Supporting our friends at Jewish Voice for Peace
On June 23, 2014, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in an opinion piece printed in Haaretz, maligned the work of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in the recent efforts to move the Presbyterian Church (USA) towards a policy of selective divestment from American companies that profit from the occupation of the West Bank. JVP has indeed been an important ally, conversation partner, and sometimes teacher as we Presbyterians struggled for discernment about how we as a faith community should move forward. That their function in our debates was merely “cover” and that their passion for justice represents “collusion” is a gross misstatement both of our process and the role of JVP within it.
It its mission statement, JVP identifies itself as “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights. We support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination.” Far from being ambiguous language cloaking a radical agenda, JVP is clear in its mission. The call for peace and justice for all peoples, at the heart of what JVP stands for, is hardly alien to the Jewish tradition. It has deep roots in the rich prophetic tradition of Hebrew scripture and in the historical struggles of Jews all over the world against oppression in any form.
Nor is the principled critique of the actions of governments foreign to Jewish ethical engagement. Again, the examples stretch all the way back to the prophets. Jewish voices have always been able to maintain a balance between support for government and critique of institutionalized injustice. It is a special, and very deep form of patriotism to call upon a nation, any nation, to live up to the true meanings of its moral commitments.
As to the charge that JVP functioned as a cover for the actions of the Presbyterian Church (USA), this claim betrays a lack of knowledge about the deliberations surrounding divestment that have taken place over the last decade within the church. As a church we have known that any actions we were to take that were critical of the current direction of Israeli policy would be excoriated uncritically by some groups across the political and faith spectra. We also engaged in dialogue with JVP fully aware that they represented one set of voices among many within the Jewish community. We worked with them and learned from them not because of the influence they might have over how our actions were perceived, but because we recognized in JVP a powerful prophetic vision that had the potential to inspire us as a church to prophetic places as well.
When representatives from JVP spoke to members of our governing bodies and witnessed to individual Presbyterians, they spoke with a clear message. They told us to probe as deeply into our tradition as they had probed into theirs. They reminded us that our ethical heritage was our own and that it was sufficient for moving us forward. They refused to give us “permission” to act on divestment because they insisted that we needed no such permission.
As a church, we Presbyterians have sometimes been reticent to step forward. We sometimes prefer to follow. JVP challenged us, prayed with us and prayed for us. They would not and could not act for us, however. The decision to divest was a Presbyterian decision, made after intense debate and serious discernment. We remain grateful to Jewish Voice for Peace for their witness and respect their strong commitment to the deepest of Jewish values.
***Pictured here at the 221st Presbyterian General Assembly in Detroit, some of the JVP delegation who came from all over the country to work in solidarity with other local and Presbyterian groups.