It's not about Israel, it's about freedom
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is holding its General Assembly in Pittsburgh this Independence Day week. Recently, 700 Presbyterian commissioners received an open letter from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, signed by 15,000 people, asking them to reject the divestment of stock from three American companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
Yet the letter does not say a word about the principal Presbyterian concern: Israel's military occupation and confiscation of Palestinian land.
The letter argues that divestment would somehow “justify the violence perpetrated against Israeli civilians — including children.”
It does no such thing. We find such violence abhorrent. And the threat of undoing Jewish-Christian relations is intended to make us shrink from principled support for Palestinian rights in the face of decades of Israeli oppression.
We will not.
The three companies targeted by the Presbyterian divestment proposal provide strategic assistance to the occupation and profit from it. Caterpillar bulldozers demolish homes, uproot olive trees and build settlements and the Wall.
Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions provide surveillance and biometric scanning equipment to control Christians and Muslims in the occupied territories.
Recently, Caterpillar was downgraded by the responsible investment MSCI Inc. index, which noted the “use of the company's equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Consequently, the mutual fund behemoth TIAA-CREF removed nearly $73 million in Caterpillar shares from its “Social Choice” Fund.
The letter ignores the powerlessness of the Palestinians, relying instead on a narrative of permanent Jewish victimization. For centuries the oppression of Jews was a reality in Europe. But today in Israel and the Palestinian territories it is not.
Writes Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, who refused to sign a similar rabbis' letter:
“Most Jews and Christians are not willing to go to Palestine to personally resist Israeli policies of land confiscation, home demolition, destruction of trees and property, military invasion, denial of freedom of movement, administrative detention or the arrest of children through nonviolent protest.”
She understands the point of the divestment effort: Charity and more dialogue are not going to produce justice in a situation where one side wields overwhelming military power and economic control.
Many Presbyterians have witnessed this power imbalance and the injustice Palestinians endure; too many American Jews prefer to look the other way and carve out increasingly out-of-touch rationalizations for Israeli human rights violations.
Certainly, as Calvinists we believe no side is innocent. But we also try to be realistic about why peace negotiations have failed. The letter to the Presbyterian commissioners ignores the fact that more than 500,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are living on land that, according to international law, has been illegally confiscated.
And “positive investment” in Palestine, sometimes proposed instead of divestment, only shores up the occupation itself. Investing in the status quo, with its restrictions on movement, land rights, access to water and electricity, and its walled-off, isolated enclaves across the West Bank will only perpetuate the occupation.
The Presbyterian church has taken up divestment as a last resort after years of fruitless protests against the occupation addressed to the Israeli government and to our country's own political leaders. Divestment is not a form of violence; it is a nonviolent means of effecting long-overdue change.
Many Presbyterians believe divestment can be the first step toward ending 45 years of occupation and advancing the goal of a two-state solution. It signals our refusal to put our church's funds in companies that profit from human rights abuses and our commitment to securing freedom for an indigenous people.
The situation on the ground is harmful to Palestinians and Jews alike and requires resolute, nonviolent action rather than hand-wringing and platitudes.
We urge our Jewish brothers and sisters in so many battles for civil and human rights to see the occupation for themselves and get on the right side of history.
Leila Richards is a member of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. She served as a physician at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza from 1988-89 and as a volunteer with the World Council of Churches in the West Bank in 2004.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Secret Santa saves the day for York County senior center residents
- Licensing boards increase fees to cover costs that include investigations
- Newsmaker: Patrick Juola
- ‘Staff Pick’ is golden ticket on Kickstarter
- Children treated to gifts, peaceful holiday party at Lincoln-Lemington church
- Tree recycling offered at Allegheny County parks
- Pair of NYC officers killed in ambush shooting
- ‘Cause for Paws’ telethon helps dogs find homes
- Don’t stop job hunt in December
- Pitt survives Oakland’s upset bid with 81-77 overtime victory
- LETTERS HOME ...