Tucson Jewish community leaders joined Jewish leaders around the country in praising the decision made June 21 by the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly to reverse its 2004 call for phased selective divestment from companies doing business with Israel.
Bobby Present, past chair of the Jewish Fed_eration of Southern Ari_zona, was one of the participants in a local Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue that discussed the serious tensions between the two groups during the past two years. "I said this to everybody - we live in this community together. We want to improve our relationship," said Present.
Interfaith dialogues took place in at least 50 cities across the United States as well as on the national level between Jewish leaders in New York and Presbyterian leaders in Louis_ville, Ky. "There was a significant push from the Birmingham Jewish community" where the Assembly was held, noted Present, adding that the dialogues "collectively had a huge impact."
Present said that at one point here in Tucson, the Presbyterians had decided they weren’t going to support overturning the 2004 policy. "We were very upset and angry," said Present, "but both sides regrouped separately and with leadership, their side changed their mind in less than two weeks."
Facilitated by Donna Beyer, a vice chair of the national Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a past chair of the Tucson JCRC, the Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue has served as a forum to consider issues of mutual concern and repair relationships between the communities. "Though conversations were difficult at times, the dialogue has proved extremely useful in bringing our communities closer together and developing a better understanding of our respective concerns. We have been able to reach a remarkable level of common ground, to the point that we are now looking at offering some adult education courses that explore common threads in the Jewish and Pres_byterian faith traditions," said Beyer.
One significant result of the local dialogue was an overture passed by the local Presbytery de Cristo that urged the Presbyterian Church (USA) to reconsider its policy of selective divestment. This overture was one of many considered by the committee that made recommendations for approval by the full General Assembly.
Two members of Tucson’s Pres_byterian community commented favorably on the policy change. "I feel very positive about the action of the Assembly," said Jan DeVries, Synod executive of the Synod of the Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico). The Presbyterian Church, she said, had to "accept responsibility for its error in judgment two years ago."
"But, how do we get to a point of advocacy for peace," she asked, "and do it without holding any one group responsible? How does the church include the Muslims and work together for peace and reconciliation?"
"Working with the Jewish community these past two years," said DeVries, "I know that’s our common hope and prayer."
"We’re ecstatic" about the reversal of previous policy on divestment, said Pastor Joe Bettridge of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. "We feel the whole Presbyterian Church needed to have an attitude of contrition in opposing this  resolution," he said, adding, "We were adamantly opposed to this; it was wrongheaded.
Tucson Jewish community leaders agreed. "We are extremely grateful for this change in policy and for the leadership and support from the local Presbyterian community that helped to make this change possible," said Fran Katz, local JCRC chair.
Meanwhile, the Green Party of America recently adopted Resolution 190, which encourages public and private divestment from any company doing business in Israel. The Green Party will hold its national convention in Tucson from July 15 to 22. Josh Protas, Tucson JCRC director, told the AJP that the local JCRC has co-sponsored a petition opposing the resolution. The petition was initiated by Gary Achaetal, the founder of Advocates for Israel, based in Portland, Ore.
"I hope," said Protas, "that the recent action of the Presbyterian Church sets a precedent for the Green Party and others" to rethink divestment moves.