An Open Letter of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to our American Jewish Interfaith Partners

June 26, 2014

Louisville

We are reaching out to you after our General Assembly’s action, by a 310-303 vote, to recommend to the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions to divest from three North American corporations following extensive corporate engagement. The assembly concluded that further engagement would not bring an end to their pursuits that further the Israeli occupation in Palestine. Many of you were with us in Detroit, and your presence and voices were significant. From your presence with us, it was clear that if the assembly acted on divestment, it would deeply affect your communities as well as impact some of our most longstanding interfaith relationships. The assembly’s action came about through much prayer and discernment.

Of central importance in our deliberations was our continued concern for Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace. How selective divestment may affect the many significant Jewish and Christian relationships at the congregational and national level was also part of the discussion. The close nature of the vote revealed how deeply Presbyterians care about both Jewish and Palestinian neighbors and the assembly’s struggle to make this decision. The assembly explicitly stated that our action to selectively divest was not in support of the global BDS movement. Instead it is one of many examples of our commitment to ethical investing. We are pressed and challenged to follow our faith values and commitments in all times and in all areas of our lives. The occupation must end. All peoples in Israel and Palestine should live in security, freedom, and peace. This action is but one aspect of our commitment to work to this end.

The assembly was explicit: our selective divestment of American companies engaged in nonpeaceful pursuits that furthers the occupation does not constitute divestment from Israel itself.

Nor does this indicate any desire for the PC(USA) to walk away from our deeply held, multilateral Jewish-Christian relationships. The action included an affirmation of continued interfaith engagement with the Jewish community. We are committed more than ever to sitting at the table and living in community with you. The new Interreligious Stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) asks Presbyterians to approach interfaith relationships without bending and trimming their religious convictions but to hold them hand-in-hand with heartfelt listening and partnership with those of other religious traditions as part of our shared commitment for the common good.

We believe that being in relationship with the American Jewish communities in authentic ways are central to our Christian values and our shared religious history. We recognize the hurt that these decisions have caused. We ask that you remain open to us as we participate with you in all our shared spheres of interfaith relationship: our houses of worship, our shared neighborhoods, our workplaces, and even our interfaith families. As Presbyterians on the local level reach out to you, we ask that you receive and engage them and in doing so perhaps we will begin to heal this rift, neighbor-to-neighbor.

The full text of the 221st General Assembly (2014) is as follows:

   “The PC(USA) has a longstanding commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian yearning for justice and reconciliation, the 221st General Assembly (2014) recommends the following:

   “1. Reaffirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with the United Nations resolutions.

   “2. Declare its commitment to a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people.

   “3. Instruct the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions of the PC(USA), to divest from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, in accord with our church’s decades-long socially responsible investment (SRI) history, and not to reinvest in these companies until the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee of the PC(USA) is fully satisfied that product sales and services by these companies are no longer in conflict with our church investment policy. This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.

   “4. Reaffirm PC(USA)’s commitment to interfaith dialog and partnerships with the American Jewish, Muslim friends and Palestinian Christians and call for all presbyteries and congregations within the PC(USA) to include interfaith dialogue and relationship-building as part of their own engagement in working for a just peace.

   “5. Call for all foreign aid given by the U.S. government—including aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority—to be comprehensively and transparently accounted to the American people and held to the same standards of compliance with all applicable laws.

   “6. Call for church advocacy for foreign-aid accountability to be directed toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others.

   “7. Encourage Presbyterians to travel to the Holy Land, and give broad support to the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities throughout the Middle East.

   “8. Affirm the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that support and advance a negotiated two-state solution.

   “9. Urge all church institutions to give careful consideration to possible investments in Israel-Palestine that advance peace and improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”

Ruling Elder Heath K. Rada
Moderator, 221st General Assembly

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Ruling Elder Linda Bryant Valentine
Executive Director, Presbyterian Mission Agency

  1. Your logic is seriously flawed. Israel cannot defend itself without a military anymore than any other country can. If you mean what you say, that you support the security of Israel, you cannot then say that it cannot deal with the companies you are targeting. Sadly, you are once again demonstrating the church's penchant for double-talk and double dealing, not your serous concern about either Israelis or Arabs. By the way, as Jesus opposed wealth, why don't you divest your pensions entirely and help the poor, as he advised you to do?

    by Bruce Cohen

    July 7, 2014

  2. So let me be clear about your message. It appears to be: You and your people are human rights abusers and we want to cause material harm to you, but don't be angry at us for slandering, denigrating, and harming you. This statement is insulting, you have made your choice in regards to me and my people, and I am deeply saddened to see it is not a position of friendship. This statement does nothing to ease the damage you have caused to Israel and to the cause of peace. BDS just drives Jews, Muslims, AND Christians further apart, and hardens the positions of those who feel threatened and devalued as humans.

