by Rabbi Alissa Wise
At first glance, my work as a rabbi may look untraditional. Instead of serving a congregation, I do my rabbinic work by organizing for justice and equality for all the people of Israel and Palestine. This work includes supporting the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s efforts in Pittsburgh this past week to pass an overture calling for selective divestment from companies that profit from human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
As a spiritual leader, I feel blessed that this work allows me to engage with my Christian counterparts in deep and transformative ways.
My work alongside Christians is one way I live my commitment to interrupting today’s violence and hatred. I no longer believe Jews are inevitably alone in the world, but in fact quite the opposite. I now see just how much we are there for each other, as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu reminds us in speaking of the effort to end apartheid in South Africa: “We could not have won our freedom in South Africa without the solidarity of people around the world who adopted non-violent methods to pressure governments and corporations to end their support for the apartheid regime.”
We together, Christians and Jews, are speaking out against injustice when we see it — as our faith demands of us. That is what happened in Pittsburgh this past week.
I have never been so hopeful for the future of Israelis and Palestinians as I am after witnessing the strong show of opposition to the Israeli Occupation earlier this month by the Presbyterian Church (USA). The PC (USA) General Assembly passed a resolution to boycott settlement goods with 71 percent of the vote, while divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli Occupation was defeated by a razor thin margin of two votes.
While the call for divestment was not fully heard due to parliamentary maneuvers, it has never been so incredibly close. Unfortunately, the futility of the approved “positive investment” overture was not clear to the commissioners, who failed to see that until the infrastructure of occupation is dismantled, “positive investment” is just painting rubble with a fresh coat of paint. During the push for divestment from South Africa did anyone believe investing in banstutans would work to end apartheid?
We will be held accountable should we stay silent as the land theft, home demolitions, restrictions on movement, economic strangulation and other human rights abuses that are the daily realities of life under occupation for Palestinians continue. Instead, we will together continue to highlight the wrongdoings of specific corporations profiting from human rights abuses and urge them to cease their activities so that “positive investment” in Palestine can actually bear fruit.
When the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted earlier this month on selective divestment from companies — Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — profiting from the Israeli occupation and for boycotting products made in illegal Israeli settlements, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) was standing alongside Presbyterians and Palestinians in asserting that this sort of nonviolent financial protest is appropriate in order to pressure Israel to end its control over the Palestinian people.
Despite being overwhelmingly out-resourced by large Jewish institutions with ties to the Israel lobby, our JVP members succeeded in galvanizing a nearly identical amount of support for divestment as the opposition, and overwhelming support for boycott. This accomplishment is despite heavy-handed fear-mongering by Jewish establishment organizations that included threatening the future of interfaith cooperation and raising the specter of anti-Semitism.
The Presbyterian Church’s decision to openly look at its investments and to call for divestment, let alone passing a boycott resolution that includes all Israeli settlement products, is so brave in part because this stand for human rights is distorted into accusations of anti-Semitism. The legacy of persecution against Jews runs deep and the prejudice is real even today. Accusations of anti-Semitism should not be taken lightly. But advocating for the end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic. Making financial decisions in alignment with one’s own values is not anti-Semitic. Withdrawing money from companies that destroy homes and livelihoods and take human life — this is not anti-Semitic.
Quite the opposite, it is by working together with a focus on justice and universal human rights that we can all truly transform the painful legacies of anti-Semitism within both Jewish and Christian communities. We can, each of us, call on our traditions’ best values and our own gut sense of right from wrong, and together write a future of which we are all proud.