A few nights ago, my father and I sat in front of my laptop computer and watched, with many other members of Jewish Voice for Peace, as the Presbyterian Church voted to divest from three U.S. companies who directly participate in and profit from the occupation; who make money from surveillance, repression, and the destruction of Palestinian homes and communities. The plan approved by the Presbyterian assembly also commits the church to positive investments and active efforts toward reconciliation. It is the product of a ten year process of soul searching, gathering information, and listening to other people about what we believe needs to happen. Jewish Voice for Peace, of which I am a proud member, and on whose advisory board I sit, has played an powerful part in that process. I believe that acts like this one help to create a necessary moral crisis, in which business as usual becomes intolerable to larger and larger numbers of people.
Boycotts and divestment are honorable tools of moral persuasion through financial choice. The intensity of the pressure brought to bear on the Presbyterians by sectors of the Jewish community is not a measure of any actual harm being done to Jewish people. It's a measure of our collective vulnerability to fear-based policies.
All too often debates about Israel/Palestine are framed with only Jews at the center, and the Palestinian people disappear, become abstract numbers, their suffering the price of what so many insist is Jewish survival.
In the letter that follows, written to the members of my local Presbyterian church, I do focus on the reactions of Jews to this vote, because one of the main pressures brought to bear on the Presbyterians has been the idea that divesting means that they will lose their relationships with Jews, that Jews will feel betrayed and abandoned, and that these feelings matter more than basic human rights for Palestinians.
Dear Elders and Community of First United Presbyterian Church of Cambridge,
I am your Jewish neighbor here in Inman Square. I know that the recent vote to divest from three American companies that directly profit from the Israeli Occupation was very close, and that your denomination was deeply divided on this issue. I watched the last few hours of discussion and the vote itself live streamed from Detroit, and was moved by the obvious sincerity of all parties, and how earnestly each person reached for integrity.
I am writing to express my gratitude, as a Jew, for the brave decision to divest. There are those who will tell you that this decision abandons and betrays your Jewish friends. True friends hold out to one another the highest standards of moral behavior. Not to do so for fear of giving offense, that would be the true abandonment.
There are those who will tell you that your decision supports the enemies of the Jewish people and threatens our existence. While it is true that Israeli Jews are among the victims of political violence in Israel/Palestine, and that each and every life is precious, Jews are not in danger of extermination.
It is the continued policies of violent dispossession and repression that most endanger everyone's security, including Israeli Jews, increase the desperation of the Palestinian population, foster regional hostility toward Israel, and provide an excuse to justify real and dangerous anti-Semitism in the region and worldwide, and while Palestinians suffer the heaviest consequences of these policies, our long tradition of social justice, one of our most precious legacies, is also threatened.
There are those who will tell you that this decision is itself anti-Semitic. That anything but unconditional support for Israeli policies means you are not committed to Jewish survival.
They will tell you that Israel is justified by the horrific past to take any action it chooses in the name of self defense, and any questioning of this right dishonors the memories of those who died at the hands of the Nazis.
In the early 20th century, my great-grandfather, Abraham Sakhnin, worked in a town forbidden to Jews. He had to bribe the Russian officer at the checkpoint in order to get to work each day. When a different soldier was on duty, he was arrested and beaten.
My grandmother’s Ukrainian village was destroyed by invading German forces. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were all killed on a single day. The Nazi plan was to rid the land of its Jewish and Slavic people, so it could be farmed by German settlers.
What dishonors my relatives is the fact of checkpoints in their names, of mass arrests, collective punishment, home demolitions, the theft of territory and resources, to rid the land of Palestinian people, so it can be farmed and built on by Israeli Jews.
I am one of many Jews who believe only justice will bring peace, and who face tremendous pressure and personal attack for saying so. Today, my Jewish kin who believe repression is the price of survival are acting on old fears of standing alone against terrible threats.
By choosing divestment, by helping us to exert moral pressure for a just solution, by combining divestment with positive investment and the work of reconciliation, you are proving them wrong.
Thank you for being true friends.
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