    by Matt Cohen

    July 7, 2014

  3. I am a Jew who works at a Presbyterian church. This decision, and this letter, are deeply offensive to me. You slapped us in the face, and now you ask us not to be too upset by that? Those who accuse Israel of apartheid overlook that all Israeli citizens, whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, have the right to vote; there is a Muslim member of the Knesset. Some of the very strong language used in this debate will not be soon forgotten. Has there been a move to divest from other countries perceived to violate human rights? Does the PCUSA invest with Chinese companies? I have not heard anything about that; of course, just because I haven't heard about it doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I grieve for the ramifications of this decision.

    by Genie Lon

    July 4, 2014

  4. You may find it difficult to understand how painful this decision is for us. Our Christian neighbors handed us over to the gas chambers so very recently. It feels as though you hand us over again. The decision turns a blind eye to the constant violence leveled against Israel by Hamas and others. I weep for us. If Israel falls, where will we go?

    by Ellen Saxby

    July 2, 2014

  5. Caterpillar has dealerships in both Gaza City and Ramallah. Those dealerships are state-sanctioned by Hamas and the PA respectively, and do extensive business with the Palestinian governing bodies both directly and via contractors. If Caterpillar is good enough for the Palestinians themselves, why does the Presbyterian Church take this extraordinary and provocative action against it?

    by Adam Holland

    July 1, 2014

  6. I disagree wholely with the decison to divest. Leadership is principalled and many times lonely as a result. Your one sided decision to penalize American companies for supplying products through a government sanctioned Foreign Military Sales Program is an impotent and ill aimed action to take and does nothing to change the behavior. Do you naively believe that Komatsu of Japan or Mahindra of India will not fill that void? Do you really believe that Toshiba could not supply in place of Hewlett-Packard, or Samsung of Korea could not fill the vacuum left by causing injury to Motorola? I challenge you to look at your portfolio and with an open mind really answer that question honestly to yourselves. The decision to divest merely frees a finite amount of stock up for resale. So you may have cleared your conscience but Caterpillars will still be used to tear down buildings, Motorola radios, cellphones and cell towers will still be used to facilitate communications, and plans will still be hatched and published on Hewlett-Packard computers and peripherals. It is ill aimed because your target should have been to pressure a change in the behavior of the Military Foreign Sales Program but that may place your non-profit stautus in jepoardy huh? As I said, leadership is principalled and many times lonely.

    by Todd Lamb

    July 1, 2014

  7. I recently became a member of the Presbyterian Church and I am quite surprised at this "Divestment" policy from three companies in Isreal. If the companies have been found guilty of human rights violations and/or have acted in any way outside of the law or Christian values, then fine. However, I believe this is unlikely. I feel that the "harm" these companies are perceived to cause Palestinians is "harm" to territorial and political divides rather than something immoral or dangerous. I would love to hear what specific "sins" these companies have caused that justify such a divisive policy such as this. I feel terribly misrepresented by how this affects our relations with Isreal and its wonderful people.

    by Susan Maschke

    July 1, 2014

  8. PCUSA can't have it both ways.......our church government picks a (very public) side against Israel, and then asks American Jews to welcome Presbyterians at the local level to heal the rift. So essentially leaving it to us who have REAL interfatih relationships to explain this decision (the rfit is also within the church). Even the language in the preamble of this letter feels biased (the occupation must end). The PCUSA has been been my church family for 20 years, and I have been so incredibly blessed by my brothers and sisters in Christ (I will always be thankful), but I cannot be part of an organisations that doesn't speak for me (I read the list of overtures and see where we are headed). I resent that I feel forced to choose, but I too must stand up for what I believe, and understand that sometimes God pulls us in different directions, maybe to strengthen or grow us in an area of weakness or ignorance, and have to trust that as long as I seek Him out daily (which I often forget to do), He will oversee my education Shalom, my fellow Presbys.

    by Annabel

    June 30, 2014

  9. With all due respect for wanting Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace, you have -it appears unwittingly -supported the destruction of Israel. Hamas, duly elected by Palestinians, in its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. If your next door neighbor had guns trained on your house, would you tear down your wall? Israel needs to make sure that surrounding countries technically still at war with her as well as Palestinians really want peace long-term. The death of the three Israeli teenagers is only the latest chapter. Parity does not exist in this situation. I ask your naive members who say "Can't we all just get along" to read some basic history of the region before saying the control over Gaza and the West Bank can simply end. Please inform yourselves. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Your action is naive and through it sanctions the obliteration of Israel.

    by Nancy Murray

    June 30, 2014

  10. My previous comment regarding Arabs living peacefully in Israel was to illustrate that Israel generally has good relations with people who aren't seeking to bomb it out of existence or kidnap and kill its teenage citizens.

