for me, serves as a wake-up call to American Jews, to all Americans, and to the world community. Where the rest of the world goes, Israel will eventually follow.

Last month, I was in Jerusalem for a family celebration. At his invitation, I visited with Archbishop Theodosius, the senior Palestinian cleric, in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Archbishop Theodosius was a gracious host. He sees Palestinian Christians as the bridge between Jews and Moslems. His vision is to draw Israeli Jews into the conversation about full democracy for Israel/Palestine. He tasked me with translating the 2009 Christian statement of unity about Palestine (Kairos) into Hebrew. I was happy to accept this project.

My activism continues to bring me to new frontiers; I am making new friends in unlikely places. Archbishop Theodosius told me that I am only the second Jew he has befriended. I was a fellow Jerusalemite for many years and yet we never met before. Until recently, neither of us had met anybody in the others’ religious group.

I continue to be an activist in order stay connected to the issues and to my own sense of what is right. Activism makes me hopeful. For me, activism means moving beyond
dissatisfaction to a place where what is wrong does not affect my spirit. My community of activists is a safe place. Activism allows me to confront the reality of Israel/Palestine without loss of spirit.

I see the old tropes of Holocaust and Israel-right-or-wrong becoming increasingly irrelevant to young Jews. Its is these Jews, in their 20s, who give me hope for the future. By staying true to their beliefs, they will increasingly make their parents and grandparents aware that Zionism is not the only way of being Jewish. I believe the Jewish community will transform and come back to its core values.

I Support the Presbyterian Church (USA) Divestment Resolution

by Rabbi Brant Rosen

As a Jew, a rabbi and a person of conscience, I am voicing my support of the divestment resolution being brought to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) this June.

This resolution, which has been a point of divisive contention between the PC (USA) and some American Jewish organizations for many years, recommends the Church divest its funds from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard. It was put forth by the church’s committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment – an appointed body that recommended church divestment of companies engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits in Israel/Palestine.”

There is a long and tumultuous history to this resolution – here’s a basic outline:

- In 1971 and 1976 the Presbyterian Church stated that it had a responsibility to ensure that its funds be invested responsibly and consistent with the church’s mission.

- In 1986, the PC (USA) formed the Committee for Mission Responsibility Through Investing (MRTI) in 1986. The MRTI Committee carried out the General Assembly’s wish to engage in shareholder activism and as a last resort, divest itself of companies which contravened the GA’s position. Divestment would follow a phased process starting with attempted dialogue and shareholder resolutions and ultimately the total sale of and future ban on the church’s holdings in a company.

- In June 2004, the PC (USA) General Assembly adopted by a vote of 431-62 a resolution that called on the MRTI Committee “to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” The resolution expressed the church’s support of the Geneva Accord, said that “the occupation . . . has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict,” that “the security of Israel and the Israeli people is inexorably dependent on making peace with their Palestinian neighbors”, that “horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people, whether carried out by Palestinian suicide bombers or by the Israeli military, are abhorrent and inexcusable by all measures, and are a dead-end alternative to a negotiated settlement,” and that the United States government needed to be “honest, even-handed broker for peace.”

- In 2005, MRTI Committee named five US-based companies – Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup, ITT Industries, Motorola and United Technologies – for initial focus and that it would engage in “progressive engagement” with the companies’ management.

- In 2006, following an uproar of criticism from American Jewish organizations, the PC (USA) General Assembly overwhelmingly (483-28) replaced language adopted in 2004 that focused the “phased, selective divestment” specifically on companies working in Israel.  It now called for investment in Israel, the Gaza Strip, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank “in only peaceful pursuits.” The new resolution also required the consideration of “practical realities,” a “commitment to positive outcomes” and an awareness of the potential impact of strategies on “both the Israeli and Palestinian economies.”  The 2006 resolution also recognized Israel’s right to build a security barrier along its pre-1967 boundaries. The GA acknowledged the “hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion” that resulted from the 2004 resolution and stated that the Assembly was “grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.”

