What does the Jewish community think about the Middle East conflict?
The Jewish community is deeply committed to the welfare and security of Israel. At the same time we are concerned that Palestinians, with their national aspirations greatly frustrated, have lived under difficult conditions for too long. Unless there is peace and security for the Palestinians, there can be no peace and security for Israelis. Our common goal is the realization of a just and lasting peace, to end suffering and to restore dignity and security to all in the region.
Why are Economic Sanctions, such as Divestment, an inappropriate approach to the Middle East conflict?
Objective observers of the conflict recognize that economic sanctions would, at most, have a negligible impact on the parties in this complex conflict. The peace process will succeed only when both Israelis and Palestinians feel safe and secure. Economic Actions that isolate Israel will be received in the context of other efforts to deny Israel's right to exist in peace and security.
Divestment gives hope to extremists who reject good faith negotiations to resolve the conflict. As a result, divestment is counterproductive to the quest for a just compromise. Israel remains committed to negotiations and to its self-defense. Even in the face of continued international isolation by efforts such as divestment, Israel knows that real peace will come only from the negotiating table by parties that reject terrorism and commit to peaceful compromise.
Many of the companies working in Israel that have been mentioned as possible targets for divestment sell products or services in Israel that protect Israelis from terrorism. Such protection of citizens is the obligation of any nation. Most of these companies also work in ways that improve the lives of Palestinians.
Why is the Jewish community particularly concerned about Divestment efforts?
For many in the Jewish community, divestment is deeply troublesome not only because it is an inappropriate strategy to advance peace, but also because it resonates with the memory of boycotts wielded against the Jewish community in Germany in the 1930’s as well as the boycott strategy used against Israel by many of her Arab neighbors. Furthermore, the policy of divestment ends up being linked with the anti-Apartheid movement, in which the Jewish Community, along with our Christian friends, was a leading force.
Divestment singles out one particular conflict and, in some proposals, only those businesses working in Israel. This troublesome fixation with the Jewish State exposes a profound moral imbalance. Socially responsible investing is a high calling, but to the extent it is applied to regional conflicts, it should be done universally.
What is the real impact of the conversation about economic actions including Divestment?
The Jewish community remains committed to working in partnership with the mainline Protestant churches on a range of issues including our shared goal of a lasting peace in the Middle East. However, the unilateral and prejudicial use of economic sanctions against Israel, or holding Israel to a different standard than other sovereign states, creates an environment which makes constructive dialogue almost impossible. The debate about divestment has unfortunately placed a serious strain on certain interfaith relations and distracts from constructive and necessary efforts to advance peace.
What is wrong with a study on Divestment?
The implication of a study on divestment is that divestment is an appropriate strategy. It is not. A study on divestment is not a suitable alternative to divesting funds immediately as it will focus the energies of those who seek peace on a conversation that can only yield tensions here at home. Studying a bad strategy is a bad strategy.
Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitism?
There is great disagreement about what will bring peace in the Middle East. Criticism of Israel is not, itself, anti-Semitism. Many Jews in Israel and around the world have criticized Israel's policies. Advocating for a better life for Palestinians is certainly not anti-Semitism, nor is support for a Palestinian state. However, much of the rhetoric in support of economic sanctions against Israel is problematic because it denies the threat of Palestinian terror to Israel, minimizes the need of Israel to live in security, and ignores the culpability of Palestinian leadership for dismantling the terrorist infrastructure.
The call for a unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the territories, as well as efforts such as sanctions that single out Israel, ignore the existential threat posed by those elements in Palestinian society that seek not just a Palestinian state but the eradication of Israel. There is a consensus among Jews that the responsibility for dismantling the terrorist infrastructure starts with Palestinian leadership and is the condition precedent for peace.
What can and should churches and all those who seek peace do?
Those seeking to hasten peace should focus on efforts of reconciliation, including investment in the many meaningful coexistence programs and justice organizations that are necessary to foster a generation of Israelis and Palestinians which will work and live side-by-side and move past the teaching of hate and the resort to violence. See attached list for suggested partner organizations.
Development and humanitarian assistance such as the U.S. administration's proposed $350 million Palestinian aid package will help foster peace and compromise in the region. Supporters of peace should encourage the U.S. government and the international community to increase economic and social programs that will alleviate the difficult socio-economic conditions facing the Palestinian people, and bolster the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
SUGGESTED PARTNER ORGANIZATIONS
WORKING FOR PEACE WITH JUSTICE IN ISRAEL AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
The organizations listed below are recommended by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations as sharing the goals of the ELCA for peace with justice in the Holy Land. They are independent organizations with no formal affiliation to the ELCA. The list was provided in conjunction with the April 2005 document, "Divestment or Constructive Investment? Alternative Approaches to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
Rabbis for Human Rights is an Israeli organization that advocates on behalf of human rights from a religious perspective. Founded by a group of 15 rabbis - Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform - it has since grown in both membership and prominence. It received an award from the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) for its work in advocating human rights, nurturing interfaith understanding and supporting the peace process. Its primary focus has been the violation of the human rights of West Bank Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR) joins health professionals from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza who work against abuses of human and medical rights. Its activities include protecting the right of individuals to receive medical care in Israel when services in Palestinian Authority areas are unavailable; coordinating free diagnostic and therapeutic services at clinics operated by PHR members; securing entry permits from Israeli authorities to ensure freedom of movement for Palestinian patients and medical professionals, and defending the medical rights of detainees and prisoners.
Seeds of Peace, founded in 1993 by an American author and journalist, brings Arab and Israeli teenagers together at a summer camp in Maine for a month-long program that combines sports and arts activities with daily conflict-resolution sessions led by professional American, Arab and Israeli facilitators. The project aims to reach young people before their fear, mistrust, and prejudices have permanently shaped their vision of the "enemy." The Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem offers year-round activities for alumni of the program to sustain their friendships and commitment to coexistence, as well as reaching out to many other Israeli and Palestinian young people.
International Center of Bethlehem. This is a Lutheran-based, ecumenically-oriented institution serving the Palestinian community, with an emphasis on children, youth, and women. Through empowering local leaders, developing human resources, cultivating artistic talents, and facilitating intercultural encounters, the ICB promotes the building of Palestinian civil society. Its Addar Cultural & Conference Center is the site of numerous performances, conferences, and consultations. Also connected with the ICB is an alternative school for grades K-12 and a college-level academy.
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People. This community center in Beit Sahour, in addition to its service to the local community, sponsors dialogues aimed at developing mutual understanding, activating participants to work for peace and justice, educating and training for peace and reconciliation, and increasing the public role in building a just and lasting peace in the region.
B'tselem, which takes its Hebrew name from the biblical affirmation that all people are created in God's image (Gen. 1:27), is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Its maps of the "facts on the ground" have become a standard for assessing the progress toward peace and mutual dignity. Its legal team has developed cases against abuses by Israeli police and soldiers and its staff has testified in the Knesset regarding policies and procedures that impinge on the lives of Palestinians on a day to day basis.
Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Founded in 1991, the ICCI is an umbrella organization for more than 70 institutions and grassroots religious programs that work for multicultural, interreligious understanding and co-existence. Throughout the conflict of recent years, member organizations of the ICCI have continued to engage thousands of Palestinians and Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, in working toward a peaceful multicultural society with religious diversity.