Dialogue doesnt undo Presbyterian divestment threat

new york | Not long ago, the Presbyterian Church USA managed to do something most Jewish organizations can only dream of: It generated Jewish unity.

Jewish groups were outraged when the organization passed a resolution over the summer calling for divesting from companies that do business in or with Israel.

The group is sticking to its position after meeting here Tuesday, Sept. 28, with Jewish religious leaders and organizational officials, who aired their sentiments face to face with the Presbyterians for the first time since the decision in July.

As the Jews expressed unanimous, vehement opposition to the move, church officials said they were eager to “dialogue” with the Jews on the issue and expressed regret that the discussion had not taken place earlier. But they also insisted that the church, representing 3 million-plus members, would not back away from the decision, which passed by a 431-62 vote at the group’s General Assembly.

“We’re looking forward to this being the first of a number of meetings,” Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the General Assembly, said at a news conference following the meeting in New York. “It’s clear to us this conversation should have taken place some time ago.”

Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, said after the meeting that fundamental differences remained.

“There’s a natural divide in terms of perspectives. We see things through radically different lenses,” he said. “We put on the table very clearly our concerns.”

While this hardly is the first conflict between Jews and Presbyterians, even on issues relating to Israel, the decision to divest from Israeli companies or companies doing business in Israel touched a particularly raw nerve among Jews.

It could do serious damage to Jewish-Christian relations, some observers said. It could also have a domino effect on other churches considering similar moves, resulting in substantial economic hardship to Israel. Already, there are signals that the Anglican Church could be next; the Anglican Peace and Justice Network last week issued a report that alarmed Jewish officials in its placement of the lion’s share of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel.

“If the Presbyterians go ahead with any kind of divestment, the Anglicans are not far behind,” said A. James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser at the AJCommittee. “They already are showing interest in it. There could be other church bodies that want to follow it, and it can spread.”