By now many of you have heard or read that the United Church of Christ voted Tuesday, June 30th at its General Synod Meeting in Cleveland to approve a resolution calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s control of the West Bank and to boycott products made in the West Bank. The vote was 508 in favor and 124 against with 38 abstentions. As an appointed delegate for the Mass Conference, I , along with Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig, was able to participate in this historic vote.
I knew beforehand that this resolution was likely to be the most significant resolution facing the Synod. I was instructed to study the resolution carefully beforehand but not to decide my vote until the Synod meeting. The polity of the Synod is not as a representative, democratic process but rather to study an issue collectively and try to listen for the voice of Still Speaking God. The arguments for the resolution were many and powerful: the many cruel and unjust treatments of the Palestinians by the Israel government, the vote by the Mass Conference recently at its annual meeting to support the resolution, a letter circulated at the meeting from Archbishop Desmond Tutu endorsing the resolution, the argument from one Jewish supporter at the meeting that standing up to injustices against the Palestinians or anyone else was the best way to prevent another holocaust, and, from another liberal Jew, that voting Yes would would make it easier for other progressive Jews to try to change the policy of the Israeli government.
On the other hand, I heard that when the Presbyterian Church voted 310 to 303 in June 2014 to endorse divestment, that several hundred Palestinians lost their jobs working at Sodastream in West Bank, and that many relationship[s between Presbyterian pastors and Jewish colleagues were cut off. I personally felt that an article in the Christian Century last August by Peter Pettit, Director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding, entitled “On not Choosing Sides” made a lot of sense and I later quoted from it.
When the time came Tuesday morning to vote on the resolution, I decided to stand up publicly and speak at the “against” microphone. In essence I said “that as a physician, when faced with a difficult decision, I tried to follow the dictum “do no harm”. Both Jews and Palestinians live with the mortal fear of loosing their identity, legitimacy, and ties to their homeland When people have these fears , anything that bolsters the case being made against them ends up contributing to the conflict, not to the resolution of it. Focusing just on the evils of the occupation, which are real and many, ignores other deadly forces in the region. Since we have not walked in the shoes or sandals of the Jews or Palestinians, I don’t think that we are in a position to choose sides. Let us not be guilty of causing harm. I encourage you to vote NO.”
That evening I called my best Jewish friend back in Longmeadow and gave him an update about the vote. I tried to reassure him that the UCC Synod criticism of the Israel government is not anti-Semitism, that First Church had not been asked to vote on the resolution, and that the two delegates from First Church did not support the resolution. I told him that I would be trying to support other actions that would encourage the principal parties to believe that they have more to gain from risking peace than continuing the status quo and the occupation.
My Jewish friend seemed very appreciate that I had sought him out to share my thoughts and feelings. I would encourage you to do the same with your Jewish friends and help keep the good interfaith relationships we have in Longmeadow strong.