Groups worked locally to quash divestment

BY JULIA RUBIN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Following a vote of 483-28 with one abstention, the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly passed a resolution (known as an “overture”) that will replace a previous resolution which called for divestment from Israel. The new overture calls for peaceful investment in Israel.

The church’s previous policy of divestment in key companies with business ties to Israel was approved during the last General Assembly in 2004. Since then, Jewish groups across the country have worked with local Presbyteries in an attempt to elicit a different response from the church’s national leadership.

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In St. Louis, the Jewish community joined forces with the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy to establish a dialogue group in which the divestment issue was to be discussed. Among the groups represented were the Jewish Community Relations Council, American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, The Rabbinical Association and the Rabbinical Council.

“There was a good deal of concern,” St. Louis JCRC Executive Director Batya Abramson-Goldstein said, “because it was felt that there was an unfair singling out of Israel, that there had not been sufficient studying of the issues, that the overture reflected a lack of understanding of what is a very complex situation and that this was done with no input from the Jewish community.”

Harvey Schneider represented the American Jewish Committee in the dialogue group that met approximately once a month. He said it became clear that the local Presbytery was “uncomfortable with the resolution adopted at their national meeting.” As such, the group spent nearly two years learning more about each side of the issue. All involved agreed they shared the same basic principles: the dedication to working towards a two-state solution and Israel’s inherent right to defend itself.

In the end, the St. Louis Presbytery drafted an overture which was one of 22 overtures brought before the Peacemaking and International Issues committee at the General Assembly meeting. Paul Reiter is the Executive Presbyter for Giddings-Lovejoy and a member of the interfaith dialogue group.

“Because we had been meeting together and because we had built a relationship of trust and mutuality and respect for the last two years, we basically prepared our overture, we brought that to our table and we reviewed it with the Jewish Community,” Reiter said. “We listened to their suggestions and we made changes that we thought would be helpful, especially in light of their concerns about Hamas. We brought it to our Presbytery with a full endorsement of our dialogue group.”

Reiter characterized the Giddings-Lovejoy overture as particularly informative and explained that some of the language in the consolidated overture that was adopted by the Assembly came directly from the one proposed by the St. Louis Presbytery, “which shows that all of our time and effort was well-spent.”

The overture that is now in place replaces the policy of divestment with one of “corporate engagement,” which calls for constructive investment in Israel. This is seen by many as an important step toward the complete reversal of the destructive divestment resolution. In addition, the new overture amends the previous decision to call for an unconditional removal of Israel’s West Bank security barrier.

Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth Jeffrey Stiffman was also a member of the group. He said he felt proud to be a part of just one of the many groups that renewed dialogue on this issue.

“I feel that so much goodwill was between the two communities that I would hope that we’ll continue in other areas,” Stiffman said, “and that this won’t be the end of the dialogue.”