Jewish and Protestant leaders clashed over Israel yesterday as the heads of several major U.S. Jewish organizations condemned the Presbyterian Church's decision to begin selective divestiture in companies operating in Israel.
After a polite but tense meeting in New York, Presbyterian officials and leaders of the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism promised to continue their dialogue. But neither side gave any ground.
"Holding something over the head of Israel to change its conduct, while holding nothing over the heads of the Palestinians to change their conduct . . . has caused utter dismay in the Jewish community," Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told reporters. "It is unbalanced, it is unwieldy, it will not work."
Jewish-Presbyterian relations have been in turmoil since the 2.4 million-member Presbyterian Church's General Assembly voted 431 to 62 in July to "initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel" and also decided to continue funding messianic congregations that target Jews for proselytizing.
The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk, or highest elected official, of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said the church does not plan a "blanket divestment" of its $7 billion in investment funds from companies operating in Israel. Rather, he said, it will target businesses that it believes bear particular responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians and will give them a chance to change their behavior before selling their shares.
Presbyterian officials cited one possible example: Caterpillar Inc., which manufactures bulldozers used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes that are built without permits or belong to families of suicide bombers.
Kirkpatrick said the church would also pull its money out of any companies that are complicit in supporting terrorism.
Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said the Presbyterian resolution was a "lopsided" action that blamed one side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"There is plenty of guilt and plenty of blame to go around," he said. "But . . . the expectation is that there will be a certain fairness in the critique."
Jewish leaders also expressed concern that other Protestant groups, such as the worldwide Anglican Communion, appear to be considering punitive measures toward Israel. Last week an Anglican delegation toured Palestinian areas and reportedly called for divestiture to end the "draconian conditions" of Israel's "continuing occupation."
The Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, issued a report this week saying that mainline Protestant denominations devoted 37 percent of their human rights declarations over the past four years to criticism of Israel, far more than any other foreign country.