The most recent resolution is the result of this new process and now focuses on three of the original six companies under consideration.  From the PC (USA) website:

The General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) is recommending that the upcoming 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) divest the church of its stock in three companies “until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”

The three companies are Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard.

At issue are their participation in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the construction of the “security barrier” between Israel and Palestinian territory, and the destruction of Palestinian homes, roads and fields to make way for the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have been declared illegal under international law.

“We have run out of hope that these companies are willing to change their corporate practices [in Israel-Palestine],” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, a Kansas City pastor and chair of the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI). “We have made diligent effort to engage in conversation. We’d like to do more, to make progress, but substantial change does not seem possible.”

As stated above, I support this resolution without reservation and urge other Jewish leaders and community members to do so as well. I am deeply dismayed that along every step of this process, Jewish community organizations (among them, the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs) that purport to speak for the consensus of a diverse constituency have been intimidating and emotionally blackmailing the Presbyterian Church as they attempt to forge their ethical investment strategy in good faith.

It is extremely important to be clear about what is at stake here. First of all, this is not a resolution that seeks to boycott or single out Israel. Divestment does not target countries – it targets companies.  In this regard speaking, the PC (USA)’s ethical investment process seeks to divest from specific “military-related companies” it deems are engaged in “non-peaceful” pursuits.

We’d be hard-pressed indeed to make the case that the Israeli government is engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem.  I won’t go into detail here because I’ve been writing about this tragic issue for many years: the increasing of illegal Jewish settlements with impunity, the forced evictions and home demolitions, the uprooting of Palestinian orchards, the separation wall that chokes off Palestinians from their lands, the arbitrary administrative detentions, the brutal crushing of non-violent protest, etc, etc.

All Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – have cause for deep moral concern over these issues.  Moreover, we have cause for dismay that own government tacitly supports these actions. At the very least, we certainly have the right to make sure that our own investments do not support companies that profit from what we believe to be immoral acts committed in furtherance of Israel’s occupation.

As the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, I am proud that JVP has initiated its own divestment campaign which targets the TIAA-CREF pension fund, urging it to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation. Among these are two of the three companies currently under consideration by PC (USA): Motorola and Caterpillar.

Why the concern over these specific companies? Because they are indisputably and directing aiding and profiting the oppression of Palestinians on the ground. Caterpillar profits from the destruction of Palestinian homes and the uprooting of Palestinian orchards by supplying the armor-plated and weaponized bulldozers that are used for such demolition work.  Motorola profits from Israel’s control of the Palestinian population by providing surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank, as well as communication systems to the Israeli army and West Bank settlers.

And why is Hewlett-Packard under consideration for divestment by the PC (USA)? HP owns Electronic Data Systems, which heads a consortium providing monitoring of checkpoints, including several built inside the West Bank in violation of international law.  The Israeli Navy, which regularly attacks Gaza’s fishermen within Gaza’s own territorial waters and has often shelled civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, has chosen HP Israel to implement the outsourcing of its IT infrastructure.  In addition, Hewlett Packard subsidiary HP Invent outsources IT services to a company called Matrix, which employs settlers in the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit to do much of its IT work at low wages.

I repeat: by seeking to divest from these companies the PC (USA) is not singling out Israel as a nation.  The Presbyterian Church has every right to – and in fact does – divest its funds from any number of companies that enable non-peaceful pursuits around the world.  In this case specifically, the PC (USA) has reasonably determined that these particular “pursuits” aid a highly militarized, brutal and oppressive occupation – and it simply does not want to be complicit in supporting companies that enable it.

I am fully aware that there are several organizations in the Jewish community that are already gearing up a full court press to intimidate the PC (USA) from passing this resolution in June.  JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow recently accused national Presbyterian leaders of “making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called the resolution “poisonous,” and that by considering it the PC (USA) is “showing its moral bankruptcy.”

These sorts of statements do not speak for me nor, I am sure, do they speak for the wide, diverse spectrum of opinion on the issue in the American Jewish community.  There is no place for public bullying in interfaith relations – it is, needless to say, decidedly counter to principles of honest, good faith dialogue.  To our Presbyterian friends: please know there are many Jewish leaders who stand with you as you support the cause of peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.