    by Beth Gerdes

    June 30, 2014

  11. Regarding Sandy’s most recent comments: Sales through the Foreign Military Sales Program are transparent as to the final destination of the equipment, and the use of this equipment in actions illegal under international law are well documented. Any claims by Caterpillar of ignorance of the destination or use of the equipment they are selling is highly disingenuous, to put it nicely, and any “cannot be responsible” claims violate even the company’s own corporate responsibility policies. Furthermore, any company may choose to not participate in any contract sales through the Foreign Military Sales Program. Regarding the comment of Ms. Gerdes, the word “apartheid” is used in reference to conditions in the occupied territories, not in Israel itself. In any case, Arabs in Israel do NOT have equal rights as Israeli citizens, notably the right to sponsor the immigration (in actual fact, the *return*) of relatives. Regarding the comment of Mr. Spain, these companies are most definitely NOT the target of divestment because they “do business in or with Israel” but because of the well-documented use of their equipment in the destruction of Palestinian homes and related activity in the (illegally) occupied territories. This is clear in even a casual reading of the action of the General Assembly.

    by David Carothers

    June 30, 2014

  12. The fact that these companies do business in or with Israel should not be a reason to divest interest with them. If that is the case have we looked at our other investments that do business all over the world with oppressive regimes or policies that we don't agree with. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya etc. I do not agree with your decision.

    by Keith spain

    June 30, 2014

  13. In regards to David's comment about the sale of D9s to Israel, court documents showed that sales were made through an American military program and were financed through the U S Defense Department. Sales were made under a program sponsored by the American government. In addition, Caterpillar cannot be responsible for and could not monitor how any equipment was used.

    by Sandy

    June 30, 2014

  14. 1.6 million Arabs live in Israel. They are citizens, with full rights of citizenship. They live side by side with their Israeli brethren, with no conflict. The claim by some on the left of "apartheid" is hollow and ill-informed. The PCUSA has chosen unwisely, in my opinion.

    by Beth Gerdes

    June 30, 2014

  15. Regarding the comment by Sandy, Caterpillar sales of the D9 tractor that are further militarized in Israel are NOT in fact made through independent dealerships. The tractors are purchased through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program.

    by David Carothers

    June 30, 2014

  16. My family stands with the 303 people who voted AGAINST this action, we hope you will reconsider this stand as it will affect our relationship with our Jewish sisters and brothers and Presbyterians who stand firm with them.

    by Nadine Summers

    June 30, 2014

  17. I am very disappointed that the General Assembly voted to divest from American Companies such as Caterpillar. It is obvious that you do not understand the business structure. Caterpillar manufactures heavy equipment. Independently owned dealerships buys equipment from Caterpillar. The independently owned dealerships sell equipment to end users, Caterpillar does not sell the equipment to end users nor do they own the dealerships. Since my income is from Caterpillar, you are more or less telling me to stop giving money to support the Presbytery and the Pension Fund.

    by Sandy

    June 30, 2014

  18. I was disappointed in the decision to divest. I'll leave it at that. Bill Kirk Sacramento, CA

    by Bill Kirk

    June 29, 2014

  19. A commitment to ethical investing, as referred to in the Church's statement, is to be applauded, but it's difficult for me to accept the moral impulse animating the recent divestment vote without understanding the full scope of the Church's ethical investing policies. Has the Church resolved to divest from companies doing business with Saudi Arabia or China, to give just two examples of countries whose human rights records are in my opinion incomparably worse than Israel's? Or, does the Church believe that of all the injustices that are present in the world, the Israeli settlements are the most deserving of condemnation? While I would strongly disagree with that conclusion, it would be helpful to know if that is the Church's position. If that is the Church's position, however, many of us will conclude that the Church's moral world-view is grievously defiicient.

    by Gary Friedman

    June 29, 2014

  20. how sad.You seem so concerned about isreali transgressions[yes, they do exist]but like Desmond Tutu who cannot forgive Isreal not honoring the boycott of the old apartheid regime you fall prey to the comfort of saying;"you're just like us,you're not the chosen people"

    by bernie

    June 29, 2014

  21. Like many Jews around the world I am of course alarmed by this decision, and would like to explain why. The state of Israel has been involved in a continuous war of more than 60 years. For many this seems to be a continuation of the struggles of World War II. The Israeli-Arab war has had many twists and turns, and we all hope for a just resolution. However it seems to be far from over. Unfortunately everything that happens between Israel, the Palestinians, and the surrounding states must be seen against that background. So your divestment decision could be seen as an intervention on the Arab side. I'm sure you feel that you are simply trying to influence the current Israeli policy on settlements, a policy which is certainly open to question. But that policy is linked to the larger events in the area. Your intervention potentially weakens the leverage that Israel has in eventually trading land for peace. I think that such a trade is the only real way to bring a lasting and just peace to the area. The people of the Middle East live in a very dangerous part of the world, and - as we have learned - the power that the rest of the world wields can often make things worse, not better. Sincerely, Raphael Crystal Tuscaloosa, Alabama

    by Raphael Crystal

    June 29, 2014

  22. I believe your recent decision with Israel was wrong... Until the Middle Eastern Islamic based governments turn on terrorism and actively seek to extinguish those activities in their countries, any action undermining Israel is unwarranted. In the meantime the PC-USA should do all in its power to deny financial support to those countries which are failing to stop church burning, actively interfering with the spread of the Gospel in their countries, and persecuting non Islamic citizens and prosecuting them under sharia law.

