Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ecumenical Deal in Action

This is not the blog I had hoped to be writing tonight. I attended a Presbytery
meeting today.  The Presbytery was asked to concur in an overture to our General
Assembly requesting that the Presbyterian Church divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and
Hewlett-Packard, all companies making a profit by selling equipment for Israel’s brutal
military occupation of Palestine  The motion lost by one vote; 105 to 104. The good
news is that in all of the debate, no one sought to justify Israel’s conduct. The most
passionate argument seems to be,  “We must not offend our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Jewish scholar Marc Ellis calls this the “ecumenical deal.”  In order for Christians to have dialogue with Jews, we must first agree to never put the conduct of Israel on the table.  To criticize Israel is offensive and anti-Semitic.  Nevertheless, speaker after speaker placed his or her friendship with the Jewish community above taking steps to call Israel into accountability.  (If my neighbor is abusing his children, it might be time for me to re-evaluate my relationship with my neighbor).

We heard, I don’t like what Israel is doing but this is not the way to address it.  Of course, divestment worked in 1985 in South Africa. That government cleaned up its act without a shot being fired.  The value of divestment is not to make Caterpillar or Israel go broke, but exposure.  Most Americans and most Christians sitting in our pews don’t have the foggiest idea of what is happening in Israel/Palestine, not only in our name but with our money. Boycott and divestment is publicity.

Some insisted on a “better way”.  I kept waiting for that better way to be suggested but after defeating the motion to divest, the better way no longer seemed important.  The message we sent to the Palestinians today was,  Sorry about your pain, wish we could do something to help, but you must understand that we do not want to offend our Jewish neighbors.

I remember the story of someone asking a mother if she loved all her children the same.  “Oh no,” she cried. “I love most the one who is sick until she gets well, the one who is injured until he is healed, the one who is afraid until she feels secure and the one who is hungry until he has been fed. Sounds more like Jesus than our presbytery.

Our Jewish neighbors are no longer suffering. They live in comfortable houses, are well fed and enjoy the benefits of civilized life.

On the other hand, Palestinians are suffering. They are sick and injured, afraid and hungry. I venture that none of the objections to divestment would have made sense if presented before a child whose father had been killed by an Israeli sniper or his brother locked up in an Israeli prison or his home demolished by a Caterpillar bulldozer, his school and hospital locked up on the other side of a wall and whose baby brother died at a check point because his mother was forced to give birth in the back seat of a car.  

So, what do we say to our Christian brothers and sisters of Palestinian who are asking for divestment? Possibly we want to send them a message that, “We know better what is good for you than you do.” Or, “You just don’t understand how important our comfort is to us.”  “We do not like what those bull dozers do to you, but we have a church in Peoria that depend upon the money donated by Caterpillar employees. After all, we have to look out for the church.”  

One debater said, “The timing is off.  John Kerry is in the midst of peace talks.”   I want to say,   My God, we have been in peace talks for decades. As long as the US supports building settlements, walls and check points, talking will not produce peace.  The two state solution is dead. It is buried beneath deceptions, broken agreements, and a one sided “honest broker.” Israel has sworn against any state of Palestine unless Israel controls its borders, freedom of movement, water and labor.  As it stands now, what Israel wants is impossible and what is possible is unacceptable to Israel or the Palestinians Someone has to take a stand.  I wish it had been our Presbytery.

Thomas Are
February 8, 2014