Edison minister fights divestment policy
Presbyterian cleric says national body ignores Jewish voices
A Presbyterian minister in Edison is fighting the national church’s call to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
The Rev. Kenneth Macari of the Community Presbyterian Church of Edison voted against this summer’s resolution by the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from three companies it considered “complicit” in the Israeli “occupation” of Palestine.
Now he is determined to overturn that decision.
Macari was among 120 national lay and clerical Presbyterian leaders who signed a full-page ad in The New York Times on Nov. 20 strongly criticizing the church vote. Calling themselves Presbyterians for a Just and Peaceful Future in the Middle East, their ad was headlined, “Presbyterians: We Can Do Better Than Divestment.”
He reached out to NJJN, he said, because he is looking to work with local synagogues and Jewish community leaders to ensure the vote is reversed when the Presbyterian Church USA general assembly meets again in 2016.
“I would be more than happy to speak to any synagogue or group about my experience,” said Macari in a phone interview.
Macari was a commissioner representing the Elizabeth Presbytery at the biannual general assembly in Detroit last June. By a narrow margin of 310 to 303, attendees voted to sell $45 million worth of stock from three multinational companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.
Proponents of the divestment said the companies supplied electronic and earth-moving equipment that helped Israel violate Palestinians’ rights.
Macari was on the 60-member Middle East Issues Committee and was outraged that the divestment resolution was even put up for a general vote.
He said he and several other committee members had drafted a minority report recommending against divestment. He also charged that the entire proceeding was one-sided.
“We had a lot of testimony from denominational social justice staff people all in favor of divestment with no other perspective presented,” he said. “I and five other people petitioned the cochairs of our committee to have representation on the other side against divestment. There were three hours of pro-divestment testimony and only three minutes of anti-divestment testimony.”
The objections of Jewish leaders were also ignored, he asserted. Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs warned the delegates the divestment vote would be viewed as “an attack on the Jewish community and religion” and he offered to set up a meeting the following week between church leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was “basically stuffed,” said Macari, as were other Jewish leaders who tried to reason with delegates.
Macari said the only Jewish group given a hearing was the Jewish Voice for Peace, a far-left group that supports “limited divestment” from Israel and supported the divestment resolution.
Macari said he personally apologized to Jacobs and other Jewish leaders, saying, “This is not who many of us are, and we grieve with you.”
“I’m livid and my congregation is livid,” he said. “They know where I stand and we’ve always had excellent relations with our Jewish neighbors.”
Church leaders denied the vote was either anti-Israel or in support of the formal boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks widespread economic, cultural, and academic isolation of Israel.
“We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives,” said general assembly clerk the Rev. Gradye Parsons in a statement about the decision. “We continue to invest in many businesses involved in peaceful pursuits in Israel.”
However, Jewish groups denounced the decision, with the Anti-Defamation League calling it “out of step with the views of the majority of Presbyterians in the pews” and saying it “sends a painful message to American Jews.”
Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious relations at the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement after the vote: “This is an affront to all who are committed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PCUSA decision is celebrated by those who believe they are one step closer to a Jew-free Middle East.”
The church put out an open letter to “Our American Jewish interfaith partners” stating the decision was made “through much prayer and discernment” in an effort to bring about a peaceful solution for both Palestinians and Jews.
However, Macari charged the longstanding pro-Israel position of the Presbyterians had been hijacked by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a pro-divestment group within the church.
“What has happened is that my denomination, out of concern about Palestinian rights, has become part of the worldwide boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign,” he said.
Macari said he believed most of those who voted for divestment did so out of a sense of compassion, but got sidetracked and lost perspective. Others, he contended, had darker motives. “I have to say this, that with some people there is a latent anti-Jewish mindset and stereotype that still lingers,” said Macari. “It is a minority, but people don’t want to admit this or even say they are aware of this.” he said.
Macari, meanwhile, said those signing the protest ad in November believe in “reinvestment” in joint Israeli-Palestinian ventures and reaffirm the two-state solution.
Their ad stated: “We are among the many Presbyterians all over the country who have worked against this action, believing that divestment would strengthen the extreme positions on both sides of this conflict without alleviating the suffering of Palestinians — and further divide and discourage the vast center of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that longs for justice with love for both peoples.”
“There was a whole network that raised $100,000 to put the ad in,” said Macari. “There are a lot of angry and upset people over the divestment issue. Many lay leaders and pastors across the country have been in dialogue with Jewish leaders and the community repudiating the divestment vote and reaffirming our support for Israel and the American-Jewish community.”