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Why I Support Presbyterian Divestment as a Jew

The U.S. Church is voting on the controversial measure this week

Sandra Korn
June 19, 2014

In a blog post two days ago, Yair Rosenberg wrote about a Presbyterian minister who committed “the interfaith equivalent of a flagrant foul” by suggesting that America, not Israel, was the Jewish Promised Land. I’ve spent the past few days at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s National General Assembly, and my experience has been exactly the opposite of an interfaith flagrant foul—Presbyterians from across the United States have engaged and considered Jewish voices, including mine, in their internal church decision-making process.

I am in Detroit as a member of Jewish Voice for Peace’s delegation to the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, where commissioners and advisory delegates from across the country decide national church policy on everything from theological issues to gun violence. This year, the Church is debating whether to divest from three American companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. In considering this decision, the Presbyterian community has invited, welcomed, and respected my voice, as well as the voices of other Jews with diverse religious commitments and political backgrounds.

PC-USA has a set process for faith-based socially responsible investment and shareholder engagement. The Church already avoids investing in companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and pornography, and selectively screens out investments related to weapons and human rights violations. Around 10 years ago—well before Palestinian civil society began its call for a campaign of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions—PC-USA identified a list of companies that profited from the occupation. The Church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee has followed its time-honored pathway for shareholder engagement for the past 10 years. This year, however, the committee suggested that:

After several years of corporate engagement by MRTI and its interfaith partners, utilizing all the tools available to investors (correspondence, dialogues, proxy voting, and filing shareholder resolutions), three corporations—Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions—remain entrenched in their involvement in non-peaceful pursuits, and regrettably show no inclination to change their behavior. In fact, if anything, these three corporations have deepened their non-peaceful involvement. As a result, MRTI regretfully informs the 221st General Assembly (2014) that Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions are not in compliance with GA policy, and recommends that these three corporations be added to the GA’s proscription/divestment list until such time as their corporate activities are confined solely to peaceful pursuits.

I agree. My Jewish tradition has taught me to value justice, freedom, and non-violent solutions for peace. Divesting from Caterpillar, which provides machinery used to destroy Palestinian homes; Hewlett-Packard, which maintains the biometric identification system used in Israeli checkpoints; and Motorola Solutions, which provides surveillance systems around illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, seems a logical first step toward true peace in the region.

PC-USA invites community partners in its deliberation process. In the last few days, Presbyterians from across the country have engaged and considered Jewish voices in their internal church decision-making process. Along with an interfaith coalition of Presbyterians, Muslims, Jews, and other Christians, I testified in support of divestment from these three American companies. An equally diverse group testified against divestment.

I know that not all in the Jewish community agree with me. In fact, Yair and I shared many Shabbat dinners during the years we were both student leaders in Harvard Hillel—our divergent religious and political commitments are part of the pluralism that makes the Jewish community so strong. The Presbyterian Church, similarly, harbors a great diversity of perspectives.

The Middle East Committee of the GA debated the best course of action for the PC-USA, and recommended a creative resolution that encouraged not only divestment, but positive reinvestment in the region, continued Presbyterian engagement with the Holy Land, and interfaith dialogue.

Divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation is just one of hundreds of topics under discussion at this year’s General Assembly, but Jewish guests have been invited, formally and informally, to share our perspectives on everything from environmental stewardship to same-sex marriage in religious institutions. The Church intentionally includes Jewish voices in its deliberative process because it cares about interfaith cooperation. Many commissioners, even some who opposed divestment, approached me to thank me for testifying.

As one Egyptian Presbyterian pastor noted in a speech yesterday, there are fanatics in every religion. That doesn’t mean that those who favor justice and peace should stop working together. I have spent the past three days talking, singing, praying, and standing in silent witness along with Jewish and Presbyterian faith leaders from around the United States. If that isn’t interfaith community, I don’t know what is.

Sandra Korn graduated from Harvard this spring with an joint Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She was a student leader in Harvard Hillel and is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Sandra Korn graduated from Harvard this spring with an AB/AM in History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She was a student leader in Harvard Hillel and is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.