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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Divestment Vote Undermines Presbyterian-Jewish Relations

Rabbi Jacobs: "We need to be working together on this vital issue and there cannot be a true partnership when one side endorses positions that delegitimize the other's rights and core values"

Media Contact: Jo-Ann Mort
718-954-0352 or

Detroit, June 20, 2014 - In response to the Presbyterian Church's vote to divest from Israel at their General Assembly meeting, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

"American Jews have great friends within the Presbyterian Church. I was honored to meet many of them at the General Assembly in Detroit, and am grateful for their support and friendship. That friendship is by far the rule in communities around the country, where Presbyterian churches work hand in hand with synagogues on a wide array of common concerns, including Middle East peace.

"When it comes to Israel, the Palestinians, and achieving a lasting and sustainable peace in the Middle East, PC(USA) has by a very narrow margin chosen its preference for a policy of isolation rather than one of engagement.  We want to acknowledge with abiding appreciation the eloquence and thoughtfulness of so many voices who argued against divestment and for engagement and interfaith cooperation.   

"In my remarks in Detroit, I said to the Assembly: 'You can chose partnership and engagement or you can choose separation and divestment.' Were they to have chosen to continue working cooperatively with us on peace efforts to make real a two-state solution, I offered to facilitate a meeting of the Presbyterian leadership with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. At this meeting we would have discussed with the Prime Minister any areas of concern about Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians. With their vote today, they have, sadly, chosen the latter course of divestment and separation. So be it.  

"Alas, at a national level, this is not a surprise. The publication and dissemination of "Zionism Unsettled" as a teaching tool used by the church sent a painful warning to us. It is a biased, one-sided and ahistoric document. But we believed it was worth going the extra mile and appealing directly to the commissioners.

"Of course, we will continue to partner with our allies within the church who are committed to a two-state solution, reject the effort of the BDS campaign to delegitimize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and work toward a just and fair solution to enable the Palestinians to achieve the state that they deserve. We will continue to advocate forcefully for two states for two peoples.  

"However, based on today's vote, especially when taken together with "Zionism Unsettled," we can reach no conclusion other than that PC(USA) itself does not share those baseline commitments and that they are not a partner for joint work on Israel-Palestine peace issues. Whatever the intent of some who supported this resolution, this vote will be widely understood as endorsement of and support for the BDS Movement.

"We will continue to work with local Presbyterian congregations, many of which we know do not support this position and with which our congregations have forged important alliances to further the values that we jointly hold as core to our desire for a better world for all peoples.

"We urge the majority of Presbyterian clergy and lay leaders who, we believe, reject the approach of the national denomination in supporting BDS to let themselves now be heard. We urge the denomination to reverse this position. We need to be working together on this vital issue and there cannot be a true partnership when one side endorses positions that delegitimize the other's rights and core values."



June 20, 2014
10:47 PM

Rabbi Rick Jacobs address and response were eloquent, and am proud that he is the leader today of the URJ. I am a progressive in no uncertain terms. I sadly believe, and have believed for years, that the leadership of the Presbyterian Church are theological anti-semites, and are opposed to the concept of a Jewish majority nation-state, while they consider any other nation-state to be noble. At this conference the Presbyterian Church USA voted to reject investment in Israeli companies actively involved in promoting peace, and have overwhelmingly voted to reconsider the support for a two-state solution. These last two votes show the true colors of this organization, and are more damning that divesting in a few companies who do business in the territories. Sadly, while it comes as no surprise, and while we must continue to collaborate with like minded churches, the organization as a whole has declared itself an outright enemy of the Jewish people. I hope that instead of begging for their approval, the URJ needs to give the organized Presbyterian Church a taste of their own medicine by disengaging from all initiatives with the Presbyterian leadership, and to oppose them on the national level at every single opportunity. They can disseminate with impunity hate literature such as "Zionism Unsettled" which got the imprimatur of David Duke and could have been in Der Sturmer, and still want to work together? So called progressives. This is not an organization on the whole that we should be partnering with nor looking for approval from. It is time to play hardball with them as they fired the shot, after over a decade of preparing for this battle. It is high time to show them that we can hurt them too. Rabbi Jacobs could not have been more brilliant, yet there are voices in the Church which claimed that they were insulted when he proposed a meeting with Netanyahu. I do not like Netanyahu at all, but in this case, the Presbyterian Church behaved as the jury, judge and executioner. The votes were determined before any speeches were made. If one wants to beat a dog, they find a stick. Nothing Rabbi Jacobs would have said would have made a difference.


Cy Stanway

June 21, 2014
11:34 AM


The only way to effectively deal with this is to walk away from all interfaith workings with the PCUSA. There will need to be a groundswell from the congregations themselves. Only when they respond should we respond back. To do otherwise is to make us into beggars. I know this is what the PCUSA boycott supporters wanted and this is how they need to see Jews. I will be happy to disappoint.


Michael Davis

June 21, 2014
01:00 PM

Cantor Michael Davis, Jewish Voices for Peace

Earlier this past week, I was in Detroit as an observer of the Presbyterian Church USA 221st General Assembly. I sat through most of the Middle East Committee meetings. I followed the plenary discussion and vote on divestment. I feel it necessary to clarify some unfortunate errors in Rabbi Jacobs' statement about the Presbyterian vote on divestment:
1) In voting to divest from American companies that support and benefit from the occupation of the West Bank including the settlements, the Presbyterian Church (USA) went to great lengths to distance itself from the BDS movement. Regardless of one's opinions on BDS, the judgement that the Presbyterian Church has turned away from the State of Israel or Jews is not the stated intent of the church. The church at the plenary session of the General Assembly publicly affirmed its support for the State of Israel. Following the vote on divestment, moderator Heath Rada made a special statement re-affirming the church's friendship with the Jewish people. In private conversations with the church's commissioners, never once did I hear a negative stance on Jews or the State of Israel.
2) On the separate question of the church's book publishing policy, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has acknowledged publicly that "there would be no Jewish Zionism without Christian Zionism". Christian Zionism is an issue that, for Christians, stands apart from Jewish Zionism. It is therefore appropriate for the church to examine its position on Zionism through this study guide. Regardless, the church decided in Detroit that future editions of "Zionism Unsettled" will carry a disclaimer to the effect that this publication is not an official teaching of the church. Given this careful approach of the church, is it fair to now characterize Zionism Unsettled as "the approach of the national denomination."?
3) I have read Zionism Unsettled. There is nothing in it that could not have been said by many Jews in our own debates about Zionism going back to the late 19th century.
4) The Presbyterian Church voted to withdraw its support from settlements and the occupation. This is a mainstream view in the State of Israel and the American Jewish community. The Presbyterian Church voted to penalize American companies, not Jewish-owned ones, and not Israeli companies. Sadly, Rabbi Jacobs' statement withdrawing Jewish friendship from those Presbyterians who voted for divestment does not match the spirit of Interfaith collaboration that I witnessed at the Presbyterian General Assembly. I am concerned that this statement holds interfaith collaboration hostage to any implication of criticism of Israeli policy. Rabbi Jacobs places Christians in an impossible bind: choose ethics or friendship with Jews. With this approach, either way, we stand to lose.
In Detroit, I made new friends with Christians. I learned to respect the careful, deliberative process of the Presbyterian Church that lead them over a period of 10 years to yesterday's vote. I look forward to engaging those who did not support divestment, both in the church and in our own community in respectful debate.

My prayer is that we learn to sustain our friendships even though we may disagree on issues that we all care deeply about; that we honor the honest intentions of those who disagree with us; that we grant them the same respect that we ask for ourselves. "V'ahavta l're'acha kamocha - Love your neighbor as yourself."


Bill H.

June 21, 2014
08:33 PM

For rank and file Presbyterians, the substantial minority of whom, and perhaps the majority, are against this action, the question is what can be done in response. One action to be taken by them and others is to purposely invest in the three barred companies - Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar, and HP.

In furtherance of that approach, I have invested $5,000 in Motorola as a gesture that if replicated widely would negate the symbolic value of the church's actions.

Please visit my rinky dink site if you wish to do the same. It's just a gesture that makes it possible for me to attend Presbyterian services.


David Amor

June 22, 2014
10:31 PM

I do not agree with Rabbi Jacobs' conclusion that the Presbyterians are no longer a reliable partner or that their fundamental support for Israel is in doubt. I take seriously their claim that they have wrestled seriously with this issue and have taken a measured stance against the settlement program that is the fundamental obstacle to peace. I am sick at heart that it has come to this, but the government of Israel is becoming ever more intransigent. There is a lot to criticize about the Palestinian leadership to be sure, but that's another story.


