February 28, 2008
The United Methodist Church and IsraelBy Joseph Puder
The Jewish State of Israel may not be perfect, it is however a flowering garden of civility, democracy and human rights in a desert filled with Arab-Muslim oppressive dictatorships, who deny their people basic human and religious rights and fundamental freedoms to its minorities-such as freedom of speech, press, and assembly. Given Israel's circumstances - being surrounded by hostile Arab states (and Arab-Palestinians) who seek its destruction through war and endless cycles of terrorism, Israel's record of maintaining its democracy and working to insure human rights and freedoms for all is remarkable.
For the United Methodist Church (UMC) and other mainline Protestant churches, however, Israel is deserving of criticism and punishment. On April 23, 2008, when the UMC will hold its Quadrennial General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, divestment from companies that do business with Israel will be on the agenda.
Susanne Hoder, a member of the UMC's New England Conference Divestment Task Force, led an informational gathering on the Middle East last June. It was intended to provide participants with the opportunity to "learn how companies profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, and examine the impact of occupation on Israeli and Palestinian society." Hoder expects to update the New England Conference on Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Gaza, and discuss apartheid in Israel and the occupied territories, and how organizations including churches, municipalities and Jewish groups are using economic measures to end it.
Linda Bloom, a United Methodist News Service writer based in New York reported on January 29, 2008 under the title "United Methodists Explore Divestment Proposals,"
that Rev. Steve Sprecher, director of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, called divestment a "time-honored policy" within the UMC. Rev. Sprecher, who led the social action agency petition at the 2004 UMC General Conference, recommended divestment from Caterpillar Inc. and charged that the company "profited from illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and contributes to the occupation by supplying the Israel Defense Forces with heavy equipment." Bloom's article further cites Rev. Sprecher reminder of the Resolution 312 that the UMC passed in 2004 "opposing Israeli settlements in Palestinian land."
The UMC's General Board on Global Mission Women produced a Mission Study for 2007-2008, endorsed by the national church, which refers to Israel's creation as "original sin," and likens the birth of Israel to the Holocaust and Israeli practices to those of the Nazis.
This undisguised venom towards the Jewish State by the UMC leadership is reminiscent of the pre-Holocaust anti-Semitic replacement theology that rejected the covenant between God and the Jewish people -- replacing the Jews with the Church (or the Palestinians, as some liberal-leftist Protestant denominational leaders see it) and similarly denying the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Theology notwithstanding, the assertions made by the UMC are false, hypocritical and misleading. The UMC leadership has apparently forgotten or has not taken the time to learn some of the history which includes the fact that there has never been a sovereign Palestinian State nor have lands been designated by a court of law as Palestinian. Prior to 1917, Palestine was within the domain of the Ottoman Empire and after WWI, Britain ruled Palestine as a mandatory power. In 1937 the Palestinians rejected self-determination as proposed by Peel Commission and, in 1947 rather than proceed with statehood based on the UN Partition Plan, the chose instead to attempt to annihilate the nascent re-established Jewish State in 1948. Between 1948 and 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were parts of Jordan and Egypt, respectively.
UN Resolutions 242 and 338 considered the territories of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza "disputed territories" -- because ownership has not been determined. In the interim, the Jews have had as much right to purchase "government" or "public" land, as have the Palestinian Muslims. Jewish settlements built on public land or land purchased in cash from private owners in the Jewish historical heartland is perfectly legal.
The U.S. and its western allies have called on Israel "not to expand the settlements" in the hope that a Palestinian State will be created in the West Bank and Gaza -- with the understanding that this will only happen if the Palestinians foreswear terrorism and are willing to recognize and live in peace with the Jewish State.
Despite agreements and accords this has not happened. Arab-Palestinian terrorism continues unabated. Mahmoud Abbas like Yasir Arafat, his former mentor, is unwilling to end the conflict with the Jewish State in spite of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and a current commitment to withdraw from 95% of the West Bank (in July 2000, Prime Minister Barak backed by President Bill Clinton made the same offer to Arafat who preferred, instead, to launch the Intifada) in exchange for a real peace.
The UMC leadership, while morally sanguine about anti-Semitic hate indoctrination in Palestinian schools, mosques and media, lashes out at Israel for building a defensive barrier, erected to protect Israeli civilians against an endless array of Palestinian suicide bombers intent on murdering Jewish civilians. That same UMC leadership likens Israeli self-defense measures to "Nazi practices." It is worth noting that prior to the Palestinian genocidal onslaught against Israeli Jews, hundreds-of-thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel, and it made them the most prosperous Arabs in the Middle East (other than the Gulf Sheikhs and their petro-dollars).
The UMC leadership has also chosen to overlook the oppression aimed at Christians in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt and Saudi Arabia by Arab-Muslims & Palestinian. And, that nowhere else in the world is apartheid more of a practice then in the Arab-Muslim world, where slavery continues to exist and female genital mutilation is a fact of life. Conversely, Israeli Arabs, despite the fact that they readily identify with terrorism against Jews, enjoy full religious freedom, representation in the Knesset (where they often openly and provocatively side with Israel's Arab enemies), a free press (that openly instigates against the Jewish State), equality under the law, and who are, in short, represented in every sector of Israeli life.
If the leadership of the UMC is sincere about bringing peace to the Arab (Palestinian)-Israeli conflict, it should decry and condemn the teaching of hate and the instigation of violence by the Palestinian religious and government authorities. It should invest in Palestinian schools and send teachers who would teach tolerance for the "other" (Christians and Jews) in these schools, and give lessons in democracy, and human rights as well as impart such universal values as women's equality, and religious freedom.
Dangerous and oppressive regimes like those of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt are beyond UMC scrutiny. If the UMC leadership is concerned about human rights why have they not spoken out against the dreadful persecution of Egypt 's Coptic-Christians? or the ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Syria by the Assad dictatorship? Where are the concerned voices of the UMC regarding the persecution of Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Azeris, Bahais, Christians and Jews by the Iranian theocratic dictatorship? And why has the UMC not called for divestment from Egypt, Syria or Iran? Calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel is clearly hypocritical and harmful and it will not advance peace. Giving abovementioned brutal regimes a pass sends a clear message that it is business as usual, and that Jews continue be the ready scapegoats for the UMC and other liberal Protestant denominations.
However imperfect Israel may be, it is an exemplary democracy in the Middle East. If any country deserves the rewards of "investment" it is the Jewish State, which in addition to sharing common values and common enemies with America and the west, it is sensitive to Palestinian hardships while defending its existence and the lives of its citizens.