Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

Copies of this letter are being given to delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly in Detroit, MI, who will be voting this week on several Israel-focused resolutions related to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

Dear Friend,

As the president of America’s largest Jewish denomination, representing 1.5 million North American Jews, it is my honor to join you at your General Assembly.

I have come here to Detroit with an important message about strengthening our alliance. I look forward to discussing this matter with you in person, but it is of such heartfelt concern to me, and so many millions of American Jews, that I am taking the extra step to write you a detailed letter.

Like yours, our community yearns for peace and justice for all peoples. Like you, we pride ourselves on our social justice work and interfaith relations. Your creation-care and social service projects throughout the world are nothing short of exemplary. We have worked closely with your Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years, and partnered with clergy from your churches in interfaith coalitions and dialogue programs. These collaborations are based on mutual respect and understanding – and, at their best, are grounded in the core rule of coalitional relationships. In order to have a friend, you must be a friend and seek common ground. That is especially true when a partner’s survival is at stake.

As you know, our love for Israel is paramount to our identity and our faith. We appreciate and share deeply your constant concern for the vulnerable across the globe, including in Palestine. It is a source of pain to us that you fail to show that same consistent, sensitive and passionate concern for our Israeli civilian brothers, sisters and children (Jewish and Arab alike) in your statements and actions. Israeli civilians also face genuine existential threats and are so often the target of violence and terrorism. This harsh reality betrayed itself just this week when three Jewish teens were kidnapped by terrorists while walking home from school. And, rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas continue to cause fear in southern Israel.

I am proud to say that our Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. We stand firmly on this—and for two states–and want to partner with you, but your support for BDS will make this much harder.

We firmly believe that our Zionism, exemplified in our support for the Jewish people’s liberation movement as realized in the state of Israel, should not come at the expense of the Palestinian people who deserve freedom and dignity, in an independent state.

Every day the occupation causes pain and hardship to too many Palestinians. Only two states for two peoples living side by side in peace will allow this tragic conflict to end, giving way to coexistence in this blood-soaked patch of land. We truly yearn for the day when the swords of all nations will melt into plough shares and when the lives of all the children of the region, of Iraq and Syria, of Palestine and Israel, marred by fear and hate, will be mended by tranquility and laughter.

Israel is an imperfect democracy, as is the United States. Israel is not immune from criticism, and we hold Israel to the same standards of justice and equality of all democratic nations. In order to bring about desired change, it is imperative that the actions taken help fulfill the goal at hand. If the desire is, as I believe it must be, two states for two peoples, these divestment moves are not the answer. That’s because, thus far, support for divestment from Israel has only proven to harden the positions of those who least desire justice for the Palestinians. The resolutions you will consider may be aimed at specific companies, but the headlines around the world will be “Presbyterians Endorse BDS,” and will further strengthen hardliners on both sides.

We are inspired by the poetry of the prophets, but we live in the prose of a daily struggle to create a better world through the difficult, sometimes relentless work of compromise. Indeed, compromise is a rare and precious commodity between the people of Israel and the people of a future state of Palestine, but it is essential and we must work hard to achieve it.

Much of the rhetoric and the materials produced for the Church around this debate have been profoundly troubling. In particular,I have been terribly saddened, even horrified, by the document Zionism Unsettled, which is being sold as a teaching guide on the Presbyterian Church USA website. It is one of the most biased and ahistorical documents I have read. There is no way to sugarcoat it: this document is a vicious attack on Judaism, the Jewish people and the state of Israel, negating the very theological legitimacy of the Jewish religion.

How should Jews react in the face of efforts to equate Israel or Zionism with apartheid? Comparing apartheid to the situation of Israel, a democracy that, with all its flaws, grants fundamental rights and due process to all its citizens is deeply troubling. In Israel, Arabs and Jews sit side by side in restaurants, are treated in the same hospitals by Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses, and study at the same universities in courses taught by Arab and Jewish professors. There is an Arab Christian Israeli, Justice Salim Joubran, serving on Israel’s Supreme Court. To compare the horror, brutality and pervasive systematic racism of apartheid that permeated every sphere of South African life with the ills of Israel’s policy is not only unfair to Israel, but also dilutes the horror of apartheid and demeans the struggle of those who heroically defeated it.

The terminology and imagery of apartheid and Nazism conveys that one side of an argument is so intrinsically evil, so illegitimate that it has no place in the discussion and its proponents have no place at the table. Such language suggests that the Jewish yearning for our own homeland is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent, denying Jews their own identity as a people. A sweeping indictment of Zionism amounts to a blanket condemnation of the vast majority of Jews in the world.

