A rabbi’s plea on divestment from Israel


By Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch / NYDailynews.com

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Faith:
There is a Jewish folk tale that defines a friend as one who knows what gives his comrade pain. If we do not know what gives our fellow human being pain, we cannot be a friend.

You have caused us deep pain.

Our friendship has been ruptured not because we may disagree on any specific policy of the government of Israel.

Rather, by publishing Zionism Unsettled, a study guide deeply critical of Israel, and last week voting for the Presbyterian Church to divest from three major companies that do business with the Jewish state, you have evolved views that come perilously close to classic Christian animosity toward Judaism.

You criticize Israel incessantly, unfairly and disproportionately. But you are silent about Arab rejectionism, intolerance, and terrorism. There is little reflection, little sophistication, and little effort to understand underlying causes. Your minds are made up. You even ignore the reality that Israel is the only place in the Mideast where Christians are comfortable and safe, and Christian holy places are protected and open to all.

It is, indeed, tragic that there is violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. You are not the only liberal movement that seeks peace. We, too, have been fighting for peace our entire lives. But it is even more tragic that Israel has been left with no alternative but to fight against those who have never recognized her and have made it their cause to destroy her.

It is easy to sit in a convention center and debate politics, policy, and philosophy far removed from the realities of daily life.

It is easy to write resolutions if you have never experienced the fear of sending your children to school in the morning and worrying about whether they will come home at night.

It is easy to voice noble sentiments of love and brotherhood if you have never had to don gas masks or spend days on end in a bomb shelter.

It is easy to condemn the walled section of the security barrier in Bethlehem, utterly ignoring why it was built in the first place: Because Palestinian terrorists were crossing into Israel and murdering and maiming thousands of Israelis in suicide bombings, or climbing onto rooftops in Bethlehem and shooting at civilians.

Is it too much to expect fellow liberal believers to understand Israel’s basic obligation to protect her citizens? Is it too much to expect fellow liberal believers to have some sympathy for a fellow democracy struggling to survive in the world’s worst neighborhood, encountering challenges the likes of which no other democracy in the world must face? Instead, you voice paltry pieties and self-satisfied sanctimonies.

The test is not whether you can quote religious chapter and verse. The test is to apply religious values to a difficult reality where it takes two to love and two to practice brotherhood and two to make peace. You act as if Israel alone has the power to make peace and has simply chosen not to. You give the impression that the Palestinians are mere potted plants.

In “Zionism Unsettled,” while you attack what you perceive as the exclusivist and even racist elements of Judaism, you also praise the inclusive nature of Islam. I have no doubt many Muslims are inclusive. I have met, and deeply respect, many of them, and we have worked together in brotherhood and common cause. But it is dishonest to ignore the reality that Israel, and the West itself, are fighting not that part of Islam that is inclusive, but the part that is rejectionist and violent. At this moment of anti-humanitarian, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-women’s rights, anti-gay, anti-pluralistic, anti-Western tribal savageness in the Middle East, this is the moment that you chose to divest from companies trading with Israel?

Divestment is shameful. Boycotting enterprises trading with Israel is reminiscent of dark chapters in Jewish-Christian relations that we hoped were behind us. No matter how much you seek to explain or distinguish, you have chosen to join the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. You have allied yourself with some of the worst and most implacable of Israel’s enemies. They are not in favor of what you say you support: two states living side by side in peace. You should not be comforted by the relative handful of Jewish activists and academics you have found to support your views. Your Jewish supporters are marginal and unrepresentative and cannot be the slender reed upon which to justify your anti-Zionism or renew a productive partnership, if that is even what you want.

Finally, and I say this with no intention to offend: It is not for you to decide whether Zionism is a legitimate expression of Judaism; that is for Jews to decide. It is for you to decide only whether you will respect our understanding of Judaism.

I join you in praying for peace; may it come speedily in our day.
Hirsch is rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. He wrote this open letter in an email to his congregation; a longer version can be found on the synagogue’s website.

See related editorial Presbyterian Shame — Boycotting Israel

9 thoughts on “A Rabbi’s Open Letter to Presbyterians

  • Currently, I am a member of Presbyterian USA. I can only speak for myself but I am beyond sad that the PUSA has taken the stands they have recently. I, for one, support Israel and believe only bad can come from not supporting God’s chosen people. Not all in this denomination support the recent changes. Whether people leave the denomination or not, God will not prosper a church that teaches counter to His word.

  • True Christian and use that term loosely, I should further and correctly state that True biblical Christians understand their Hebrew root and love and support ISREAL as the homeland of Our G-d….any other practice is a man made conception that fits whatever criteria an organization as put in writing and is not the word of the true G-d. The Lord will always shine upon and keep Isreal. I love and support Isreal because my G-d tells me too…a people of great courage faith and love who have kept the written word of G-d for centuries for all to hear the truth. What these organizations must do is not take or add a word to or from the word and read their Bibles…..God Bless Isreal now and always.

  • Rabbi is one who loves mercy and does justly, as I see it, in this case, and the reward is his. He also hit the mark with his statements. Thank you Rabbi, thank you, thank you!

  • I’ve always had great respect for Israel and all its spiritual meaning. Imagine how proud I was to find out that my great grandfather x4 was Hebrew! Israel is left no option but to protect herself. May God Bless Israel AND the USA!

  • I am a christian and grew up as a Presbyterian. Who (The General Assembly) can put GOD’s WORD to a vote? God bless the whole World. No Exceptions. (Pray without ceasing).

  • I agree with the Rabbi. The Presbyterians have gotten away from Biblical beliefs. This is so sad because they will have to answer to God for this.

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