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June 19, 2014 1

Anti-Israel Resolutions Debated at Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly

Israel is very much on the agenda at this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA) of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church USA (PCUSA), cur­rently meet­ing in Detroit.  All four­teen res­o­lu­tions, or over­tures, being con­sid­ered by the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee con­cern the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as does one before the Ecu­meni­cal and Inter­faith Com­mit­tee.  The PCUSA, which has had a pres­ence in the Mid­dle East since the early 1800’s, has taken up divest­ment at each bien­nial meet­ing since 2004. In 2012, the divest­ment res­o­lu­tion was nar­rowly defeated.  This year, it is once again on the agenda, as are over­tures to boy­cott Hewlett-Packard (HP), to label Israel an “apartheid state,” and to study whether the Church should main­tain its com­mit­ment to a two-state solu­tion. ADL, rep­re­sented at the GA by its Inter­faith Direc­tor, Rabbi David Sand­mel, opposes these mea­sures as unfair to Israel and con­trary to the goal of achiev­ing a two-state solution.

There are also over­tures being con­sid­ered that oppose divest­ment and sug­gest a “third way” of engag­ing the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict through sup­port­ing peace-makers, travel to the region and encour­ag­ing study­ing a broad range of views through local relations.

Dur­ing the first few days of the GA, com­mit­tees receive over­tures pro­posed by local gov­ern­ing bod­ies, hear tes­ti­mony, debate amend­ments, and even­tu­ally decide what actions to rec­om­mend the GA take regard­ing the over­tures they received.  While the com­mit­tees have a great deal of influ­ence on what finally ends up before the entire polity, it is the GA that makes the final deci­sion, which is sched­uled for Fri­day, June 20.

Pow­er­ful groups within the Church, such as the Israel/Palestine Mis­sion Net­work, which pro­duced the anti-Semitic “Zion­ism Unset­tled doc­u­ment,” sup­port divest­ment.   Due to the GA’s struc­ture, these groups have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate voice in the Com­mit­tee, and are sup­ported by the anti-Israel Jew­ish Voice for Peace, whose promi­nent vis­i­bil­ity at the GA has con­fused some par­tic­i­pants into think­ing they rep­re­sent the main­stream Jew­ish com­mu­nity.  More mod­er­ate voices within the Church, such as Pres­by­te­ri­ans for Mid­dle East Peace, have been work­ing closely with the ADL and a broad coali­tion of other major Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions and reli­gious lead­ers to bring a fairer per­spec­tive to the deliberations.

Though the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee did vote on June 17 in favor of divest­ment from HP, Cater­pil­lar and Motorola, it also explic­itly stated “the action does not mean align­ment with the over­all strat­egy of BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions).” The over­ture that rec­om­mends divest­ment also reaf­firms Israel’s right to exist within secure and inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized borders.

There is also the large major­ity of Pres­by­te­ri­ans who sup­port the state of Israel while also sym­pa­thiz­ing with the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tini­ans. They feel torn between their com­mit­ment to pos­i­tive Jewish-Christian rela­tions and desire to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and some have expressed feel­ing over­whelmed with input from all sides. While the bar­rage of anti-Israel rhetoric from cer­tain sec­tors has been chal­leng­ing to hear, the shrill­ness of their mes­sage may be pro­duc­ing a back­lash, espe­cially when com­pared to the more mea­sured pre­sen­ta­tion from the mod­er­ates and rec­og­nized main­stream Jew­ish organizations.

It is clear that the Church is divided on how best to address the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as demon­strated by the con­flict­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee. The process in the com­mit­tees is dif­fer­ent than that of the GA where the debate is much more bal­anced. While in the past the GA has rejected rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­mit­tee, what will hap­pen this year can­not be pre­dicted, and, as the vote draws near, there will likely be intense lob­by­ing of the vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all sides.

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October 30, 2013 2

Is Jewish Voice for Peace Edging Toward a Full Boycott of Israel?

Narrow Bridge Candles screenshot

An image on Nar­row Bridge Can­dles’ web­site calls for the company’s can­dles to “fuel flames of resistance.”

The Boston chap­ter of Jew­ish Voice for Peace posted a mes­sage on its Face­book page on Octo­ber 28th urg­ing its fol­low­ers to buy Hanukkah can­dles from a candle-making project called “Nar­row Bridge Can­dles” that sup­ports the “full Pales­tin­ian call for Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions.” The com­pany, which is based in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, pro­duces dif­fer­ent kinds of can­dles needed for Jew­ish rit­u­als, includ­ing Shab­bat, Havadala and Hanukkah, so that Jews who are “in sol­i­dar­ity with Pales­tine” don’t have to pur­chase can­dles from Israel.

On its web­site, the project claims that Israel has a “monop­oly on Judaica.” In fact, many of the Hanukkah can­dles that are sold in the United States are pro­duced by two Jew­ish com­pa­nies in New York, Rite Lite in Brook­lyn and Ner Mitz­vah in New Square. Another pop­u­lar brand sold in the U.S. is actu­ally man­u­fac­tured in China. While we didn’t take the time to inves­ti­gate the mar­ket share for these com­pa­nies, suf­fice it to say that Israeli-made Hanukkah can­dles are not the only ones avail­able for purchase.

Hanukah candles Tel Aviv

Hanukkah can­dles made in Tel Aviv, Israel

More impor­tantly, JVP Boston’s sup­port for Nar­row Bridge Can­dles demon­strates the incon­sis­tency in JVP’s plat­form on BDS. In its 2011 state­ment regard­ing BDS, JVP-National, which was just named by ADL as a “Top Ten Anti-Israel Group,” stated clearly that the group “focuses our efforts on boy­cott and divest­ment cam­paigns that directly tar­get Israel’s occu­pa­tion of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its block­ade of the Gaza Strip.” This sug­gests that JVP was restrict­ing its pro-BDS advo­cacy to prod­ucts made in Israeli set­tle­ments and to multi­na­tional com­pa­nies that profit from the occupation.

