COMMENTARY: Presbyterian divestment vote, a blow to mutual respect

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Arnold M. Eisen has worked as Jewish Theological Seminary's chancellor since 2007.

RNS photo courtesy Elana Goodridge, Jewish Theological Seminary

Arnold M. Eisen has worked as Jewish Theological Seminary's chancellor since 2007.

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(RNS) I certainly don’t feel loved by this resolution, any more than any of us feels loved when members of another group tell us that they know better than we do what is right for us, and are prepared to help us see the light by causing us suffering.

  • Lles Nats

    Sickening. Since when is it a problem for people to put their money where their mouth is? If you have a moral issue with an investment you are in, you can either change your moral thinking or exit your investment. They chose to exit. Big deal.

  • Doc Anthony

    The mainline and liberal churces are NOT the friend of Israel. Period.

    Israel knows this. Hamas knows this. Al-Qaida knows this. Russia knows this. Probably even North Korea knows this. EVERYBODY knows this.

  • The Great God Pan

    People are not morally obligated to invest in Caterpillar, Motorola or Hewlett Packard if they don’t want to. Any argument to the contrary is deeply fascistic.

  • Howard Dotson

    Our U.S. tax dollars give billions to assist in the military defense of Israel as an ally. The PC(USA) members have a right to set a criteria not to invest tobacco, alcohol, military and more recently the prison industrial complex. Don’t be offended by a friend, who walks the talk, and tries to speak the prophetic truth in love. Most Presbyterians draw strength and inspiration from the Hebrew prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah would most likely concur with this course of action. The path of peace is not easy, but God never calls us to comfortable, only faithful.

  • Jon

    Lles, we may disagree on many other topics, but I agree with you on this one. You are right, they are putting their ideals into action. While people may debate whether the PCUSA move helps, or other details, I hope we can all agree that respect for each other is important, that anyone who causes avoidable harm should be punished, and that beliefs without action are useless.

  • Larry

    It wasn’t long ago the Christian fundamentalist churches were openly anti-Semitic. Many still are. If not for their frothing at the mouth hate of Muslims, and a market for tourism to the Holy Land, they still would be.

  • Andrew

    To appreciate the action taken by the PCUSA one needs to understand the context in which it was taken, One, the PCUSA was fully aware of the membership of the BDS movement and the benefit it would obtain from the vote. They added their support to a number of anti-semitic groups. Two, the study guide offered on the PCUSA website on the divestment issue was a document entitled Zionism Unsettled. By the time of the meeting it had been sufficiently exposed as a one sided anti-semitic document that the PCUSA publicly stated it wasn’t the official position of the denomination although it was the study guide offered on their website. After the vote it was taken off the website since it could not be defended. Third, the PCUSA was offered a chance to put their money where their mouth was with an amendment that would take the money withdrawn from the 3 corporations and invest it in businesses in Israel. They declined. Many have stated because of a concern they wouldn’t obtain the same return as they were getting on the corporate investments. I understand the concern expressed about the vote especially when it’s set in context.

  • K N I Bell

    Mr Eisen:

    The first problem is that you are trying to portray a political and human-rights issue as a religious one. Zionism is not supported by all Jewish people; indeed, some Jewish sects oppose it. Israel is a country, and it has policies that are determined by politics. Religion has precious little to do with it. Religion does not explain why many many Jewish people have come to support divestment, and even BDS, in order to generate the pressure for Israel to halt its human-rights abuses. But it is obvious why someone in your situation would want to ignore that and still portray a political issue as religious: mere tactics. There is a long tradition of attempts to conflate criticism with anti-semitism, even though doing that erodes the meaning of actual anti-semitism, and banalises and thus facilitates all forms of prejudice. And what does that do, in turn? … while you claim to be committed to increasing compassion in the world, you actually DEcrease it. That is why it is hypocritical of you to attempt to make this a religious issue. It is noteworthy that your article does not acknowledge Palestinians’ suffering under human rights abuses that result from Israeli policy that the Presbyterians have decided to firmly dissociate themselves with. I for example had a childhood in Apartheid South Africa; I love the country, but the policy was a disgrace, so we boycotted for years. It is possible to love the country one boycotts. Or would you perhaps be saying that Apartheid should have been left as a decision for the South African government and that there should not have been boycotts against Apartheid? It would be most interesting if you would like to say that. So if you won’t say Apartheid was good, and won’t say boycotts against it were bad, then how do you criticise the Presbyterians? The problem is that divestment follows disenchantment and concern; and Israel had decades of time to think clearly of “~God’s commandments, justice, and compassion”; but it obviously didn’t because there are still soldiers firing rubber-coated lumps of steel at peaceful protesters, shooting children with tear gas canisters fired as projectile weapons, beating up kids, bulldozing people’s homes, destroying their property, and dealing death and destruction on a very grand scale even as of these last few weeks. Israel had its chance, and having spurned it and having rejected criticism, it now faces BDS and other divestments, and here you are still plugging for the engine that generates systematic human rights abuse, and you calling yourself “religious” all the while. Either you are quite confused, or you are absolutely and clearly aware of every thing you wrote.

    Your article’s title “Presbyterian divestment vote, a blow to mutual respect” is suggestive of mental compartmentalisation: nowhere in your article do you show even the littlest scintilla of awareness — let alone respect — that would require you to acknowledge the human rights violations that were the impetus for the PC/USA divestment from 3 companies profiting from the Occupation.

    How is it that you style this divestment decision as “a blow to mutual respect”, while you utterly ignore the much more serious background, that all WB settlements are on stolen land, and indeed most of modern-day Israel is lands forcibly taken from over 700,000 Palestinians who in 1948 were forcibly driven from their homes, farms, villages, business, lands … and that property then simply taken by Israel? Shooting people, driving them out of their homes, and then bombing and arresting them with fair regularity for decades after that … wouldn’t you consider that to be just a bit of a teensy weensy blow to mutual respect? You want respect, but in your article you sure do not give it.

    Here is your big difficulty, that I surmise directs your thoughts and tactics: Jewish property stolen by the Nazis are (properly) still considered (even by the government of Israel) the property of their inheritors. Fair and proper, right? Absolutely it is. But then, surely by the same token, by the same rule, most of Israel still belongs to whoever owned it in 1948 and did not willingly sell it, yes? That is your problem. You have probably known all your life it was your problem, that you have in Israel been walking on stolen land, and whenever you visited settlements that you were walking on stolen land. I would surmise that you never wanted to be strongly opposed to settlements and the human rights abuses of the West Bank etc. simply because you knew that the abuses and wrongs of and from settlements are not easily distinguishable from the wrongs of 1948, and you naturally fear the can of worms that opens up. One part of your mind says (you claim to be a religious Jew) Torah, the other half says Land; but the Land part doesn’t listen to the Torah part and also doesn’t tell the Torah part what it has been doing. So the Torah part does not know what the Land part did, and thus cannot tell you that what the Land part did was wrong. That kind of mental compartmentalisation would be one hypothesis to explain how you, who claim to be a religious Jew, can write this article that ignores key facts that should be addressed by your declared principles, and think these things without realising how wrong they are in terms of the religion you claim to follow. But both compartments hear whispers, and the Land part has a fear that the Torah part doesn’t. The Torah part discovers you are in the West Bank, tells you that you should not be. The Land part suggests ‘Let’s agree to not keep the “entire”* thing’, hoping the Torah part doesn’t notice that the word “entire” is a loophole that just guts the statement of any substance.
    [[* Eisen: “Does that mean Israel requires the retention of the entire West Bank? I hope not.” ]]

    Instead of trying to find thin reasons to object to what the Presbyterians did (with what is, after all, their own money!), you would invest your time better by considering why they did it. And acknowledge that “why” in anything else you decide to write. Instead of writing a condescending and arrogant article disrespectful to Presbyterians, write to your own politicians and tell them to read the Torah, e.g. Micah 2 (1-3), and to seek peace with their hearts.

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