In a recent open letter to the PC (USA), Rabbi Margaret Holub, my colleague on the JVP Rabbinical Council expressed this sentiment eloquently with the following words:

Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world.  As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history.  We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows.

To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic.  To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic.  To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic.  There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account.  We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.

In fact, many of us in the Jewish community recognize that the continuing occupation of Palestine itself presents a great danger to the safety of the Jewish people, not to mention oppressing our spirits and diminishing our honor in the world community.  We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.

I am proud my name is under this letter, alongside many other members of our Rabbinical Council. If you stand with us, please join us in supporting the PC (USA) divestment resolution at their GA in Pittsburgh this summer.

Why I Support BDS

by Rabbi Margaret Holub

I try to think about why I hold the opinions I do.  In thinking about Israel and Palestine, like many of us my thinking is formed to a great degree by time I have spent in both places.  I have been especially moved by visits I have made to the West Bank in 1995, 2002 and 2007.  In particular I spent some time in Hebron in 2007, and that experience shaped my thinking and feeling quite deeply.  I also was involved for some years in advocating for a poor family in Beit Ummar whose house has been slated for demolition because it fronts on the settlers-only bypass road, and this caused me to keep up in some detail with the practice of home demolition over those years.

I find the details of the occupation to be emotionally wrenching and morally challenging to me as a Jew and as a rabbi.

I think back to my first visit to the home of a Palestinian peace activist in Ramallah.  As we made our plans to visit, he asked me if my husband wore a kippah — he said that they had been under curfew for 31 days recently, and his young children were consequently terrified of men in kippot.  I think of the  families I met in Hebron who have to climb in and out of windows to their own houses, because Palestinians are not allowed to walk on the street where their homes front.  I think of an old man on a donkey with his grandson, also in Hebron, forced to dismount and empty his saddlebags at a checkpoint.  I think of sitting in a meeting with the mayor of Beit Ummar, a Hamas member, and him joking mordantly that his 30 recent days in jail, his most recent of four post-election imprisonments, were a vacation — then saying that in fact those 30 days “injure me from inside.”  I think of the Sabarneh family, my “partner family” in Beit Ummar, whose very poor house has been slated for demolition for over a decade, learning that a portion of their field would also soon be seized for settlement expansion.

I know that there are policy reasons on the part of the IDF for many individual demolition orders, checkpoints, passbook requirements, segregated roadways, destruction of trees, confiscation of Palestinian farmland, detentions without charge, establishment of “sterile areas” and other particulars of the occupation which may seem defensible when judged in isolation.  I understand that high unemployment and deprivation and periodic violence may be seen as collateral damage.  But I find the larger project of occupation, viewed as a whole, to be shameful.  And I feel very strongly that it needs to end.

Are the occupation of the West Bank and the constriction of Gaza worse than the occupation of Tibet or the incursions of Sudan into South Sudan or other places of oppression of one people by another?  I don’t know.  But as a Jew, and particularly as a leader of Jews, I feel like I have “skin in the game” with regard to what Jews do in the world which is different than my relationship with other places of inequality and oppression.  For me, when Torah is quoted in support of these policies and Jewish politicians and bureaucrats write them and Jewish soldiers impose them, then kol yisrael arevim zeh im zeh (“all Jews are responsible for one another”) and as a Jew I feel responsible to voice my opposition.   I am surprised when I hear people say that we who don’t live in Israel shouldn’t judge what Israel does.  If that is the case, then we shouldn’t support Israel either.

I also feel some hirhur bi’tshuvah (“inclination to repentance”) as an American about the occupation, knowing that it is supported in such great measure not only by US foreign aid but also American weapons, training and political cooperation.  As Americans we are complicit in a whole panoply of oppressions.  But US commitment to Israel’s present policy is disturbingly large, even relative to its other malign commitments.