    by Michael Schundler

    June 29, 2014

  23. One day, this decision by PCUSA will be measured with all the other decisions that have been made by political bodies throughout history that served to further segregate the Jews from the rest of the world. To claim that the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations is in anywhere near the concept of Apartheid ignores the historical development of the state of Israel and the currently political reality. Once again, the American Christian community feels entitled to impose its paradigm of reality on the rest of the world while taking no notice of its contribution or influence over major issues at home. ( For example, where is your statement regarding the economic, health, educational, and arrest rate disparities between White Americans and African Americans?). I completely support the idea of free determination for all peoples. I believe in a sustainable peace and respect for all. I believe that the Palestinians and the Jews (Israelis) should be able to live in peace and prosperity. The decision to isolate and punish the state of Israel by divestment is counterproductive. The state of Israel was founded to protect Jews -- an ethnic minority -- from the perils of the greater world and as long as those perils exist, the state of Israel will be forced to make decisions that not ideal and not desirable. No amount of divestment will make that happen. Peace and security must be worked on from all sides.

    by Michele Meadows

    June 29, 2014

  24. Was any mention given of the souls of the 241 American servicemen killed as they slept peacefully in their barracks in Lebanon at the General Assembly? Perhaps time was a factor as they spoke of the importance of divestment.

    by Arthur Diamond

    June 29, 2014

  25. While I am glad the PCUSA leadership is reaching out to the Jewish community I think there are some things in this letter that can be better explained. first, that the PCUSA has divested significantly from all other militaries of the world so it is clear the IDF is not being singled out. Second, I was include language condemning terrorism and recognizing that Israel is the only liberal democratic republic in the region. I would also include prayers for the return of the three kidnapped students. Finally I would look into investing some of the divested funds in peaceful Israeli companies.

    by Adam

    June 28, 2014

  26. When the words, 'The occupation must end.' And the sentence after doesn't say, 'And the Palestinian terror must stop.' You show just how uneven, and deep seeded bias the PCUSA has on this issue.

    by Jay

    June 27, 2014

  27. Dear PC-USA - I stand with the 303 who voted against this action and I applaud their courage in trying to act with a deep understanding of the complexities and historical context in this painful situation. I am so distressed that David Duke (!) and Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS, have both praised this action. I am particularly depressed about the damage done to our church's relationship with our Jewish chaverim. The letter from 1700 rabbis and cantors made their position very clear. In Milwaukee, a rabbi who signed the letter, had this to say in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: ""Divestment, if anything, entrenches the status quo," said Levin. He said some rabbis declined to sign the letter because it was too conciliatory." So, we had heard from over 1700 with their strong concerns, and we don't know how many didn't sign because the letter wasn't strong enough! I am sad - extremely sad - about this vote. I pray for peace too, but don't think this is the way in this situation. Shalom, Pam Parker.

    by Pam Parker

    June 27, 2014

  28. This letter is entirely appropriate, and I appreciate our leadership for composing it. Two years ago, when the General Assembly voted to CONTINUE investments in three companies whose products support the destruction of Palestinian homes and promote the occupation of Palestinian territory, did anyone feel compelled to address a similar letter to our American Muslim Interfaith Partners explaining the reasons for our decision? If not, I wonder if we should give some thought as to why not?

    by David Carothers

    June 27, 2014

  29. Dear PC-USA, we stand with this historic decision on targeted divestment from 3 companies profiting from and even deepening the Israeli Occupation. The Israelis and Palestinians, children of the Abrahamic faith traditions, live in fear and anxiety. Pain has been experienced by both peoples. We believe the divestment decision aligns with the courageous peace builders, Israelis and Palestinians who work non violently for a just and sustainable peace based on respect for life, human rights and justice that can bring about peace and reconciliation. Divestment from companies that maintain human rights abuses of Occupation is consistent with our investment policies and a non violent act of resistance. Desmond Tutu's words ring loud and clear: "We learned in South Africa that the only way to end apartheid peacefully was to force the powerful to the table through economic pressure." ( if apartheid is too strong, at least note the pattern of discrimination and separation). In prayer for a sustainable, just peace, Jim and Margy

    by James and Margaret Rafferty

    June 26, 2014

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