Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Betrayal, Disappointment and Anger in the Wake of the UCC's Anti-Israel Votes

Over the past 28+ years, the many opportunities with which I have been blessed to work in partnership with liberal Christian Clergy have enriched my rabbinate in numerous ways.  The friendships I have forged, the bonds of fellowship and communion we have shared together and the common search for God’s presence through study, prayer and activism have been transforming in multiple arenas.
This past week, I happily rejoiced with men and women of many faith communities as we celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to make Marriage Equality the law of the land.  The week before, I joined with a diverse group of clergy and laity as we came together to grieve and pray in solidarity with the victims of the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  I believe strongly in the prophetic tradition of crying out in the face of injustice regardless of whenever and wherever it is found.   I also value and celebrate the vitally important partnerships that liberal Jewish movements have been able to forge over the years with many mainstream Protestant denominations as we have worked hand in hand to expose and erase institutionalized prejudice in our nation.
It is for this reason that I felt a sense of betrayal, disappointment and anger when I learned of the recent decision by the top legislative body of the United Church of Christ (UCC) to divest from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.  If that wasn’t enough, a motion to label Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as Apartheid received a majority of votes, but was defeated on the floor only because it did not garner the requisite two thirds majority required for passage.
As upset as I was over the outcome of these votes, unfortunately I was not surprised.  Increasingly, many liberal Protestant denominations have been moving closer and closer to adopting a one-sided, anti-Zionist position which places blame for all of the problems in Israel and the Territories squarely on the Jewish State.  This is a theology and a political philosophy that focuses exclusively on Palestinian suffering and ignores Israel’s need to defend herself against an enemy bent on her destruction.  It turns a blind eye and, in many cases justifies Palestinian aggression and terror while simplifying and distorting key facts in order to demonize and delegitimize Israel’s actions by utilizing a one-sided and skewed approach towards understanding the conflict. 
Additionally, the fact that Israel has been singled out for perceived injustices when so many other countries and organizations – among them:  Syria, Iran, China, Russia, Pakistan ISIS and others too numerous to mention with far worse records on human rights are ignored by the UCC in their condemnation must cause any rational person to question why this august body is focusing exclusively on Jews.
The truth is, the UCC and other mainstream Christian denominations have been shrinking in both size and influence on the world stage for many years.  As such, their direct impact in minimal.  And yet, other organizations can and will use their vote to reinforce attacks against Israel and the Jewish people.  The fact that a small and vocal group of radical anti-Zionist Jews who do not represent the Jewish people was used to placate and mollify the delegates who cast their votes does not in any way mitigate the damage that this action has caused to relationships between our communities.  The sense of betrayal and anger that I and the vast majority of the mainstream Jewish community feel will not be so easily passed over.
Like most of us, I pray for a day when the State of Israel will be able to live side by side with her Palestinian neighbors in peace. Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) only serves to pit the world against Israel.  It does not promote the cause of peace – it is yet another weapon that is being increasingly effectively wielded by those whose ultimate goal is Israel’s destruction.  By lending their voices to the mob calling for Israel’s demise, the UCC, instead of working for peace, is adding to the conflict.
I pray that those of conscience within the Mainstream Protestant community will rise up in protest against this act of injustice and prejudice. While I will not go so far as to call the UCC anti-Semitic, their embrace of BDS strengthens those who are. I pray that the bonds of partnership that I have so cherished over the years are not irreparably broken and that, in time, we will once again be able to sit in dialogue together. I do not see this on the horizon, I'm sad to say. There is a great deal of healing that needs to be done. May it come soon.


  1. As a UCC pastor, I oppose the divestment vote of my denomination and stand with Israel.

  2. Thank you Kimberly. I hope that others like you will speak out against this very disturbing development.

  3. Rabbi, we agree on so many things, but changing the situation on the ground in Palestine is maybe where we need to agree to disagree. I still believe in two real states for two very real people, both of whom have real and valid ties to the same land but who can no longer live together on that same land for several reasons. How best to fulfill the dreams of both peoples for freedom and relative safety?

  4. I'm not sure we disagree. I agree wholeheartedly with 2 States for 2 Peoples. That is why I so vehemently oppose BDS. All that it does is to isolate and demonize Israel. Rather than promoting dialogue it unilaterally stops negotiations. There are many things about the current Israeli Government that I find troubling. Criticism is necessary in many cases. But this action is nofurthering the peace process- it's about blaming Israel. That I will not accept.

  5. Thank you Rabbi Joe. Many of us are deeply concerned about what PCUSA did last year, and now UCC. Sadly, it is an odd form of prejudice not just against Israel, but against the Palestinians themselves. BDS in effect says, "Palestinians, you are 100% victims here and have no responsibility for the Muslim Brotherhood theology of Hamas; you have no responsibility for the military occupation of Gaza by Hamas that won in an election and refuses to hold another election; you have no responsibility for Hamas launching thousands of rockets into Israel civilian areas; you have no responsibility for PA intransigence....it's all Israel's fault and sole responsibility." BDS naievely says that "If Israel only withdrew from the West Bank there'd be peace."


  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shahar-azani/the-worlds-betrayal-of-is_b_7646240.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592