WASHINGTON (JTA) – There were amendments and amendments to amendments in a debate lasting for more than four hours. There were dueling T-shirts. There was a last-minute appeal for a joint pilgrimage to speak hard truths to Benjamin Netanyahu. And there was a plea to emulate Jesus and speak hard truths to Jews.
After it all there was the Presbyterian General Assembly’s vote, 310-303, to divest from three American companies that do business with Israeli security services in the West Bank.
In the immediate aftermath, Heath Rada, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), appealed to the media present to “affirm” the love Presbyterians have for Jews.
“In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers,” Rada said following the June 20 vote.
Their Jewish sisters and brothers were, for the most part, not buying.
“It signals a real separation from the Jewish community, which was unfortunate,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who flew in at the last minute to deliver an impassioned appeal to the mainline Protestant denomination to vote against divestment.
In his address, Jacobs said his Reform movement opposed West Bank settlements and was concerned with the “pain and hardship” that the Israeli occupation causes Palestinians.
And he made an offer: If the assembly rejected divestment, Jacobs said, church leaders could join him in presenting their shared concerns about Israeli policies in a joint meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But his appeal ultimately was rebuffed.
“We simply cannot work with the Presbyterian Church on issues related to the Middle East,” Jacobs said in an interview from Israel, where he headed immediately after his June 19 appearance at the assembly.
The resolution divests from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. A similar resolution was defeated narrowly at the last biennial, in 2012.
Netanyahu, addressing a colloquy of Jewish journalists in Jerusalem, criticized the vote.
“The only place where you have freedom, tolerance, protection of minorities, protection of gays, of Christians and all other faiths is Israel,” he said Sunday at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu suggested that American Presbyterian leaders “take a plane, come here and let’s arrange a bus tour in the region. Let them go to Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq.”
Jewish communal officials who attended the assembly said the tight vote suggested that the church’s rank and file did not buy into the church leadership’s hypercritical posture on Israel.
“If you take a look at the closeness of the vote and realize how stacked the decks were going in, reading between the lines, this is not a church that in its general membership is strongly anti-Israel,” said Rabbi David Sandmel, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of interfaith affairs.
The resolution, or “overture,” as it is called in Presbyterian parlance, was subject to a barrage of amendments — even amendments to amendments — when it reached the floor of the assembly in Detroit on Friday afternoon.