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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wiesenthal Center Letter to United Church of Christ on Divestment

This relates to the last article. It is a good letter being written to people who don't give a damn about the human rights of Jews.

The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
700 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115-1000

Dear Rev. Thomas,

In the name of more than 400,000 member families of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we express our deep concern and dismay regarding resolutions to be considered at the General Synod that call for the dismantling of Israel’s security barrier, and divestment from companies doing business with Israel.

One of us is writing from Israel, where earlier today a young woman from Gaza, Faha Samir, had permission on a humanitarian medical request to cross into Israel to seek medical treatment. By the grace of G-d, and through a combination of an anti-terror security fence and other protective Israeli measures, she was foiled from what she admitted was her plan – to blow up Soroka Hospital, which offers medical services to Jews and Palestinians alike. Ten kilograms of explosives were wrapped around her body.

Resolution #16 is entitled “Tear Down the Wall.” It boggles the mind that a major denomination could even think of endorsing such a slogan. We cannot fathom what mixture of naivete, lack of a real grasp of the facts on the ground, and wholesale embrace of the Palestinian narrative produced such folly. Temporary walls and strong preventive security measures are saving innocent Israeli lives – Jewish and Arab– every day. Such defenses should be supported and endorsed by those who care about saving lives, and obtaining the peace that will eventually obviate the need for such measures.

As you are well aware, there has been real movement towards that peace for several months. Israelis and Palestinians have talked and negotiated with each other, for the first time in years. Secretary Rice is still in the region, helping the sides hammer out the fine points of agreements. Why would the UCC introduce resolutions against the security barrier and for divestment just now, when the rest of the world is trying so hard to offer encouragement to the fragile talks, and the United States has thrown its full prestige behind making them succeed?

Has the UCC not considered that such resolutions will be dangerously counterproductive? What are its goals? The easing of Israel’s grip on Palestinians? On the cusp of a painful disengagement that has divided Israelis against each other, Prime Minister Sharon is expending his entire political stock to make sure it happens. Does the UCC want to see the release of prisoners? Israel has released over 900, some of whom have already been apprehended in the process of new attacks against Israeli civilians. What effect can these ill-timed resolutions have, if not to embolden the most extreme elements of Palestinian society, and demoralize Israelis who thought they wanted to press on towards peace? Israel should be encouraged and praised for her efforts, not kicked in the teeth.

Why, then, is the UCC seeking to punish Israel?

When another Protestant denomination recently considered similar resolutions, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, had this to say. “Israelis are already traumatised and feel that the world is against them. This proposal, if it is agreed, would be another knife in the back. Christians who owe so much to the Hebrew Scriptures and to Israel itself should not be among those who attack Israel in such a way.”

The UCC should be concerned with the plight of Palestinians, as should all good people. But the UCC has not heard the pain of Israeli terror victims, or to the larger narrative of the majority of Israelis who are prepared to make concessions for peace, but not at the cost of dismantling their country. While paying lip service to security for the Jewish state, the programs, literature and website of the UCC have shown a decided preference for Palestinian voices and carefully sanitized opinions from the extreme of the Israeli left. We can point to the national tours of Palestinians to local churches. When did the other side ever get a hearing?

These resolutions will work against the cause of peace, and inflict collateral damage upon relations between Jews and the UCC, and the safety and security of Jews around the world. We are in a position to know, as the largest Jewish membership organization on the globe. We have worked in the name of peace with leaders of foreign governments and as a UN recognized NGO. One of us signs this letter between conferring with the Arab League and a meeting with the King of Jordan. We have championed human rights concerns abroad, and pioneered programs of intergroup tolerance at home.

To most people, divestment means South Africa, and its apartheid regime. To link it with an Israeli democracy that guarantees and delivers freedoms of worship and expression to its Arab citizens; where an Arab sits on its Supreme Court; where Jewish and Arab students sit side by side in university classrooms – is a moral outrage, and a declaration of malice to the Jewish people.

Divestment also threatens other Jews throughout the world, or at least outside of the United States. Since the hate-fest at Durban in 2001, we have monitored an explosion of antisemitism and attacks against Jews. They are linearly related to one-sided rhetoric of Israeli brutality and oppression. Around the world, whatever Israel does, Jews are made to pay. Divestment – with its popular link to apartheid – adds an important brick to a growing edifice of the vilification of Jews.

For decades after the Holocaust, American Jews have noticed and appreciated the attempts of church groups – including the UCC – to promote cooperation and good will. Please do not underestimate how damaging the three resolutions will be, how much positive feeling will be dissipated at the upcoming Synod if they pass. Please do not underestimate the depth of feeling American Jews have for the security of Israel and Israelis. While when many openly disagree with particular policies of the Israeli government, American Jews are united in their commitment to the Jewish State’s right to protect the lives and safety of her citizens. They see fairness trampled upon. Inestimable damage will result to the relationship between our communities.

At this critical juncture, the Simon Wiesenthal Center believes that the UCC ought to drop these resolutions in the interests of a fuller peace for all the inhabitants of the Middle East. If in fact UCC is interested in learning of the horrific toll and suffering of Israeli citizens, and the related spike in Islamist-inspired antisemitic violence, our institution stands ready to provide expert testimony for your Synod participants.

We respectfully await your response.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Assistant Dean Director, Project Next Step