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The following article appeared at http://www.rabbisletter.org/ courtesy of the Jewish Voice for Peace website.

In a few weeks, the United Methodist Church will make a crucial vote on whether to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. A few months later, the Presbyterian Church-USA will vote on the same issue as well.

These churches, and the people of faith behind these initiatives, are already being viciously attacked for saying what many of us have been saying all along: that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must go and that the Israeli occupation must end because a true foundation for peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be based on justice and equality for all. They are taking a stand, with their own resources fuelled by their faith—and so must we.

That is why a number of rabbis from Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council got together and wrote an open letter expressing our support for these churches.

Open Letter to the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA)

We write to you as members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council to encourage your efforts to initiate phased selective divestment from corporations which profit from or support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.  We applaud your initiative and want to communicate our support as Jewish leaders who also work for justice and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

We are aware that the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) has unleashed a powerful campaign to dissuade you, and consequently dissuade the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) from moving forward with their well-considered divestment campaign.

As Jewish leaders, we believe the JCPA’s stance against church divestment does not represent the broader consensus of the American Jewish community. There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine.  Every day Jewish leaders – we among them – are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of cautious, highly-specified divestment such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are preparing to undertake.

However, even if the American Jewish community were unanimously opposed to such phased selective divestment by your Church – which is not at all the case – we believe it is still important that you move forward with the thoughtful multi-year process which your Church has begun.  Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world.  As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history.  We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows.

To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic.  To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic.  To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic.  There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account.  We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.

In fact, many of us in the Jewish community recognize that the continuing occupation of Palestine itself presents a great danger to the safety of the Jewish people, not to mention oppressing our spirits and diminishing our honor in the world community.  We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.

With prayers for peace,

Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi Michael Feinberg
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt
Rabbi Lynn Gottleib
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom
David Basior, Rabbinical Student
Alana Alpert, Rabbinical Student
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student

In their day, the Freedom Riders  in the U.S. stood up to the forces of oppression and racial hatred with a courage now applauded by all in the “free” West. Now some of these same heroes of freedom and equality are putting their lives on the line for the cause of justice and equality in the West Bank. The following article by Rabbi Brant Rosen appeared on the Mondoweiss website.

From the American South to the West Bank: A Freedom Rider bears witness to human rights in Israel/Palestine

by Rabbi Brant Rosen on November 8, 2011

On November 15, Palestinian activists will attempt to board segregated Israeli settler public transport headed to occupied East Jerusalem in an act of civil disobedience inspired by the Freedom Riders of the US Civil Rights Movement.

Fifty years after the US Freedom Riders staged mixed-race bus rides through the roads of the segregated American South, Palestinian Freedom Riders will be asserting their right for liberty and dignity by disrupting the military regime of the Occupation through peaceful civil disobedience. Organizers say this ride to demand liberty, equality, and access to Jerusalem is the first of many to come.

Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza will stand in solidarity with the West Bank Freedom Riders with a very special conference call on the day of the demonstration. Please join us Tuesday, November 15 at 12 pm Eastern Time  to join our conversation with Ellen Broms, one of the original Freedom Riders for civil rights in the American South and currently an activist for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.

During our call, Ms. Broms will talk about her own experiences as an activist/demonstrator for civil rights in the 1960′s and why her activism has led her to take a stand on behalf of Palestinian human and civil rights.

Ellen Broms is a retired state worker who resides in Sacramento, CA. Her involvement in the civil rights movement began when, as a student at Los Angeles City College, she demonstrated at Woolworth lunch counters in support of  similar sit-ins by students in the South.

In June 1961, Ms. Brom attended a freedom rally at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the keynote speech.  After hearing a freedom rider speak, she was inspired to participate in the rides herself. On August 11, Ms. Brom was arrested with other freedom riders after they sat down and demonstrated in a Houston coffee shop.

In her words:

The police arrived, having been summoned by the owner and we were charged with unlawful assembly and taken to the Houston city jail. We were fingerprinted, mugged, and classified at the city jail and then transferred to the Harris County Jail. Ironically, I was booked as a “Negro” because of my dark hair and complexion. We declined to state “race” and they classified me as “High Yellow”. Marjorie, a very fair skinned, green eyed female rider of African American descent was classified and booked as white. I was placed in the “tank” for black women and Marjorie went to the white women’s tank. If we did nothing else during that ride, we did succeed in briefly integrating the jail.

After spending eight days in jail, Ms. Brom was released. The riders were found guilty of “unlawful assembly” by an all-white jury and fined $100 each. Their case was eventually appealed to a higher court and overturned.

Ellen Broms has since been honored by Congress, the state of Texas and the city of Houston for risking incarceration and violence as a Freedom Rider. She continues to work as an activist for peace and justice, particularly in the area of a just peace in Israel/Palestine. She is actively involved in the Sacramento branch of Jewish Voice for Peace and is campaigning on behalf of the West Bank Freedom Riders.

To participate in the call:

Dial Access Number: 1.800.920.7487
Enter Participant Code: 92247763#

There will be opportunities for questions and answers during the call.

Please click here for more information about how you can get involved in support of the West Bank Freedom Riders. Please share this information with others you think may be interested in participating.

We looking forward to your joining the call!

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