Richard Rappaport

June 22, 2014
11:22 PM


Do the Presbyterians boycott companies dealing with countries whose policies I am sure they disapprove such as China Pakistan Saudi Arabia Libya Lebanon Syria etc?


Rabbi Lewis Bogage

June 23, 2014
12:28 AM

Retired Rabbi

This is a very negative sign of
feelings and sentiments of the
communities in which we live,
work, teach and preach. The
People of Israel are obliged to
see and experience such expressions
and come to grips with necessary action
by themselves: for themselves and
for us.


Stephan Cotton

June 23, 2014
08:35 AM

While I appreciate all the URJ has done in the area of Middle East peace I wonder if PC(USA) isn’t on the right course in its vote.

As I understand what PC(USA) has done, they voted to divest of companies that support the oppression of the Occupation, not of all companies doing business in Israel. This isn’t isolation, it’s a way – possibly a very good way – of telling American and other companies that they, as shareholders, don’t want their investment dollars used to oppress Palestinians in their homeland.

The URJ and other American Jewish organizations have, for years, taken messages to Israel urging their government to take serious, sincere steps toward peace with Palestine, to recognize the rights of women and to treat non-fundamentalist Israelis as equal members of society. To date, very little has been accomplished that hasn’t been forced upon the Israeli government by its courts, and then only kicking and screaming.

We should continue to oppose any group whose message is anti-Israeli and/or anti-Semitic; however, maybe it’s time to rethink our position on the Occupation and consider taking a stronger stance.


James Moritz

June 23, 2014
11:31 AM

At best, the PS has demonstrated its ignorance of history and the facts on the ground. At worst, the PC has demonstrated its anti-Israel philosophy and goals.


Allen Alexander

June 23, 2014
12:05 PM


Having served as a Deacon in the Presbyterian Church, I question the jurisdiction of the General Assembly to make such a decision. It has been a long time since I was active, but my recollection is that the Presbytery is the highest court within the church order. Unfortunately I do not have a current Book of Church Order, so I cannot be certain. I am fairly certain, however, that decisions of the General Assembly are not binding on individual Presbyteries or Congregations.
Anyone out there who has better information is welcome to contradict Me


Michael Katz

June 23, 2014
03:46 PM

Two headlines in today's online version of the New York Times, "Palestinians Hold Funeral for Boy Killed" and "Fate of 3 Kidnapped Israelis Raises Tensions on Many Fronts." Palestinian criminals are humanized, while innocent Jewish kids are referred to in the abstract. No wonder the liberal Presbyterian Church USA finds it easy to choose BDS.


The Rev. Dr. Frank Allen

June 23, 2014
05:45 PM

Presbyterian Minister

The General Assembly is the highest ranking body in the Presbyterian Church. It is a representative body made up of commissioners (equal numbers of ministers and church members) who come from throughout the United States. Statements made by this body often do not reflect the broad consensus of the church. In the case of divestment I think this is especially true.


Allen Alexander

June 23, 2014
05:52 PM

Amended Note

Originally posted by Anonymous User:
Having served as a Deacon in the Presbyterian Church, I question the jurisdiction of the General Assembly to make such a decision. It has been a long time since I was active, but my recollection is that the Presbytery is the highest court within the church order. Unfortunately I do not have a current Book of Church Order, so I cannot be certain. I am fairly certain, however, that decisions of the General Assembly are not binding on individual Presbyteries or Congregations.
Anyone out there who has better information is welcome to contradict Me

What the General Assembly actually did was to vote to divest itself of all stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola. All of these companies do business with Israel. To the extent that these were funds within the control of the General Assembly this was within their power. Simply because they had the right to do this does not make it a wise decision. Their duty to the members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is to be good stewards of the monies entrusted to them for the benefit of various Presbyterian institutions. That money was not given to them for the purpose of making political statements but to invest in the best interest of those institutions. I suggest that they have violated that trust by this move.



June 25, 2014
10:00 PM

RE: Treasurer

Presbyterians have divested from over 100 companies related to tobacco, gambling, for profit prisons, and the military. They have been doing this since the 80s. Any company that does substantial business with American or European militaries is automatically divested from. This was a big issue in the debate because the three companies in question were said to support IDF operations and therefore be defense related and should be divested from. I don't believe the vote was correct but they do divest from a lot of things, so it's not unique to Israel. They still maintain their investments in Israel companies engaged in peaceful pursuits which is substantial.


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