A happier source of my thinking is time I have spent in South Africa since the change happened there in 1992.  I have visited three times, including two extended sabbaticals there.  I went specifically to experience the aftermath of apartheid and to try to find some hope with regard to Israel and Palestine.  And I came away from my time there feeling hopeful indeed.  South Africa today is a difficult place in many ways, but it has made a largely successful transition to a multiracial democracy.  In particular, the slaughter of whites, which was so greatly feared in the waning days of apartheid (and maybe for its whole duration) never happened.  It is worthwhile to think about why that specter didn’t materialize.  South Africa has its own story and its own politics; but I think there is much we can learn there, not even so much about apartheid and occupation as about transition and healing.

I am most grateful that a wide cross-section of Palestinian organizations came together and issued their call for divestment.  This provides a way for me to do something besides passively holding supportive opinions.  I am still in the process of parsing out in my own conscience which parts of the complex landscape of BDS I support.  I have no hesitation at all about advocating for divestment from corporations whose products and facilities directly support the occupation.  This is where Jewish Voice for Peace is putting its efforts.  Thinking about South Africa in particular makes me inclined to support the boycott of Israeli products and divestment from Israeli corporations and sanctioning entertainers, sports figures and the like who choose to perform in Israel.  I think it is important for Israeli to know that world opinion is increasingly united in opposition to the occupation.  It’s time for it to end.

There is no joy for me in advocating against the actions of my own people.  I want Jewish business and culture and productivity to thrive in our world.  But not at cost of the lives and livelihoods and homes and farms of another people.  I hope very much that BDS will be a potent and quickly-effective worldwide movement and that very soon we can all, as South Africa has, turn our attention to the many crises of a just and sustainable aftermath to a cruel chapter in our history.

An Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA)

We write to you as members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council to encourage your efforts to initiate phased selective divestment from corporations which profit from or support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.  We applaud your initiative and want to communicate our support as Jewish leaders who also work for justice and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

We are aware that the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) has unleashed a powerful campaign to dissuade you, and consequently dissuade the Presbyterian Church (USA) from moving forward with its well-considered divestment campaign.  We have been dismayed to learn the JCPA has called your divestment campaign “anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and at times anti-Semitic”.

As Jewish leaders, we believe the JCPA’s stance does not represent the broader consensus of the American Jewish community. There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine.  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 daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of cautious, highly-specified divestment such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) is preparing to undertake.

However, even if the American Jewish community were unanimously opposed to such phased selective divestment by your Church – which is not at all the case – we believe it is still important that you move forward with the thoughtful multi-year process which your Church has begun.  Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world.  As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history.  We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows.

To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic.  To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic.  To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic.  There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account.  We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.

In fact, many of us in the Jewish community recognize that the continuing occupation of Palestine itself presents a great danger to the safety of the Jewish people, not to mention oppressing our spirits and diminishing our honor in the world community.  We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.

With prayers for peace,

Rabbi Margaret Holub, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Brant Rosen, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Julie Greenberg, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, JVP Rabbinical Council

Cantor Michael Davis, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Joseph Berman, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi David Mivasair, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Brian Walt, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, JVP Rabbinical Council

David Basior, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council

Alana Alpert, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council

Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council

A Statement in Support of the PennBDS Conference

by Rabbis Alissa Wise and Brant Rosen

The upcoming PennBDS conference, to take place Friday, February 3 through Sunday, February 5 has been met, even before it has begun, with enthusiasm and support from a wide variety of well-respected organizations and individuals. It has also been met with concern and resentment from a small, but vocal group of individuals and organizations – including Jewish organizations.

Of all the public statements made against conference organizers and the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement in general, accusations of anti-Semitism and comparisons to Nazism that are the most troubling and most in need of refutation and condemnation.

The legacy of persecution against Jews runs deep and this prejudice is real even today. Accusations of anti-Semitism should not be taken lightly. Nor should they be issued carelessly. This much we owe to those whom we have lost.

We strongly reject the incendiary accusations that have been made against the Palestinian call for BDS. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions is part of a time-honored, non-violent legacy – tactics which have been used in a multitude of historic struggles for justice where a less powerful people have sought nonviolent means to right injustices.

In the civil rights movement in this country boycotts were a key tactic in winning equity for African Americans. In the global struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, corporate accountability campaigns were instrumental in shifting the balance of power.

