Daniel M. Cohen

Reflections on PC/USA’s Friday Decision

I spent my Friday afternoon watching the deliberations of the Presbyterians (PC/USA) as they prepared to vote on divestment from three companies that do business with Israel and, according to the Church, are “against peace.” I was struck that the vote took place shortly after Shabbat Korach had begun here in the Northeast. Just as Korach made statements that were true but were taken out of context in order to advance his agenda, so too did those pushing for divestment make statements that held elements of truth but, when removed from context, led to misconceptions.

Yes, Caterpillar, one of the companies from which they voted to divest, apparently makes some of the heavy equipment used to bulldoze Palestinian homes. But whose homes were they and why were they demolished? The answers to those questions matter.

Yes, HP makes some of the technology that goes into the scanners used by the IDF at crossings from Palestinian territories or, at times, within the territories themselves. But how many times have those scanners detected weapons and explosive devices on extremists headed to hotels, theaters or cafes? The answer to that question matters.

And yes, Motorola makes communication technologies used by the IDF in the territories. But it may be the very same technology being used by the IDF as it continues to hunt for the three kidnapped Israeli teens. That too matters.

Context matters and, sadly, little was to be found in Friday’s debate.

I was initially gratified to hear some of the comments made during the debate. Speakers made clear that they were interested in distancing themselves from Zionism Unsettled, a work described by the Reform Movement’s Rabbi Rick Jacobs as “a vicious attack on Judaism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” That sentiment is nice, but the fact that the publication is (still) available on the Church’s main webstore makes those words ring hollow. Another speaker stated, “We believe that divestment is not a good tool for peacemaking.” Another expressed concern for the negative impact divestment might have between PC/USA and the American Jewish community. Still others expressed dismay that a positive vote would link the church to BDS, “a global divestment group that does not speak for [the Church]” and that the vote would “be used to promote an approach that is not [the Church’s] own”. Another truly wise person noted that divestment demands that Israel take action without placing any expectations on the Palestinians or taking into account the real concerns of Israelis for their security. The articulation of such sentiments was heartwarming, as were the repeated expressions of love for the Jewish people and support for the State of Israel’s right to exist. Sadly, all of these arguments fell on deaf ears and the motion to divest passed.

During the debate an amendment that called for any funds withdrawn from companies whose work is deemed to be “not peaceful” be immediately reinvested in “acceptable” companies that do business with Israel. Sadly this amendment did not pass. It is not hard to see the contradiction between the verbal expression of love and support and the refusal to take positive action.

Any lingering doubts as to what was really going on quickly evaporated when two speakers approached the microphone. The first noted that he was initially the chair of the committee looking into the issue of divestment, but two weeks after taking the position was asked to step down. The reason? He had traveled to Israel twice with local rabbis and the trips were paid for by members of the Jewish community. The second person noted that she was on the divestment committee. She initially planned to vote in favor of divestment. However, after seeing how one-sided the discussions were, and after being subjected to constant and powerful pressure (even while in the restroom), she came to the conclusion that there was a poorly hidden agenda at play that was other than the one being publicly shared. For that reason, she was voting against the divestment proposal.

There was clearly an anti-Israel agenda at play, and sadly, it carried the day. And through it all, members of the church body expressed their love for the Jewish community and their commitment to the State of Israel.

Actions speak louder than words, so I humbly ask the church body to take a few key steps that will put their expressions of love and support into action.

First, if you do not align yourselves with those who seek to dismantle the Jewish State, stop selling the hateful Zionism Unsettled through your Church store immediately. And if you are truly sincere, offer refunds to anyone who purchased the publication in order to send the message that the text does not speak for PC/USA.

Second, if this (misguided) move was truly about the territories and not Israel itself, take whatever monies you pull from Caterpillar, HP and Motorola and immediately invest them in companies that do business with Israel but do not, according to your assesment, “aid and abet” the occupation.

If this was not a move against Israel and the Jewish people, show us. These actions will demonstrate that your expressions of support for Israel and the Jewish People are sincere. If not, you will show that your words were little more than empty soundbites intended to hide your true intent.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Cohen was ordained in 1993 by the HUC-JIR and has served Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel since 1993. An avid technology geek, for fun he writes for the tech blog Gear Diary.