June 23, 2014
The Clergy and Leadership of Congregation Beth Elohim are disturbed and saddened by the recent vote of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from certain companies doing business with Israel.
Rather than engage both sides in this difficult situation, the Presbyterian Church USA has chosen a path of isolation and divestment. In addition, as has been publicized, the Church's website distributes an anti-Zionist tract called "Zionism Unsettled," understood generally to be a one-sided, ahistorical and biased document, unhelpful in the least to the cause of mutual understanding and peace. While PCUSA has taken an objectionable position and is still publicizing "Zionism Unsettled" on its website, there are many friends and allies in the PCUSA. The vote was extraordinarily close--with a margin of 7 votes. With continued dialogue with our friends in the PCUSA, we hope that on these local levels the understanding and joint work for peace can and should thrive.
This vote was part of a larger campaign, known as BDS (for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), which the broader American Jewish community has strongly opposed as unfairly singling out Israel. We have long agreed that BDS is counter-productive to the efforts at reaching a just solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
The Reform movement's president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, was present for the debate and vote and issued a condemnation of the action on behalf of the URJ. You can see Rabbi Jacobs debating this vote on CNN. In addition, Rabbi Bachman shared some reflections on BDS in the Forward two years ago at the time of the proposed Park Slope Food Coop Boycott of Israel.
CBE has a broad and diverse membership which, while recognizing disagreement over any number of issues, remains united in our support of one another's attachment to Judaism, Jewish identity and the State of Israel. It is our understanding that no matter where one may reside on the political spectrum, the BDS movement is unequivocally a movement which de facto denies Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. We therefore find the vote of the Presbyterian Church USA to be wrong and damaging to the two-state solution. For many years now, the Reform movement has long supported the two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians as the only viable means for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Closer to home, CBE has historically worked with many faith-based organizations across Brooklyn that share a mission to bring greater kindness to the world through worship and action. One such partnership is with Park Slope Resurrection, a Presbyterian congregation that uses our Sanctuary on Sunday mornings. It is important for our membership to know that Park Slope Resurrection is not affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, but with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is an entirely different Protestant movement, and played no role in the recent vote on divestment.
When asked to comment on this matter, Matthew Brown, the Senior Minister of Resurrection, expressed his regret at the message being sent by fellow Christians in the PCUSA. "Christians and Jews are united in our desire to 'seek the peace of the city' in all times and places. I believe the BDS movement not only undermines cooperative efforts by Jews and Christians to this end, it also fortifies barriers to peace between Israel and her neighbors. And yet, given the shrinking influence of Protestant and mainline denominations in the United States, this vote will have little sway over the hearts and minds of American Christians."
Despite our deep disappointment in this vote, CBE as a community is united in maintaining and developing partnerships in Brooklyn and Israel which strengthen our people's connection to one another, to be a just and kind city for all its citizens, and to honor Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state at peace with its Palestinian neighbors.
It is our fervent wish that with continued dialogue and trust, we can together reach these goals.
Andy Bachman, Senior Rabbi & Jonathan Fried, President