I was a member of the Middle East Issues Committee of this summer’s General Assembly. Though we had inadequate time to address every issue with the thoroughness it deserved, the decision to divest from three American companies whose equipment is being used by the Israeli military for non-peaceful purposes was thoughtful, informed and, I believe, consistent with our stated values as a denomination.
To portray the divestment decision as a one-sided gesture is wrong. It could more justifiably be said that we were one-sided in our investment in equipment used in the conflict by Israel. To redirect our investment portfolio toward products and services that are not connected to military uses is our longstanding investment policy. This is the closest policy to neutrality, which is a value many advocate in their opposition to this divestment decision.
To continue to tie the divestment decision with “Zionism Unsettled” is wrong. I daresay most members of the Middle East Issues Committee of the General Assembly did not read “Zionism Unsettled,” but were very clear in wanting to separate the divestment decision from this paper. My sense is that this group did not feel qualified to evaluate this document. Many critics are saying this separation cannot be made. But these nuances must be made if any productive dialogue about peace in Israel/Palestine is to happen. Otherwise every concern, every form of advocacy for human rights, every criticism of government policies of Israel can be dismissed as wanting Israel destroyed or the Jewish people wiped out. This effectively shuts down anything resembling true dialogue.
Conflating criticism of the Israeli military’s policies and actions in the occupied territories with a position on the state of Israel itself is wrong. I write this on July 4, the day on which we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. These democratic freedoms are also enjoyed within the state of Israel, and arguably are absent in too many nations, including those influenced by rigid Islamic ideology. But just as the United States has carried out policies antithetical to democratic freedom in territories outside its borders, so has Israel. There are countless examples of the U.S., out of fear of communism, for example, undermining the very democratic values we are famous for upholding on our own soil. This has often happened through our military support of harsh regimes such as those in Central America and Africa in the 1980s. While there are Palestinians within Israel that enjoy many important rights, the same is not true for Palestinians in the West Bank. Divestment supporters and divestment critics are both guilty of not making this important distinction.
To label divestment as “hate” is wrong. Even if this policy is misguided or ineffective, it is not hate. It is a nonviolent attempt to further peace in a complex situation, along with strategies and efforts that were celebrated throughout the assembly: schools attended by Arab and Israeli children, interfaith dialogue efforts throughout the U.S. and investment in economic development throughout the region.
Rabbi Jacobs of the Union of Reform Judaism stood on the General Assembly floor and implored us not to make the decision to divest from these three companies, claiming that the relationship between Presbyterians and the American Jewish community was “at a crossroads.” I feel certain that representatives of the PC(USA) would not be invited to address a gathering of the Union of Reform Judaism about its investment policies. The fact that our denominational decision-making allows for the contributions of many voices should be applauded, even if the advice is not heeded in the way some would prefer. Our relationship with the American Jewish community should not be threatened because we decide to put our economic house in order in a particular way.
At one point not so long ago, the mention of a “two-state solution” raised as much ire as this divestment decision does today. I can only hope that, as we wade through the murky and treacherous waters of peace in the Middle East, God’s spirit will accompany, guide and judge us.
Kelly S. Allen is the pastor of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, and was a commissioner to the 221st General Assembly where she served as a member of the Middle East Issues Committee.