To the Delegates at the UMC General Conference in Tampa
Before I say anything, before I try to convince you of anything, I want to express my deep sympathy with you as you face a dilemma concerning the divestment issue. As one who has believed in the importance of improving the relations between all faiths for my entire life, as a Jew who attended a Christian high school, and who then went on to study Islam and Arabic philosophy in college, I do not envy your position.
Whatever your decision, you will make some people very unhappy. On the one hand, you may damage relations with many Jews, including Jewish organizations with whom you do good work. As Christians who are deeply aware of the troubled history of Christian-Jewish relations, that may be very, very difficult, a source of pain to Jews and Methodists alike.
On the other hand, if you vote against divestment, if you amend the resolution, or substitute something “positive”, such as investing in Palestinian businesses, you will have caused enormous pain to those Palestinian Christians who are crying out for support in their struggle for civil and human rights, for the fundamental right to live a life of dignity.
I write you as an American Israeli, an orthodox Jew, a resident of Jerusalem, a professor of Jewish thought, whose children and grandchildren live in the State of Israel. For the last thirty years of my life I have observed almost first-hand the increasing oppression of the Palestinian, the settlements, the bypass roads, the eviction of long time residents from their houses, the destruction of houses, the expropriation of lands, public and private, the unjust allocation of natural resources – and the suffering that has resulted.
I have seen how some members of the Jewish community have allowed their hearts to be hardened to the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians, how they have justified it through appealing to Israeli security needs, or when that tactic fails, by diverting the conversation to some other catastrophe going on somewhere. It is no doubt true that on any day of the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, something worse is happening to some other people somewhere else on the globe. But I am hard-pressed to think of another people whose suffering has gone on for so long. And, as an Israeli Jew, I am implicated in that suffering.
Sadly, I have heard some members of the Jewish community question the motives behind the divestment campaign, given that today – and every day -- there is some other worse injustice elsewhere. The insinuation is there – “If you are singling out Israel for moral opprobrium, the only explanation can be that you are…” well, I cannot even type the rest of the sentence, so ashamed I am of the sentiment.
I have also seen how other members of the Jewish community have become aware of, and then involved with, the struggle for the basic civil and human rights of the Palestinians. That process will continue, as Jewish supporters of Israel free themselves of the indoctrination to which they have been subjected, as they witness first-hand the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and the refugee camps, and as they reach out to people of good will of all faiths to help them help the Israeli government do the right thing.
For that is what this struggle is about. It is not a question of finding a middle way, a compromise, that will make both sides happy/unhappy. There is no symmetry of suffering here. Both sides have caused pain to each other. But only one side controls the life, liberty, land, and resources of the other.
Divestment is a symbolic act. Not a single Israeli will be hurt by it. And while some Palestinians will no doubt suffer economically, much less than did the South African Blacks during that divestment campaign, it will be for a cause and a tactic that all people of good with can rally around – the cause of justice and the tactic of non-violent protest.
The main question is not whether Christians from around the world should show solidarity with Palestinian Christians. The main question is whether people of good will -- Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others – will show solidarity with each other.
The injustice towards the Palestinian people is first and foremost my problem, as an Israeli Jew. I am not asking you to do the work for me. I am asking you to join hands with those Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and do the right thing.
If you do that, I assure you that members of the Jewish community will help you to explain your decision to the public, and to the Jews who will not understand – yet – your decision.
Vote yes on divestment, and you will be part of a worldwide effort to get Israel to wake-up to its obligations, to show the consequences of its actions. And you will also show the Palestinian people that they have not been forgotten and that there is hope for them – and for the Jewish people of Israel, as well