Over the past century, we Jews and Presbyterians have become more loving brothers and sisters, but we are at a crucial junction in our relationship. I pray that the decisions of this General Assembly will bring us closer, so that we, in the words of Isaiah, can be “restorers of the breach” that threatens to divide us from each other and from the backbreaking work God commands of us to shape a world of reason and justice, of compassion and peace.

I pray that God’s blessing will rest upon you and guide you in your challenging deliberations.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace,
Rabbi Rick Jacobs

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From the URJ

23 Responses to “Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly”

  1. avatar
    Stanley Greenberg, PhD Reply June 20, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Yes! Thanks for your efforts. It is horrifying to imagine such distortions and bias. I hope your letter, intention and presence at the conference is well received.It’s time for all to be united in love, compassion, freedom and understanding. Let us be a light unto all nations…

  2. avatar

    Disappointed you used the term “occupation”. I am a member of the reform movement not J Street. Rabbi Jacobs you need to stayed focused on growing the reform movement in the USA . Thanks David Golush

    • avatar

      I have recently looked into the legal status of the West Bank. I found this on Wikipedia, would you care to comment?
      Both the International Court of Justice and the Supreme Court of Israel have ruled that the status of the West Bank is that of military occupation.[Domb, Fania (2007). International Law and Armed Conflict: Exploring the Faultlines. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 511. ISBN 9004154280.] In its 2004 advisory opinion the International Court of Justice concluded that:

      The territories situated between the Green Line and the former eastern boundary of Palestine under the Mandate were occupied by Israel in 1967 during the armed conflict between Israel and Jordan. Under customary international law, the Court observes, these were therefore occupied territories in which Israel had the status of occupying Power. Subsequent events in these territories have done nothing to alter this situation. The Court concludes that all these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and that Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.

      In the same vein the Israeli Supreme Court stated in the 2004 Beit Sourik case that:

      The general point of departure of all parties – which is also our point of departure – is that Israel holds the area in belligerent occupation (occupatio bellica)……The authority of the military commander flows from the provisions of public international law regarding belligerent occupation. These rules are established principally in the Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, The Hague, 18 October 1907 [hereinafter – the Hague Regulations]. These regulations reflect customary international law. The military commander’s authority is also anchored in IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949.[IBID and “Beit Sourik Village Council v. 1.The Government of Israel 2.Commander of the IDF Forces in the West Bank”. The Supreme Court Sitting as the High Court of Justice. Retrieved 8/5/2012.]

  3. avatar

    Excellent! Now let’s hope they listened.

  4. avatar

    Kudos for an extremely well written piece.

    Your explanation of where we stand and why should be well received by those seeking to prevent a breach in the wonderful relationship which has existed for so many years.

    Member of Temple Oseh Shalom in Bluffton, SC

  5. avatar

    Great response. I am the widow of Rabbi Elijah Palnick, who as the Rabbi of Temple B’nai Israel of Little Rock Ar was a delegate to Synod of the Sun, the Presbyterian Assembly of the Southwest. Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock shared buildings for many years while each was rebuilding. Our daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at the church. I amsorry to see the deterioration of the national body. Please keep on with your wonderful comments

  6. avatar
    Stuart Warshauer Reply June 20, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    This is a well-written plea for recognition of a two-state Israel.
    Unfortunately,the Arab nations will not permit it and the Palestinians themselves show no enthusiasm for it. The Palestinians have been held captive for three generations during which time they have been taught that their sacrifice will entitle them to displace all the Jews in “Palestine”. Accepting partition is accepting defeat. They have never recognized the right of Jews to settle in Israel and they probably never will. If they accept partition, it will only be, for them, the first step toward complete conquest of the entire territory, now known as Israel.

  7. avatar
    michael aisenberg, esq. Reply June 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

    It is profoundly troubling that one of the mainline Protestant denominations that were turned to for support during the post-WW II era, for the creation of the state of Israel, and with whom as documented by Rabbi Jacobs there has been such a long tradition of common ground on so many issues would now be poised on the brink of outright opposition to Israel’s existence–because no matter how many disclaimers and protestations to the contrary, the tone of the proponents, the enthusiasm of the “victors” in Detroit speaks volumes about their true intentions. And in spite of the hyperbole of the media coverage, there is no amount of sugar coating that can belie the glee with which the latent opposition to Israel’s existence can take comfort and come out of its closet a bit more when given air cover by the “Church of the Presidents”…

    Michael Aisenberg
    Washington, D.C.

  8. avatar

    Thank you, Rabbi Jacobs, for your excellent delineation of the issues involved in the one-sided, blame-only-Israel conspiracy of a radical minority element of today’s Presbyterian Church (USA): to never say anything negative about Palestinians, and say only negatives about Israelis.

    It’s always extremists, on all sides, using the claim-the-opposite-of-the-truth, Big-Lie technique, who are trying to destroy the balance needed for compromise.

