An Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA)

We write to you as members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council to encourage your efforts to initiate phased selective divestment from corporations which profit from or support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.  We applaud your initiative and want to communicate our support as Jewish leaders who also work for justice and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

We are aware that the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) has unleashed a powerful campaign to dissuade you, and consequently dissuade the Presbyterian Church (USA) from moving forward with its well-considered divestment campaign.  We have been dismayed to learn the JCPA has called your divestment campaign “anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and at times anti-Semitic”.

As Jewish leaders, we believe the JCPA’s stance does not represent the broader consensus of the American Jewish community. There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine.  Every day Jewish leaders – we among them – are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of cautious, highly-specified divestment such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) is preparing to undertake.

However, even if the American Jewish community were unanimously opposed to such phased selective divestment by your Church – which is not at all the case – we believe it is still important that you move forward with the thoughtful multi-year process which your Church has begun.  Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world.  As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history.  We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows.

To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic.  To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic.  To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic.  There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account.  We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.

In fact, many of us in the Jewish community recognize that the continuing occupation of Palestine itself presents a great danger to the safety of the Jewish people, not to mention oppressing our spirits and diminishing our honor in the world community.  We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.

With prayers for peace,

Rabbi Margaret Holub, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Brant Rosen, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Julie Greenberg, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, JVP Rabbinical Council

Cantor Michael Davis, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Joseph Berman, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi David Mivasair, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Brian Walt, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, JVP Rabbinical Council

David Basior, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council

Alana Alpert, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council

Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council


14 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA)

  1. As a Presbyterian, I am so very moved to read this letter. It is with grief & shock that I have read some of the attacks on the Presbyterian church over the past several years from some elements of the organized Jewish communities. All my life, my experience of Jewish political & ethical life was through marvelous experiences of comradeship, co-working and friendship with progressive and enlightened people of Jewish backgrounds on social justice issues (like civil rights in 60’s). I guess that I had an idealized view of Jewish thought & action — as embodying the best of American public life. As I’ve learned more re/ Israel’s policies toward Palestine — I assumed that we could have civil & rational debate in the US. Therefore, I’ve been shocked at what the Jewish Council on Public Affairs & some other groups have said about my church. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Your letter helps to bring me back to what I thought I knew before — many thanks for your thought & courage — Shalom & hope for more co-working in “tikkun olam” — the mending of the world. Betsy Taylor

  2. As a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and as one who has worked with and greatly appreciated the efforts of JVP staff, I admire your courage in standing for truth and justice, such a prominent part of your heritage.

    Ted Settle

  3. Betsy Taylor has made such a wonderful response to your letter that all I feel I need to say is Amen—-and thank you so very, very much for standing with and encouraging MRTI. As an active member of the Presbyterian Israel Palestine Mission Network I am so grateful for the solidary we have with JVP as we both work for a just and secure peace! Polly Johnson

  4. Dear Friends,

    As a Presbyterian minister, I often felt that I had views on Israel and Palestine that were totally alien to many of my friends and colleagues. It was only in discovering the Israel/Palestine Mission Network that I felt that I was no longer isolated and could gain my voice on this issue. As a result of my involvement in IPMN, I have become aware of groups like JVP. I admire your work because it takes great courage to be a remnant within the remnant, and I appreciate your open support of MRTI when it is under attack. Together all of us will move toward that day when there will be a just peace in the Middle East. Linda Brebner

  5. This letter is an encouraging example of empathy–on the part of leading American Jews–for a group of American Christians (Presbyterians) who are trying to “do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” Thank you for this communication. We need more of such words across the religious and political barriers that separate us. We know that there is a significant number of Israelis who agree with you and us in these matters. We need to work together. Thank you for the spirit and substance of your letter.

    Donald W. Shriver, President Ermeritus, Unioin Theological Seminary, New York, 1998-99 chair of our denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, and currently member of the Presbytery of New York City.

  6. I am a Presbyterian who is active with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA. Thank you very much for your Open Letter to the PCUSA. We are pleased to work with JVP toward a just and lasting peace in Israel and in Palestine. Together we can assist God in achieving peace. Just Peace and Love. John Bivens

  7. Thanks you SOOOO much for your letter of encouragement. It is so important that what is happening to the Palestinians not be misconstrued to be something that all Jews support. It is also important that people understand that those working for a just peace in Israel/Palestine not be misconstrued as being anti-semitic. Your letter is a wakeup call for all who believe it is a Jewish vs Muslim issue. Your letter is also such an encouragement to those who are working for a just peace, whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other!
    Gratefully Yours,
    Christine Hobbi

  8. I also wish to say THANK YOU! I have always felt supported and encouraged by my Jewish sisters and brothers when we have spoken out on human and civil rights, on issues of peace and justice. So even though I know there are many Jews and Christians who are upset by our work for a just peace, I feel heartened to have the support of so many Jews who are willing to speak out with us. While I believe we are doing the right thing, I think you it is you, our Jewish sisters and brothers, who are taking the greater risk. Your courage is inspiring!
    Thank you,

  9. Many thanks to the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council and IPMN for risking and serving so much to speak the truth in love. Indeed we are called to serve with dignity for just peace, and reach out with integrity even when we disagree, and to work for a peaceful end to the occupation and prosperity for all peoples of the Middle East, including Israelis and Palestinians.

  10. As chair of a team working to support this issue ultimately at the General Assembly, I am grateful for the effort put forth here. We will use this document in support of our advocacy with Chicago Presbyterians to support an overture going to General Assembly which will vote on the recommendations of the committee regarding selective divestment. Peg Griffiths, Middle East Task Force, Chicago Presbytery

  11. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is often hard to face opposition day after day. Your support is truly appreciated as we take our overtures to General Assembly this summer.

  12. […] In a recent open letter to the PC (USA), Rabbi Margaret Holub, my colleague on the JVP Rabbinical Council expressed this sentiment eloquently with the following words: Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world.  As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history.  We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows. […]

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