An Open Letter to Our Presbyterian Friends

Dear Commissioners of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 221st General Assembly,

Over the past week, a delegation of rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace visited with the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly in Detroit. These rabbis, together with Jewish and Presbyterian peace activists, have prayed and stood vigil, spoken in public and held many private conversations with you, the commissioners.

The rabbis asked you, our Presbyterian friends: What does your conscience tell you to do in response to the military occupation of the West Bank? Overwhelmingly, you replied: My conscience tells me to vote to divest the church's funds from American companies that support the occupation; we do not invest in tools of war. But, the Presbyterian elders -- clergy and lay leaders -- added: One concern still weighs on me. "What will the Jewish people in my life say: the rabbi I know, my Jewish cousins, my Jewish neighbors. Many of these Jews have emailed me or called me, asking me not to divest. I value my relationship with Jewish people and I do not want to undermine those relationships."

We are grateful for the warm welcome we received from you in Detroit. You were unfailingly gracious and thoughtful. We are inspired by your commitment to each other and to the church as members of the Presbyterian Church USA. Interfaith relationships, particularly between Jews and Christians, are an important focus. We appreciate the consideration the Presbyterian Church has shown to its relationship with Jews.

Yet, when the head of the Jewish Reform movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, came to the General Assembly on Wednesday evening, he warned you that a vote for divestment from three American companies who profit from the occupation of the West Bank could cost the Presbyterians their friendship with the Jewish people.

As religious leaders, we are sensitive to the feelings of those Jews who oppose divestment. But we cannot choose to ignore the daily suffering of Palestinians and the shockingly routine loss of Palestinian life living under Occupation.

The Presbyterian Church USA over the last 10 years has sought to engage Israel on the issue of the West Bank. Sadly, to no avail. Rabbi Jacobs, too, has consistently spoken out against West Bank settlements. We have yet to see what results these well-intended statements have achieved.

Rabbis accompanied by young and veteran Jewish activists went to Detroit to encourage you, the Presbyterian elders, to listen to your inner voice of conscience. We do not believe that the risk of hurting the feelings of some - or even many Jews - should take precedence over responding to the constant humiliation and violent attacks on Palestinians living under Occupation.

We believe it is unseemly for Jews -- or any observer -- to try to steer you away from heeding your own ethical commitments. The Bible's teaching, "love your neighbor as yourself" instructs us to give the Presbyterians the same respect that we expect for ourselves: the freedom to follow our consciences without being cautioned that doing so might cost us our interfaith friendships.

Jews will continue to debate with each other how to best support peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Let us allow the Presbyterian General Assembly the same freedom -- the freedom to choose how to align the church's investments with your ethical commitments.

In friendship,

Members of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace