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Two Perspectives on Presbyterian Divestment from U.S. Multinationals that Sustain the Occupation

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily By  Cantor Michael Davis and M.J. Rosenberg)

Editor's Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner: We invited the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement and J Street, both of which have opposed the Presbyterian divestment resolution, to respond to those who support the Presbyterian resolution. Neither agreed to do so. Tikkun has sought to be a safe space in which both sides could present their thinking. But it's hard to get the two sides in the Jewish world to sit together and discuss the issues, since anyone who supports even the very limited form of divestment proposed by the Presbyterians is, as J Street's Jeremy Ben Ami said recently in explaining his opposition to any form of Boycotts, Divestments or Sanctions, crossing "a red line" and hence, in the view of the Jewish establishment, automatically suspect of being anti-Semitic. We believe a public debate is a more healthy way to conduct this discussion, and so we are disappointed that neither J Street nor the Reform Movement accepted our invitation.

Presbyterian Divestment - A Jewish Perspective
by Cantor Michael Davis, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council

The first time I wore a kippa and talit outside of a synagogue setting was four year ago outside a hotel in downtown Chicago overlooking the Chicago river. I was singing with a group of my colleagues, local Reform cantors, to protest the mistreatment of hotel workers. I had the privilege of getting to know worker leaders, edit a national clergy report into worker conditions and organize my fellow clergy in Chicago. This was an exciting time - we took over the lobby of a Hyatt hotel with a flashmob, met with senior executives, collaborated with Christian clergy, traveled to other cities and on and on. Last summer, four years after their last contract expired, the Hyatt workers finally won a fair labor contract from management.

The lessons I learned from this successful worker justice campaign have relevance for me in thinking about how to end Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank.

The lasting lesson this experience taught me was that in any dispute between two parties of disparate power, the more powerful party will object to the involvement of third parties. In the case of the Hyatt labor dispute, management argued that this should be resolved between management and labor; the public should stay out of it. Israel, is by far, the more powerful side in the Israel-Palestine conflict: militarily, financially, politically. In Israel's case, American Jews are told that only the Israelis have the right to an opinion on the Palestinians. After all, their future is at stake not ours. Americans, including Jews, have been accused of anti-Semitism or being fellow travelers of Jew-haters. We are told to stay out of it.

Yet our involvement in Israel-Palestine as Jews and as Americans is necessary and valuable. In the case of Hyatt, management was clearly disturbed by the public's engagement with the issue. Hyatt Corporation's most senior executives devoted many hours to meetings with clergy - particularly rabbis - who supported the workers. In the case of Israel, the international movement speaking up for Palestinian human rights is of great concern to Israel.

In Detroit, in a couple of days, the Presbyterian General Assembly will debate divesting from three companies that are complicit in Israel's military occupation and colonization of the West Bank.

I, an Israeli national who served three years in the IDF, and who has served the Jewish community in Chicago for over 20 years, support the right of our Presbyterian friends to freely explore their conscience on divesting from American companies that benefit from Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank. I will be at the Presbyterian General Assembly arguing for divestment. I believe, along with a growing number of Jews and Israelis that BDS is the best non-violent option to stop the downward spiral to inevitable violence. For Jews - and for Christians - divestment is a principled position. As a supporter of BDS myself, I know how much effort the mainstream Jewish community is putting into shutting down this debate and excluding BDS supporters from the Jewish community. I would challenge those who are trying to shut down the Presbyterian debate to show how the motives of those supporting divestment are anything less than honest. This is unworthy of us as Jews and particularly egregious when directed at our Christian neighbors.First, we should note that under international and American law, Israel's occupation of the West Bank is illegal. Any business involved in the occupation is therefore illegal too. That alone should be enough to keep American companies away from the Occupation. The Israeli government argues that the occupation is necessary in order to keep Israel safe. How does building Jewish cities on stolen Palestinian land or the daily harassment and humiliation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians make Israelis more safe? All indications are that antagonizing Palestinians imperils Israeli lives.

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