Next month the General Synod of the United Church of Christ will meet. On the agenda are two resolutions calling on the UCC to either study the issue of divestment of resources from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine or to actually begin such a divestment program immediately (click here and here for background). Jewish groups in the United States have largely been critical of such efforts. However, at least one prominent Jewish group backs such efforts. Jewish Voice for Peace has defended a similar divestment initiative undertaken by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.. Here is their statement:
With some 10,000 members and supporters, and a board of advisors that includes high-profile American Jews and Israeli peace activists, Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the largest and oldest grassroots Jewish peace organizations in the United States.
For years, through its call to suspend military aid to Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, Jewish Voice for Peace has been part of a large movement calling for material pressure on Israel. That movement is growing, with others joining in the effort to resist funding the occupation while maintaining a positive relationship with the Israeli people.
In July, 2004, the Presbyterian Church made a decision to investigate selective divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation. As a result, a number of mainline Jewish organizations have called on Christian organizations to oppose divestment. All the while, the actual content of the Presbyterian Church’s decision has been misreported as a decision to divest from Israel. In fact, the PCUSA merely decided to investigate divestment from companies, both American and Israeli, that profit from the occupation.
At JVP, we fully support selective divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes American companies like Caterpillar who profit from the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards. It also includes Israeli companies who depend on settlements for materials or labor or who produce military equipment used to violate Palestinian human rights.
We believe that general divestment from Israel is an unwise strategy at this time. We believe that economic measures targeted specifically at the occupation and the Israeli military complex that sustains it are much more likely to produce results.
However, we absolutely reject the accusation that general divestment or boycott campaigns are inherently anti-Semitic. The Israeli government is a government like any other, and condemning its abuse of state power, as many of its own citizens do quite vigorously, is in no way the same as attacking the Jewish people.
Further, it is crucial not only to criticize the immoral and illegal acts of the Israeli government, but to back up that criticism with action. Socially responsible investing, divestment, and boycott campaigns have proven to be effective tools for both individuals and institutions working to make governments accountable to international human rights standards. The mere fact that some groups have chosen different or more aggressive tactics from us does not necessarily make them anti-Semitic.
Each year, US corporations receive an alarming subsidy from US taxpayers, primarily in the form of US military aid to Israel. The total amount of US aid given to Israel since 1949 represents the largest transfer of funds from one country to another in history. Seventy-five percent of US military aid to Israel must by law be spent in US corporations, making corporations, not Israel or Israelis, the primary recipients of US aid. This means that US corporations are primary beneficiaries of Israel’s continued and brutal military occupation of Palestinian lands.
The lopsided American foreign policy may seem to be in Israel’s interest, but it actually works to the detriment of the Israeli people. Continued militarization of Israeli society increases the exposure of Israeli women and children to violence in their daily lives, and has helped lead the country to economic crisis. At the same time, this unbalanced US foreign policy has devastated the Palestinians. Americans of conscience must work to balance that policy in favor of a peaceful solution. It is not discriminatory that Americans working for a just peace focus their attention on Israel’s occupation and take concrete steps to end it, like divesting from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.
Neither the US nor Israel will change their policies in favor of peace through their own goodwill. This is not the way of governments. Tangible pressure must be brought to bear if policies promoting a better future are to take root. The time has come for groups to bring that pressure to bear.
We salute the Presbyterian Church for their courage in taking on this critical human rights issue, and are grateful for the visionary leadership of the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Mercy who insisted on holding the Caterpillar Corporation to account for their sale of weaponized bulldozers to Israel.
And we remind the many groups that are alarmed by the Presbyterian Church’s actions that the best way to stop the growing divestment movement is to eliminate its root cause -- Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We call on all Americans of conscience to join the Presbyterian Church, the Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Mercy, Jewish Voice for Peace and countless other groups in taking tangible steps to create a better future for Israelis and Palestinians together.
How would I vote?
I support the effort to study the divestment issue further. However, I have come believe that before the UCC goes on record supporting divestment there should be a period of further engagement between our denomination and leaders in Israel. The concerns of Jewish peace groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – which argues divestment now will only polarize the situation further – should be taken seriously. But Jewish Voice for Peace should be applauded for having the courage to speak out on behalf of peace and to correctly assert that the divestment movement is not anti- Semitic.
Resolution #2: Selective Divestment from Companies Involved with Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Building of the "Security Fence," and the Israeli Settlements Within the Palestinian Territory