    The Palestinian treatment of Christian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza is what deserves criticism; since it illustrates why persecution of Christianity is radically diminishing Christian Arabic populations in the entire Arab world. Palestinians only care about Islamic Palestinians. On the other hand, Christian Israelis are growing in Israel, where under the opposite of apartheid conditions, Christianity, Islam, and all religions, are protected under Israeli law.

    Presbyterian Americans, and Reform (like me) and other Jewish Americans, must stick together, because both of our beliefs really do care about all human rights.

  9. avatar

    Dear Rabbi Jacobs:
    I hope that you have the wisdom to accept the wise divestment decision by the Presbyterian General Assembly as a loving reminder that all human life is equally sacred and that no people have the right to impose their will on others by force. Sadly, many people of good will do not see those core values reflected in contemporary Israel. We see a society where 4.5 million Arabs are living under military occupation without basic civil or human rights and where 1.5 million Israeli Arabs are living as second class citizens. We can’t characterize such a state as a democracy. We can’t ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people. We can’t support an Israeli state where the majority of Israeli Jews consistently elect leaders who continue the oppression of the Palestinian people and the theft of their land. Twenty one years after the Oslo Accords, Israel may have passed the point of no return for the two state solution. We cannot allow Israel to pass the point of no return for a nonviolent solution. Divestment is a gentle way to remind Israeli Jews that the military occupation of another people’s land is unjustifiable.
    John Adams

  10. avatar

    We appreciate your letter directed to the Christian Movement and that you will be attending their conference meeting as well. Clarity in communication is essential at this time for Jews and for Israel. Thank you for taking a stand! G-D is With You! And we say Amen to that.

  11. avatar

    I am proud to say that our Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. This is what you wrote, Rabbi. But where do we ever see in Reform Judaism any articles or debate over this issue?? You’ve read: The greatest ally of evil is the silence of honest men…

  12. avatar

    Turns out that the Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. In this case, I have a long-standing policy of opposition to the Reform movement, this travesty of Judaism.

  13. avatar

    This letter reaffirms the pride I feel in being a member of URJ and of Rabbi Jacobs, our spokesperson

  14. avatar

    I think that Rabbi Jscobs’ letter to the Presbyterian delegates was thoughtful. I agree that the church should not sell stock in the three companies.I am glad that the Reform movement opposes Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. The settlements are a violation of international law. Fredrick Lucas

  15. avatar
    Israel Hanin, Ph.D. Reply June 22, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly was a polite and politically correct attempt to clarify, in the name of all Jews of the Reform Movement, his reasons for objecting to the distorted and biased opinions and action of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly.
    I would have preferred to see direct, forceful comments, similar to those expressed by Rabbis Richard Block and Steven Fox, President and Chief Executive, respectively, of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, in their response to the action of the venerable members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly. These rabbis’ comments were direct and to the point. They did not attempt to sugar coat their points of view. They did not attempt to appease by referring to Israel as an “occupying” force.
    Their letter was powerful, their message was not apologetic, and it came across loud and clear.

  16. avatar

    Israel is the most hateful and racist country this day and age. And upholds and manifests an apartheid regime in the illegal OCCUPIED Palestine. It violates human rights on a daily basis. It is a hostal and violant country that holds to regrets in attacking humans or other countries. And by the way, three abducted were crazy settlers walking “home” on the occupied territory were they should NOT be.
    USA is waking up slowly to the years of lies from bodies like you. Shame will not attach upon you but will be the smell of you. Hatred and racism can not win, will not win. You are a more hateful version of South Africa, but sooner or later you will loose as love, life and the freedom of Palestine will prevaile!

    This victory is a blessing and sign in that direction. Your hatred a just the verb of why this must not only continue but be much faster!

  17. avatar

    While I feel the overal message in the letter is excellent; I agree with Mr. Goulush regarding the use of te term occupation. However I disagree with the last sentance of his statment. I beleive that interfaith relations and increasing membership in our movement temples are not mutually exclusive and in fact may enhance both efforts.

  18. avatar

    I just heard Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ audacious claim that he can speak for ALL Reform Jews. According to him, we are “all united” in our opposition to the Presbyterian decision and this decision causes the entire Jewish community to feel pain and betrayal. THAT IS AN OUTRAGEOUS LIE. HOW DARE HE? I am an American Reform Jew who has nothing but respect for the courage and integrity of the Presbyterian decision. It makes me feel proud and even gives me a little hope for the future of Middle East peace. Rick Jacobs is NOT SPEAKING FOR ME OR FOR ANY OF THE REFORM JEWS I SPEAK WITH DAILY. Lying will not further the cause of peace.

  19. avatar

    Kudos for an extremely well written piece.

    Your explanation of where we stand and why should be well received by those seeking to prevent a breach in the wonderful relationship which has existed for so many years.


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