By Noga Zimerman, Director, Middle East Affairs, JCRC
Last week, the organized American Jewish community was part of a historic victory over proponents of the anti-Israel Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement when a resolution calling on the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) to divest its assets from three companies with sales to Israel was narrowly defeated at the church’s annual General Assembly. The Jewish Community Federation, through a grant to the Israel Action Network (IAN), and its support of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) which led the organizing effort in the Bay Area, played an important role in helping to ensure that resources were and are available to respond to these serious challenges.
The resolution had previously passed the church’s Middle East Committee and its General Assembly Mission Council, the highest authoritative body of the PCUSA, with an overwhelming majority. So odds were heavily stacked against the position of the mainstream organized Jewish Community that believes that divestment from Israel will hinder, not advance peace, and that divestment singles out Israel as solely to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In preparation for the vote, the IAN (a joint initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs) and the Bay Area JCRC along with other JCRCs throughout the country had launched a comprehensive joint advocacy campaign against the resolution to ensure that church members were fully aware of the negative ramifications of this resolution and of our community’s strong position against BDS ahead of what was sure to be a historic vote with deep impact on the scope and direction of the BDS Movement’s Israel divestment campaign in mainline Christian churches. The joint efforts included the wide distribution by the IAN of an anti-divestment, pro-peace “Letter in Hope” signed by over 1,500 rabbis and supported by over 22,000 members of the community, and the distribution by the JCRC as a direct letter to the voting members that described the one-sided, prejudicial nature of the BDS Movement and of the resolution, and expressed the community’s hope that the church would choose instead to impact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a fair and productive way. All three organizations did extensive advocacy work behind the scenes, and in particular, mobilized allies within the PCUSA to reach out to their peers and openly discuss the resolution and its unjust, imbalanced nature. Following a hard-fought battle on both sides, the resolution was defeated 333-331, potentially marking a turning point in our battle against divestment in the mainline Christian churches.