By Rabbi Melissa B. Simon
Clergy and Jewish organization officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey gathered on April 25 at the Jewish Community Services Building in Philadelphia for a training designed to strengthen the connections between the Jewish community and Mainline Protestant denominations in light of upcoming votes by several Protestant denominations to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).
Cantor Kevin Wartell of Temple Beth El, Cantor Ellen Sussman of Temple Shirat Shalom and Aaron Gorodzinsky, director of outreach and community relations at the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, joined me for the half-day training. Sponsors included the ADL, AJC and the Consulate General of Israel, the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis and the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.
A major piece of the training was to prepare and empower Jewish clergy to reach out to their local Methodist and Presbyterian colleagues and to share with them about the divisive nature of BDS.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) was to meet for its General Conference in Portland, Oregon, in May, to consider resolutions to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard, as well as resolutions to label products produced in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and to screen investments from companies that operate in Israeli communities/settlements across the Green Line.
Two-thirds of the approximately 1,000 delegates present at the 2012 UMC-GC rejected a resolution to divest from these three companies. However, motions denouncing Jewish settlements and recommending an embargo of settlement products were approved. Recently, the UMC pension board blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio due to their ostensible operations over the Green Line.
In June, also in Portland, the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will be held. A BDS resolution was narrowly passed at the previous PCUSA GA in 2012 and this time the PCUSA will debate a paper that opens the door for the denomination to support arrangements other than a two-state solution, placing sole blame for the conflict on Israel, giving no substantial responsibility to Palestinians for anti-Israel terror and rejection. An official stance moving away from support for two states is a dangerous next step toward normalizing anti-Zionism.
As those in attendance at the training learned, the vast majority of Protestant church leaders and members are not hostile to Israel, but are being misguided by an active minority who have led people to believe that BDS is a non-violent and thus acceptable tool for bringing about peace.
Too few understand that at the core of the BDS movement are people who are truly hostile to the very existence of a Jewish state. The training highlighted that the role of clergy is to convey our disappointment that our friends and neighbors, who purport to advocate for peace, are instead engaged in an effort that many in the Jewish community see as anti-Israel and, at times, anti-Jewish.