United Church of Christ Anti-Israel Extremism

On June 30, 2015, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted to single out Israel for an economic and propaganda war.  Ignoring the violent state of affairs in an unstable region, the plague of terrorist groups, and the victimization of millions of Christians and other minority groups, the UCC elected to boycott Israel, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.  Giving a pass to Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli children and the prohibition of any Jews to enter Palestinian-controlled territory, the UCC jumped on the bandwagon of slander to demonize Israel.

Deletion and Replacement of Jews

The vote was reached after a one-sided diatribe against Israel by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem. Raheb has a long history of Israel animus and religious extremism.

He denies all Jewish rights to any part of Israel. In 2010, Raheb told an audience at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem,

”Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land… the Palestinian Christians are the only ones in the world that, when they speak about their forefathers, they mean their actual forefathers, and also the forefathers in the faith." 

He erases over 3,000 years of continuous Jewish presence in the land and creates an imaginary history in which even the Israeli prime minister “comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.” Also note that he did not say that "the Israeli occupation of the West Bank" corresponds to Rome. No, it is the State of Israel as such that he identified with Rome of old.

Adhering to a twisted and repudiated fringe of Christianity, Raheb deletes Jews from the history of Israel. In that speech and speeches given to various religious gatherings  (including the infamous 2004 US Presbyterian assembly that approved a boycott and divestment campaign against Israel), he proposed “a new way of thinking.” It is "Replacement theology," the replacement of Jews by Christians in the divine scheme.  Replacement theology is not new and not accepted by the vast majority of Christians. In fact, it has been repudiated by all major Christian churches.  (Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel  By Paul Charles Merkley p. 206)

Israel bashing pays well. Raheb’s small church (900 members, 100 of whom are church employees) is generously funded.  The funding has helped Raheb to build up a profitable business consortium in Bethlehem.

Although the UCC claims that is upholds “interreligious dialogue (conversation among the three Abrahamic faiths aimed at reaching religious reconciliation and achieving political resolution), no speakers who oppose discrimination against Israel were invited to address the synod.

Hypocrisy-The UCC document calls for “a call to justice and equality among peoples.” Yet it is anything but fair and equal. The resolutions hold only Israel to blame -- “four massive attacks have been carried out on Gaza” -- and make no mention of the 11,000 Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli civilians which precipitated Israel’s response.

UCC’s  sordid anti-Israel past . 
This year’s resolutions follow a sordid history of discrimination against Israel. The UCC’s 2005 General Synod approved two resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The first was an “economic leverage” resolution that encouraged church bodies to divest from Israel and weaken it economically. The second was a “Tear Down the Wall” resolution that called for dismantling Israel’s security barrier (while Israel was under attack) and did not call for a halt to the Palestinian attacks. In 2008, the pastor of the largest UCC congregations in the country was one Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose vitriol against Israel and classical anti-Semitism are well documented.

Here is a small sampling of the response from the Jewish community to the UCC’s last foray into anti-Israel discrimination:

"Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest." -Thomas L. Friedman, NY Times columnist

"By treating Israel within a different moral yardstick that the rest of the world, these moves are functionally antisemitic, undercut the forces of peace and moderation, and embolden the forces of terrorism. Finally, these resolutions make a mockery of a previous commitment by the UCC to combat anti-Semitism. The concerns, hopes and aspirations of world Jewry have been swept aside and relations with the Jewish community have been severely damaged"-The Simon Wiesenthal Center, July 2005

"I cannot overstate the negative consequences of these resolutions within the Jewish community, and the need for repair and healing." -Neil B. Goldstein Executive Director American Jewish Congress, July 2005

Jewish groups were sucker punched last week when the United Church of Christ (UCC) abandoned a carefully crafted compromise and instead voted to support “divestment” from Israel.

"Some outraged Jewish leaders publicly suggested anti-Semitism as a motive. Others were uncomfortable with the label, but a growing number of Jewish officials don’t see any other explanation for a divestment push that defies logic and turns fairness on its ear." –Jewish Journal, July 2005

"It is disappointing and disturbing that while assuring us of the importance of interfaith dialogue, the UCC leadership has taken actions that ignore the primary concerns of the Jewish community, especially at a time when the Israelis are taking painful steps toward peace, including disengagement from Gaza." –The Anti-Defamation League, July 2005

Patronizing, Demeaning, but not Helpful
The anti-Israel extremists are again dragging the denomination into the cesspool of Israel bashing with three anti-Israel resolutions.  In what is almost comic paternalism, the UCC claims that its resolutions are designed to “help end the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Their “help” is to I disarm, isolate, weaken, and destroy Israel. To that “help,” Israel and the majority of Americans who value the U.S-Israel mutually beneficial relationship, say, “No thanks!” The UCC “help” doesn’t help peace and doesn’t help Palestinians. For example, the UCC document lauds the boycott of SodaStream, an Israeli owned company which employed many Palestinians, whose wages at Sodastream were from double to triple common wages in the territories. When the company succumbed to the pressures of BDS, it left hundreds of unemployed/underemployed Palestinians, who are probably not grateful for the “help.”

Worse than discrimination and hypocrisy, is apathy to suffering. A church that claims to be committed “to enacting “solidarity with the poor, seeking to be present in places of oppression, poverty, and violence, and standing with the oppressed “ is in fact willfully blind to the real victims of oppression.  The same people who rail against Israel seem struck dumb when it comes to the persecution of Christians, the beheadings, the forced conversions, the sexual slavery, and the genocide. There is no mention of the human rights violations against gays, political dissidents, children and minorities in Israel’s neighboring states. The resolution, and even the UCC website, has not one word about the plight of over 2 million Syrian refugees or 200,000 Syrians who have been killed.  In the Muslim-dominated region, there seems to be plenty of oppression, poverty and violence, none of which concerns the UCC Synod.

The UCC resolutions not only shred relationships with the Jewish community, they are fracturing the church group itself. There was significant opposition from within. For example, Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, prominent member of UCC, Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain at Pacific University debunks UCC’s false allegations against Israel and speaks out against the harmful consequences of the UCC resolutions:  “…the adoption of resolutions by U.S. Christians that threaten the State of Israel while destroying interfaith relationships at home (while producing no real change for Palestinians) seems ill-considered. We have better options.

After the vote Tuesday, Church leaders such as Reverend  Dr. Wesley Shaw, International Pentecostal Church, expressed their dismay, “The weakness and naive real world perception on the part of United Church of Christ and others that promote the BDS of Israel is that contrary to their resolution, it does not represent, “faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering…. It represents exactly what it did in Nazi Germany at the inception of the Holocaust where six million Jewish souls perished.”

Many UCC  members are voting with their feet and running away as fast as possible. The UCC has been bleeding members, a decline which rapidly accelerated after the 2005 vote. It has lost over 20% of its membership and that rate of decline is likely to speed up now. The UCC’s own pension board  admitted the decline “the worst decade among 25 reporting Protestant denominations.” The UCC’s extreme positions are making it irrelevant and soon nonexistent. Israel, on the other hand, will remain a thriving, democratic Jewish state and safe haven for people of all religions and ethnicities

Peggy Shapiro, Midwest Director, Stand with Us