Certainly Jews are no strangers to the downside of power dynamics. But, as painful as it is for us to face, it is Israelis, not Palestinians, that hold disproportionate power. Moreover, Israel is wielding its power in increasingly oppressive ways, whether through government theft of Palestinian land, discriminatory laws, home demolitions, regular, brutal crackdown on nonviolent protest, etc.

The legacy of institutional oppression against us has left many Jews traumatized. This legacy has also inspired increasing numbers of Jews to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, including Palestinians. While there are certainly many liberation movements around the world that we should – and often do – support, BDS is a specifically Palestinian call for solidarity that has been issued from Palestinian civil society. The relevant question before us is not “what about human rights abuse in other countries?” The real question, quite simply, is “do we believe that this particular call is worthy of our support?”

We understand that there are those of good faith who do not support BDS for tactical reasons. This is a valid conversation – and the organizers of PennBDS have made it clear that they welcome all who attend the conference in the spirit of respectful inquiry and debate. But we believe that attacking the conference and the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and akin to Nazism is slanderous, inflammatory and utterly beyond the pale. As Jews and people of faith, we believe the Palestinian call for BDS to be an honorable one and we pledge our support to the work of the PennBDS conference.

God Is In This Place

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

This sermon was given Sunday, January 23, 2012 at St. Johns Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Many thanks to St. Johns for the invitation and exceptionally warm welcome. The ideas within are in part thanks to the good thinking of JVPers who came before me and the work I did with my comrades at Jews Against the Occupation in NYC 2001-2004, among other smart people.

In Genesis we read:

Jacob woke from his sleep and said, surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!

It happened for me like that too. Well, maybe not exactly. Let me tell you what happened.

In the summer of 2007, while I was studying to become a rabbi, I lived in the West Bank for two months. One day I planted trees in a destroyed olive grove outside of Nablus. I was working with local Palestinian farmers and a group of activists from Sweden. None of the Swedish activists were Jewish; most of them were anarchist college students who were on the first trip to the Middle East, there just for a couple weeks to support Palestinian non-violent resistance.

Before we set out for the day, we exchanged information in case of arrest or injury, chose individuals to negotiate with the army, and reminded each other to follow the lead of the Palestinian farmers, to retreat when they wanted to and not to stray from the group.

As we walked the four miles out to the plot of land where the olive trees had been uprooted and now would be replanted, we got to know each other a bit. The Swedish internationals were intrigued that I was becoming a rabbi, and on our long walk out to the grove, they questioned me about what I believed about God. As happens a lot when I am with anarchists and activists who don’t like or trust organized religion, there was a skepticism, or at least a confusion about my religiosity; especially as the nearest religious Jews were the ones who did the uprooting. I would often dodge the question about God in this kind of situation.

But, at that moment I had an answer. As if, I, like Jacob suddenly woke up.

There I was on the lookout for Israeli military snipers or jeeps and being pressed to answer what I believed about God, in a land full of claims on God. I scanned my history with this land—my family’s connections to Jerusalem, my teen camping trips in the North of Israel, my dance club days in Tel Aviv in college — and I came to truly understand for the first time that it was against all odds that I was standing there. I had planted trees not too far from Nablus before with the Jewish National Fund — before I knew their participation in the erasure of Palestinian history. Yet there I was, a middle-class American Jew raised in a right-wing Zionist Jewish home, and now I was helping Palestinian farmers plant trees as an act of resistance in the occupied West Bank. It was in response to this question asked of me in Nablus that I filled in the blank about God:. God is the impulse in me to serve the Other out of a sense of responsibility that stems from the Source of redemption.

God was in this place and I did not know it.

And, then I did. I never looked back.

My responsibility to the other — the most intimate and the most distant — is what brings me to and sustains me in the work seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

We all have a responsibility to hear from those directly affected by occupation and oppression how we might support their struggle for dignity, self-determination and equality.

After all, these demands are basic — as much as we might hope for ourselves – as the Golden Rule teaches — treat others as you would like to be treated. So simple, so basic — so incredibly challenging.

