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This weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to defeat a resolution to divest from Israel, a vote welcomed by the URJ's Rabbi Rick Jacobs. The following is the full text of Rabbi Jacobs’ remarks to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly opening ceremony on June 22, three days prior to the vote. You can also watch his address online.
Religious life isn’t about organizations or budgets or buildings; it’s about living lives of depth and dialogue, purpose and character. Of course that’s easier said than done.
We were put on this earth with a sacred mission. There are a whole lot of people counting on us to fulfill our mission. Where are those people? Where ever we look. The modern Jewish philosopher, Emanuel Levinas, taught that: “We come into the world already obligated by the mere gaze of the other, a gaze that demands from us a response.” If we open our eyes we will be obligated to respond to much pain and injustice.
Bonds of love and our dedication to do good and seek justice for all bind us together tonight. We share an agenda which is at once ancient and all-too-contemporary: Feeding the hungry, removing the stumbling block before the blind; speaking out against injustice and paying the laborer a fair and timely wage; by creating courts of justice and an economy that benefits all. We know the work we are called to do.
Our common agenda is based on seeking and engaging for the good of all, both here at home and across the world. We must all engage — not disengage — from the hard conversations and the personal witness to see each person created in the image of God — no exceptions. Even — and especially — in the holy land itself, Israel, where we should not disengage or step away — because actions like divestment and disengagement harden the hearts instead of bringing people together.
I understand this assembly will consider a resolution to support divestment from companies that do business in Israel. I would not be doing my job representing our Movement, not my job as being a true friend to you, if I did not say clearly that the overwhelming majority of American Jews oppose BDS because it is an effort to delegitimize the very existence of Israel.
I speak for the largest segment of American Jewry, and am proud to say that our Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. Every day the occupation causes pain and hardship to too many Palestinians. Only two states for two peoples living side by side in peace will allow this tragic conflict to end.
Divestment will not build the two-state Israeli peace camp that we need, but rather strengthen the maximalists on both sides. Make no mistake, those few American Jews who support divestment are a minority of a minority of our community.
Love your neighbor as yourself must include the Jewish people in addition to the Palestinian people. My faith and I believe yours demands nothing less.
Yours is not a choice between relations with your Jewish neighbors and witness for Palestinians. There is a different choice — that your approach, your actions, your rhetoric can acknowledge the truths, the achievements AND the failures on BOTH sides and hold all to the same moral standards. Let us work together for a just solution, not march separately.
I urge you to reject divestment from Israel. Divestment will have no impact on the companies that are targeted; it’s only impact on Israeli decision making will be to harden the positions of those who least desire justice for the Palestinians.
The Holy One loves when we stand together, work together and build together. As the psalmist said: Hinei ma tov u’mah naim shevet achim gam yachad — How good it is for brothers and sisters to be together in friendship.