Jewish organizations from across the US reacted with anger and disbelief at the US Presbyterian Church's (PCUSA) decision
to divest some $1.9 million from companies implicit in Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
Rabbi David Sandmel, the Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, claimed the move was "out of step with the views of the majority of Presbyterians in the pews at the community level."
Sandmel attended the PCUSA conference and was present during the deliberations.
"The claim by the PCUSA that it does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is simply not reflected in this resolution and the overall tone of the discussions," he said.
ADL National Director, Abraham H. Foxman, said the decision threatens the long-standing Presbyterian-Jewish relations.
"Over the past ten years, PCUSA leaders have fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel within the church, promoted a one-sided presentation of the complex realities of the Middle East, and permitted the presentation of a grossly distorted image of the views of the Jewish community," Foxman went on to say.
The managing director of the Israel Action Network, Geri Palast, said it was "troubling and tragic to see the Presbyterian Church (USA) choose to reject partnership in favor of partisanship, ignoring the entreaties of every major organizational voice in the American Jewish community, including over 1,700 religious leaders from the four movements and all fifty states."
The American Jewish (AJC) community slammed the PCUSA, accusing its leadership of "facilitating the delegitimization of Israel in the guise of helping Palestinians."
"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," said Rabbi Noam Marans, the AJC director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations.
President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbi Steve Gutow, warned that the "decision will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on relations between mainstream Jewish groups and the national Presbyterian Church (USA)."
"We hold the leadership of the PCUSA accountable for squandering countless opportunities, not only to act responsibly to advance prospects for Middle East peace, but also to isolate and repudiate the radical, prejudiced voices in their denomination," Gutow continued.
American Jewish leaders were not the only ones lamenting the decision.
The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of the Presbyterian Auburn Seminary, said the decision "sets back the work toward a just and peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict resulting in two states for two peoples."
"It hurts the Presbyterian place at the table for peacemaking, and creates barriers not just between Presbyterians and Jews, and Israelis and Palestinians, but also within the Presbyterian body," she added.
Henderson urged "like-minded Presbyterians" to reach out to their Jewish neighbors to repair relationships.
"The time for multifaith engagement is now more important than ever," she said.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, which is the largest branch of American Judaism, addressed the delegates twice, urging them to vote against divestment.
He offered to arrange a meeting for the two top Presbyterian executives next week in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss church concerns, if Presbyterians rejected the divestment proposal.
Henderson thanked Jacobs for the invitation to the meeting with Netanyahu, "where we could directly voice our concerns about Israeli policy."
After the vote, Jacobs said the denomination as a whole is no longer "a partner for joint work on Israel-Palestine peace issues."
Despite that, he said, "at a national level, this is not a surprise."
"The publication and dissemination of 'Zionism Unsettled' as a teaching tool used by the church sent a painful warning to us. It is a biased, one-sided and ahistoric document. But we believed it was worth going the extra mile and appealing directly to the commissioners," Jacobs said.
He promised, however, that cooperation will continue with local Presbyterian congregations, "many of which we know do not support this position and with which our congregations have forged important alliances to further the values that we jointly hold as core to our desire for a better world for all peoples."
The resolution, which was approved in a 310-303 vote on Friday during the church’s General Assembly meeting in Detroit calls for PCUSA to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions due to their business dealings with Israel in the West Bank.
The measure also included a reaffirmation of Israel's right to exist, an endorsement of a two-state solution and encouraged interfaith dialogue, The New York Times reported.
It also included a provision to encourage "positive investment" to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, the Times said.