In 2005, a Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) was made by over 120 organizations in Palestinian civil society. This call, a request for solidarity, urges those concerned with Palestinian human rights to take action in their local communities by organizing consumer boycott and divestment campaigns — like the effort underway in the Presbyterian church to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard.

Make no mistake about it — the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions made by Palestinian civil society is a rebuke of the current policies and actions made by the Israeli government. This includes the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and the lack of basic civil rights for non-Jewish Arab citizens of Israel.

Several Christian denominations, including your own, have made brave, constructive decisions to investigate whether their churches’ investments contribute to violence and oppression in Israel and Palestine. Churches are reviewing investments as a means to ending the humiliation and brutality faced by Palestinians under occupation — an occupation that causes great harm to Israeli society as well. As long as one nation occupies another, neither can enjoy  true peace and security. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught, no one is free until we are all free.

The churches engaging in this review and calling for divestment understand that investing in corporations that profit from the occupation is unethical.  Examining the impact of their investments is a practical, effective way for American Christians to do good rather than cause harm — and is an answer to the Palestinian call for solidarity.

The decision to divest from the occupation is also critically important for Jews everywhere.

All too often, when a non-Jewish group or individual, speaks out against blatantly unjust Israeli policies and actions, they are accused of acting on that unreasoning hatred of Jews and Judaism that is commonly called anti-Semitism.

Anti-semitism, like all forms of oppression, seeks to lump all Jews together and assign us a set of characteristics–some negative, some positive.  In the lumping, we are made less human, no longer seen as individuals with our own individual lives and characteristics. Saying that all Jews support Israel unconditionally is in itself a kind of anti-Semitism, then, as it denies us the right to form our own opinions, beliefs, and relationships with Israel as whole people.

Issuing a moral rebuke such as a targeted divestment shows a respect for Jews, and others that support Israeli policies, that is fundamentally incompatible with anti-Semitism.  Such an act is predicated on the belief that the recipients of the rebuke are capable of reevaluating their actions and turning onto a more just path.

I can think of no greater act of friendship than to risk defamation in order to remind one’s friends of their own ideals when they, themselves, have forgotten them. In fact, this idea of sacred rebuke – tochecha – one of my most favorite Jewish concepts/values — is included in the Holiness Code — the section of the Torah that is famous for its focus on moral and ethical imperatives.

Tochecha is about our obligation to tell someone when they have done or are currently straying and behaving wrongly – whether to us, or to another. What’s more, tochecha requires us also to engage with those we are rebuking and assist them and support them in the repair of the wrong you are calling out.

As we learn in Leviticus 19:17:

You shall not hate your fellow human being in your heart. Rebuke your fellow human being but incur no guilt because of this person.

You shall not hate your fellow human being in your heart — this is required for one to engage in tochecha — rebuke. It must be based on love and respect.

We know that Jews will not be truly free or secure until the oppression of the Palestinians ends. By examining the economic underpinnings and voting to divest from companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation, that literally have a vested interest in the failure of a just peace, Christian churches are acting as partners with Jews in our own liberation.

Millennia of persecution have left most Jews with deep scars. Whether our relatives perished in the Holocaust or whether they suffered lesser forms of persecution and discrimination, we have been deeply affected by anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately the phenomenon is alive and well throughout the world.  Many still hold wrong-headed beliefs about Jews — that we are miserly, loud, arrogant, or untrustworthy. Or that we are all rich, smart and powerful.

Even if American Jews  are mostly safe and secure, we often don’t feel that way. We remain vigilant and ask our allies to remain alert as well.

Because our wounds run so deeply, it is very difficult for many Jews to recognize that Israel, not Palestinians, hold disproportionate power.

But, even still, that sacred rebuke is essential — even if — and perhaps because – it is difficult for some Jews to hear. It is precisely because of my love for my own family members, my community members that I do the work I do and participate in the call for BDS and see the growing global movement as a path to a lasting peace, with justice.

