Churches pass divestment resolution, despite opposition

 

MILWAUKEE – The annual assembly for the Greater Milwaukee Synod passed a resolution in early June, calling for divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli “occupation,” despite objections from the local Jewish Community Relations Council.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation opposes divestment.

The resolution will be bundled with those of other communities, for consideration at the ELCA national assembly Aug. 8-13, 2016, said Bishop Jeff Barrow of the Greater Milwaukee Synod.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations.

The resolution calls for “guidelines that will screen out investments in companies profiting from, or complicit in, human rights violations arising from the occupation.” It also references a 2005 national ELCA resolution that advocated for “a two-state solution, with two viable, secure states living side-by-side.”

“What it really says is that this is a topic that we need to talk about,” Barrow told the Chronicle. “There are a number of synods that had similar resolutions.”

Kahn said she learned about the proposal just weeks before it passed. She arranged a meeting of Lutheran and Jewish leadership and brought along a Palestinian peace activist who does not support divestment.

The Jewish Community Relations Council then sent the bishop a June 1 letter, just before the June 2-4 Greater Milwaukee Synod annual assembly, expressing “great concern” over the resolution before it passed.

“Specifically, it condemns Israel while exempting the Palestinians from any meaningful responsibility to pursue peace,” wrote Elana Kahn, director of the Council. “We contend that those who truly care about peace between Palestinians and Israelis will expand the space in their hearts to embrace both peoples – their hopes and hurts, collective narratives and national aspirations.”

After the resolution passed, Kahn’s June 11 opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, written with Council Chair Michael Pollack, criticized the measure. The article noted that the issues are complex and that nations surrounding Israel are among the world’s worst human rights violators. The piece lamented that the Greater Milwaukee Synod worked “with a tiny group of anti-Zionist Jews, engaging them as partners and giving them a platform.”

But Barrow noted that faith leaders, including Kahn, have gotten to know one another through interfaith connections and organizations.

“We really value tremendously our interfaith relations in this town,” Barrow said. “I really have great respect for that relationship. I don’t think anybody who presented this wanted to be anti-Jewish in any way.”

The resolution was submitted for consideration by Hephatha Lutheran Church, 1720 W. Locust St., Milwaukee. The cosponsors of the resolution were two Milwaukee churches, All Peoples Church, 2600 N. 2nd St., and Ascension Lutheran Church, 1236 S. Layton Blvd. Pastor Jonathan Jacobs, of Ascension Lutheran, said the resolution is intended to “raise the consciousness” and he noted longstanding local ties to a Palestinian Lutheran church.

Barrow, who is retiring in the fall, said he understands that some have a view of the issues that don’t match up with the resolution.

“We don’t want to not have that side of the story told,” he said.

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National assembly in August

A local divestment resolution is to be bundled with those of other communities, for consideration at the ELCA national assembly Aug. 8-13, 2016. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation has opposed the measure locally.