 But Nar­row Bridge Can­dles sup­ports a boy­cott of prod­ucts made in Israel in gen­eral; no men­tion is made on its web­site of boy­cotting can­dles only made in Israeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank. Indeed, two of the most pop­u­lar candle-making com­pa­nies in Israel are based in Tel Aviv and Safed, cities that are part of Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Var­i­ous mem­bers of JVP’s lead­er­ship have indi­cated in the past that the group might con­sider shift­ing from tar­geted BDS to an adop­tion of the Pales­tin­ian call for BDS, which advo­cates for a com­plete boy­cott. In a 2011 inter­view, both Rebecca Vilkomer­son, JVP’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, and Brant Rosen, a founder of its Rab­bini­cal Coun­cil, indi­cated that the group might even­tu­ally sup­port a full boy­cott. It remains to be seen if JVP-Boston’s endorse­ment of Nar­row Bridge Can­dles is a har­bin­ger of that shift or an aber­ra­tion of JVP’s pol­icy.

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July 16, 2013 1

Jewish Group To Hold Anti-Israel Protests On Tisha B’Av

As many Jews around the world today observe Tisha B’Av – a fast day that marks the anniver­sary of the destruc­tion of both Tem­ples in Jerusalem and the Jew­ish people’s exile from the land of Israel – one Jew­ish group is spend­ing the day protest­ing Israel.jvp-tisha b’av-we-divest-day-action

Jew­ish Voice for Peace, a dri­ving force behind the Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paign against Israel in the U.S., is help­ing orga­nize a “Day of Action” out­side the offices of TIAA-CREF, a major finan­cial ser­vices insti­tu­tion, across the coun­try. The protests are being held under the aus­pices of “We Divest,” a coali­tion founded and led by JVP. TIAA-CREF is being tar­geted because it has invest­ments in sev­eral multi­na­tional com­pa­nies that work with Israel.

The finan­cial giant is hold­ing its national share­hold­ers meet­ing today in Char­lotte, North Car­olina. Protests will be held there and out­side TIAA-CREF offices in Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago, Den­ver, Detroit, Ithaca, Los Ange­les, New York, Philadel­phia, San Fran­cisco and Seattle.

Though today’s protest was not timed to coin­cide with Tisha B’Av, JVP’s activists have noted and appre­ci­ated the sig­nif­i­cance of the con­nec­tion else­where. Yes­ter­day, “The Pales­tin­ian Tal­mud,” a blog run by JVP’s Rab­bini­cal Coun­cil, fea­tured an entry about Tisha B’Av that pro­moted the “Day of Action” against Israel.

While the main­stream Jew­ish com­mu­nity views Tisha B’Av as an oppor­tu­nity to reded­i­cate its com­mit­ment to polit­i­cal sov­er­eignty and sup­port for the Jew­ish state, the blog post chal­lenged the notion that the Jew­ish peo­ple need a land of their own, say­ing: “More times than I can count I’ve heard that Jews will not be safe in the world with­out Israel to pro­tect us. My fam­ily and teach­ers and friends point to time after time of Jews being knocked down, kicked out, killed and say: it will hap­pen again, no mat­ter what. I look at that his­tory and say: it can be dif­fer­ent, it has to be.”

The author, a Recon­struc­tion­ist rab­bini­cal stu­dent named Jes­sica Rosen­berg, acknowl­edges that many Jews spend the day recit­ing prayers (known as Kinot) that mourn the destruc­tion of the Tem­ples, but notes that she will observe the fast by read­ing sto­ries and poems about “Pales­tini­ans who’ve been dis­pos­sessed and expelled from their land.” Rosen­berg acknowl­edges the dif­fi­culty of con­nect­ing mourn­ing about Jew­ish trauma with crit­i­cism of Israel (in her words, the “Pales­tin­ian his­tory and trauma that my com­mu­nity has to reckon with our part in caus­ing”), but com­mits to start­ing this “new ritual.”

This exploita­tion of Jew­ish tra­di­tion to pro­mote an anti-Israel agenda is clas­sic JVP. The group has even pre­vi­ously pub­lished a Passover Hag­gadah that reded­i­cates the 3rd cup of wine to BDS and adds an olive to the Seder Plate to mark the Pales­tin­ian struggle.

In advance of today’s meet­ing, TIAA-CREF was pre­sented with a BDS res­o­lu­tion sup­ported by some of its investors. The com­pany, how­ever, chose not to put the res­o­lu­tion on the bal­lot of res­o­lu­tions that will be con­sid­ered because, as they expressed, the occu­pa­tion isn’t a “sig­nif­i­cant social pol­icy issue.”

The “We Divest” cam­paign was ini­ti­ated in 2010 by JVP, which began cir­cu­lat­ing a peti­tion at the time call­ing on TIAA-CREF to divest. At present, the peti­tion has close to 21,000 sig­na­to­ries. In 2012, JVP announced that the “We Divest” cam­paign was being trans­formed into a coali­tion com­prised of JVP, the US Cam­paign to End the Israeli Occu­pa­tion, Adalah-NY, the US Pales­tin­ian Com­mu­nity Net­work, Grass­roots Inter­na­tional, and the Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee. As part of its efforts to pres­sure TIAA-CREF to divest from the com­pa­nies that work with Israel, the “We Divest” coali­tion holds reg­u­lar protests and teach-ins and other events pro­mot­ing TIAA-CREF divestment.

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