As a third century rabbi, Rabbi Yossi ben Chanina, taught: “A love without reproof is no love.”  His study partner Resh Lakish added: “Reproof leads to peace; a peace where there has been no reproof is no peace.”

Out of respect and love — highlight what is wrong, and together we step toward peace.

Highlight the harm of settlement expansion and of the various consumer products—like SodaStream and Ahava cosmetics that are profiting off of Palestinian’s natural resources and stolen land. Highlight the acts of Caterpillar which makes millions off of demolishing homes and uprooting olive trees. Each year, U.S. corporations receive an alarming subsidy from U.S. taxpayers. By law, 75% of U.S. military aid to Israel must be spent in American corporations. It is with this money, for example, that Israel buys weaponized bulldozers from Caterpillar.

Highlight Motorola solutions who profits from Israel’s control of the Palestinian population by providing surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank, as well as communication systems to the Israeli army and West Bank settlers.

Highlight Hewlett-Packard who provides on-going support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank which deprive Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land and allows the Israeli military occupation to grant or deny special privileges to the civilians under its control.

The Presbyterian church’s decision to openly look at your investments, and to call for divestment from the companies stated above – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard – is so brave in part because you are doing it in the face of being painfully and wrongfully accused of anti-Semitism. The legacy of persecution against Jews runs deep and the prejudice is real even today. Accusations of anti-Semitism should not be taken lightly. Nor should they be issued carelessly.

As I see it, the quest for justice is at the core of Jewish tradition and identity. When Jews support the Israeli occupation, we are acting from fear due to centuries of intense persecution and genocide. When the US government supports the Israeli occupation in the face of international human rights violations, it is acting out of self-interests that have nothing to do with Jewish values, traditions or security. The very essence of Jewish values is a tradition of justice.

To the Jewish organizations that wield the accusation of anti-Semitism against those that speak out for justice, I ask, When have  you raised your voice when Israel demolishes  a Palestinian home or uproots a  Palestinian orchard?

The truth is that the majority of American Jews have never felt so distant either from those organizations or from Israel itself. Major studies commissioned  by these same organizations have found  that most young American Jews feel emotionally unattached to Israel and report that peace is a higher value to them than security.

These same American Jews reject the idea that all Palestinians or Muslims support terrorism. Other studies have confirmed that over two-thirds of American Jews are “disturbed by Israel’s policies and actions.”

For many American Jews, maintaining harmony with Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Councils, and the Anti-Defamation League – comes  at the price of the values that most American Jews hold dear: justice, equality and peace.

Because the organizations of our parents and  grandparents no longer speak for us, groups including my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, are generating  phenomenal support among American Jews.  Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the largest and oldest grassroots Jewish peace organizations in the US We have a professional staff of seven that supports over 100,000 Internet activists and some 1000 members in over 30 chapters across the United States.

Our work at JVP includes having initiated the largest divestment campaign for Palestinian human rights in US history. This campaign — the We Divest campaign — is now a national coalition effort that is demanding retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF divest from the Israeli occupation. Our petition to TIAA-CREF highlights 5 companies — 3 of which — Caterpillar, Veolia and Motorola Solutions — are part of their “socially responsible investment” portfolio. There is currently no way for TIAA-CREF investors to not be investing in human rights violations against Palestinians.

Daily humiliation at checkpoints, segregated Jewish-only roads, illegal settlement expansion, restrictions on movement and access to jobs and healthcare — all parts of a Palestinian’s life living under occupation must be stopped.

While not all may be ready to hear us, we must continue to speak. Our obligation to sacred rebuke endures — for Jews and non-Jews alike. We at Jewish voice for peace need your help. We cannot end the Israeli occupation alone. We need our allies to stand side-by-side with us.

This work, my friends, is where God resides. God is surely in this place, and, now, I do know it.

And yet, in truth. we do not know for sure what will come of it.

As the book of Proverbs beautifully teaches us in chapter 9 verse 8:

A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.

For decades, churches have led the way in applying the nonviolent tactic of divestment to end violence against civilians all over the world. The Presbyterian Church has shown the integrity, and the courage, to rebuke the Israeli government for its bitter oppression of the Palestinians.

