At each biennial assembly since 2004, the Presbyterian General Assembly has considered a variety of overtures (resolutions) related to divestiture from companies doing business in Israel.
With this year’s resolution threatening to create a rift between the Jewish community and its long-time partners for social action in the mainstream Christian community, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Community Relations Committee hosted a panel discussion March 1 on how such a division has grown.
“How can we partner together…. To jointly invest in peace rather than divest?” asked JFGP Community Relations Director Bob Horenstein in introducing the three out-of-town panelists.
“I think part of the goal of this (divestment) movement is to drive a wedge between us,” said Dr. Jan Armstrong, executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Santa Barbara, Calif., and member of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. “My goal is to have the people on the ground – Israelis, Palestinian Authority, Hamas – figure out peace. … How to live together needs to be their work.”
“PFMEP wants two states both thriving economically and where families can thrive,” he said.
Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, agreed that the divestment movement “poisons the well for interfaith relations.”
The importance of listening to the narratives of both sides in any conflict was a key point made by Peggy Obrecht, former director of the Committee on Church Relations and the Holocaust. Obrecht has lived in Israel and also has spent time in Ireland to bring Catholics and Protestants together for peace.
“In Israel so many organizations are working to bring Arabs and Jews together,” she said, noting she could think of at least seven groups, including the Hand in Hand schools founded by Portlander Lee Gordon to educate Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli children side by side.