A Critical Role: Presbyterian Church USA Votes on Divestment

By Alvin Berkun, immediate past chair, National Council of Synagogues

I am pleased to report that, joined by two RA colleagues, we played a critical role at the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly in Pittsburgh PA last week.

I participated as immediate past chair of the National Council of Synagogues, representing lay leaders and rabbis of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstuctionist movements; Rabbi Noam Marans, Intereligious Director of the American Jewish Committee; and Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, Executive Director of the NCS each addressed the Assembly.

Noam Marans and I both "testified" before the Middle East Committee on divestment in Caterpillar, Hewlitt Packard, and Motorola. Others present gave testimony in opposition to declaring Israel an apartheid state. The climate was influenced by the strong presence of Palestinian Christians, both on the committee and as advisors to the committee. A contingent of 25 from Jewish Voice for Peace were present with signs around their necks stating: I am a Young Jew, ask me about Divestment. By maintaining a strong lobbying presence, they gave the impression to some that they represented the mainstream Jewish community.

In my testimony before the committee I said "I want to thank the PCUSA for bringing the Jewish community together every two years around this issue like no one else in order to counter the delegitimization of Israel by means of BDS." I went on to say that JVP garnered 18 rabbinic signatures in support of divestment, while 1500 rabbis signed a letter to the PCUSA opposing divestment.

The committee voted 36-11-1 to divest.

Rabbi Rosenthal addressed the entire Plenum prior to the vote and was very effective in declaring that Presbyterian-Jewish dialogue could not continue as before if the Plenum decides to vote for divestment.

The Plenum voted 333 against, 331 in favor, 2 abstentions.

We were grateful for the opportunity to be present and to be successful in changing at least a handful of votes to defeat The vote for divestment. Unfortunately, the vote to boycott some products from the territories passed. The resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state was defeated. The Plenum did vote 457-180 to boycott pruducts manufactured in the West Bank.