Whether it was intended, or not, this rebuke speaks also to the many Jews, and non-Jews, who support Israel’s oppressive policies, or stand aside and leave them unopposed.  Now we must face the test of our own integrity, and our own courage:  we must choose how we will hear the message of divestment.  Will we be scoffers, hating our friends for challenging our misdeeds, or will we be wise, loving them for reminding us of the pursuit of justice that is our highest calling, and the expression of our better selves?

The answer, of course, is that our response will be mixed, and, at first, the scoffers may well predominate.  Yet I believe that the day will come, be it in one year, five years, or in fifty, when the Presbyterian Church’s action in this matter will be remembered with love and gratitude by Jews around the world.

I am proud to be among the first to say, Todah Rabah, “Thank you!”

What Will 2012 Bring?

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

The new year of 2012, which is a second new year for many Jews, is another chance for self-reflection, personal inventory and intention setting. Perhaps we can think of it as a bit of a “quarterly check-in” of the work done a few months back at Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. This new calendar year shift offers an opportunity to look at the political year ahead of us and to make some predictions (read: hopes) for what this year might hold for us.

From my seat as Director of Campaigns at JVP, I’m thinking this year will be a year of talking about BDS in the Jewish community. Yes, 2011 saw plenty of that with ground-breaking BDS panels and discussions in Boston and Brooklyn, among other places, where Jewish pro-BDS activists were heard in synagogue or other Jewish communal venues. But 2012 is already primed to continue this—and perhaps a lot more directly and intensively – engage the Jewish community around BDS and Jewish support for BDS in particular:

1. The upcoming Penn BDS conference in early February is already being organized against by the Israel Action Network (IAN)– a relatively new effort of Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council on Public Affairs.  The conference includes workshops and presentations by leading journalists, academics, activists, and religious leaders—including JVP Rabbinical Council rabbis and leaders of Young, Jewish, and Proud and the initial “alert” from IAN mentioned coordinated efforts with many anti-BDS Jewish communal institutions including Hillel and the Israel Campus Coalition.

2. In 2010, Hillel passed a restrictive  “Standards of Partnership”  that state that Hillel will not “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” support BDS, among other things. In 2011, these standards were used to restrict the JVP-Brandeis chapter from formally affiliating with Brandeis Hillel. Now, in 2012, JVP’s Go & Learn Initiative aims to challenge this kind of McCarthyism in the Jewish community around engaging in conversation or learning about BDS.

The Go & Learn Initiative, inspired by Hillel the Elder’s famous response to the challenge to say what is the Torah while standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole Torah; go and learn.” Rooted in the ethical obligation we have to others, the initiative will bring BDS education events—interactive workshops and dialogues about BDS—to Jewish communities across North America. Go & Learn BDS Education events are a way for Jews to continue to (or begin to) develop their own opinion on BDS, in an informed, multifaceted way.  The educational materials that are developed for this effort will be made available for public use and development by whomever wishes to explore–not necessarily support–BDS as a tactic.

3. The Student Leadership Team of the We Divest Campaign—the campaign demanding retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation—will launch campaigns on a dozen campuses nationwide this spring. The Israel on Campus Coalition and the Israel Action Network are paying special attention to campus activism as a focus of their anti-BDS efforts. And this campaign, initiated by JVP, and now a national coalition effort, is currently the largest divestment campaign in support of Palestinian human rights in the US,  potentially increasing its exposure to anti-BDS organizing efforts.

It remains to be seen what all of this will amount to—but what I hope it does is contribute to improving the lives of Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and being denied basic civil rights inside Israel. Also, I hope it will nudge us all to hold fast to a commitment to learning and discussion, to stimulate curiosity in each other, grow our respect for each other, to be inspired by our shared commitment to self-determination, equality and justice for all people, to reflect critically and honestly on Israeli policies, and to support the expansion of Jewish communities in authentic and positive ways that nurture and respect who we all are in our unique– and fabulous– Jewish identities.

May 2012 be a year of chutzpah and curiosity and may it be a year of small and large successes living Torah: not doing to others what we hate being done to us.