As the Presbyterian General Assembly prepares for its Birmingham meeting (see below), a California group wants to be sure that the Presbyterian leaders hear from Jews who support the divestment process.

Birmingham’s Jewish leadership is moving to make sure that does not rest unchallenged.

The San Francisco Presbytery Peacemaking Task Force posted a call on the Internet to encourage members to ask Jewish friends to write Presbyterian leaders supporting the divestment initiative. According to the request, “Presbyterians working on the issue feel that the one of the most influential voices that needs to be heard are Jews in support of the Presbyterian's phased selective divestment plan.”

The task force is affiliated with the pro-Palestinian Middle East Fellowship, the U.S. arm of Holy Land Trust, founded in Bethlehem in 1997 by Palestinian Christians. The organization’s website touts summer trips to “Palestine” and promotes dialogue between North Americans and “the Arab World.”

Out of at least 14 Overtures that have been submitted for this year’s assembly regarding divestment, the San Francisco Presbytery submitted the only one that reaffirms the 2004 decision.

The Birmingham Jewish Community Relations Committee’s task force on the Presbyterian divestment issue is also looking for letters to be sent to Presbyterian leaders, “but not the letter that the California group is seeking.”

Rather, the JCRC wants to express “concern about the Presbyterian process of phased selective divestment that singles out Israel as the whipping boy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The task force has set a goal of 1,000 letters from the Jewish community of Birmingham to the national Presbyterian leadership before the assembly begins on June 15. The JCRC requests that they also be sent copies of letters.

Joyce Spielberger, who oversees the JCRC for the Birmingham Jewish Federation, has copies of sample letters by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and a letter written by Rabbi Jonathan Miller.

Miller and Steven Brickman are heading the JCRC task force coordinating the local Jewish community’s response to the General Assembly.

Pre-Assembly Conference

As the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) begins, a pre-assembly conference will discuss the Middle East.

On June 15, “Visions of Peace and Justice in Israel and Palestine” will be held, to “share visions and perspectives regarding justice and peace in Israel and Palestine.”

According to the PC-USA, the conference is not a forum for or against proposed items of GA business. The issue of divestment from Israel is anticipated to be one of the most hotly-contested issues during the assembly.

According to a PC-USA release, the program will include an assessment of human rights, a description of Presbyterian ministry and mission, and a panel discussion with Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives,

Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, is scheduled to be one of the speakers. He will be joined by Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

Tickets are $25, including a box lunch, and registration is required. Registration information can be found at the PC-USA website, www.pcusa.org. The event will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex starting at 8:30 a.m.

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