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A process of engagement
By YITZHAK SANTIS
08/07/2012
Presbyterian Church’s rejection of BDS was a fitting rebuff of movement seeking to co-opt major denominations to anti-Israelism.
 
Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected divestment from three companies doing business with Israel and opted instead to promote a “process of engagement” and active investment.

This was both a moral decision and a fitting rebuff to the decade-old worldwide NGO political war that seeks to co-opt major Christian denominations to the anti-Israel cause. Yet, the denomination’s decision to promote a boycott of Israeli West Bank products leaves the door open to future divestment efforts.

With the United Methodist Church’s rejection of divestment this spring, this is the second defeat in two months handed to church-based divestment activists. Next up is the United Church of Canada, that will vote on divestment in August. It is worth examining the global forces behind these divestment efforts, and the surprising sources of much of their funding: Western governments in Europe, the United States and Canada.

While Western political leaders are usually unaware of the details, the bureaucratic processes entangle taxpayer funds with highly politicized pro-Palestinian groups that often deploy anti-Semitic theology to buttress their attacks.

European Christian aid organizations such as Sweden’s Diakonia, the Netherland’s Kerk in Actie (Church in Action), the UK’s Christian Aid, and Finland’s FinnChurchAid receive millions annually from their respective governments and the EU. These groups are supposed to grant these funds to life-saving humanitarian projects globally.

Instead, some of the money goes to organizations such as Sabeel, a group in Jerusalem that promotes “Palestinian Liberation Theology,” a fusion of Christianity and Palestinian Arab nationalism. Supersessionism – a reading of the New Testament that considers the Church to have superseded the Jewish people in God’s promises – and deicide – the charge that “the Jews” killed Jesus – served as the basis for centuries of anti-Jewish persecution. After the Holocaust, the Vatican and mainline Protestants reinterpreted Christian texts to avoid promoting anti-Semitism.

Yet, supersessionism and deicide language is exactly what Sabeel encourages with its attacks on the Jewish religion as “tribal” and “primitive,” in contrast to Christianity’s “universalism,” and its comparisons of Palestinians with the crucified Jesus, while pointing a finger at Israel’s “crucifixion machine.” Sabeel also calls for “one state” that would effectively deny the Jewish people’s right to sovereign equality.

Through its international Friends of Sabeel network, the group works directly with local church activists, hoping that churches will promote Palestinian rejectionism packaged as “liberation theology.”

Sabeel’s efforts are supported directly from Holland by Kerk in Actie, listed by Sabeel as a donor. Like Sabeel, KIA supports a “general boycott” of Israeli products, using Dutch government funds. Another Sabeel donor is the Canadian Catholic group Development and Peace, which receives aid funding from the Canadian government.

Likewise, Sweden’s Diakonia, which Sabeel’s website says “is closely associated with Sabeel,” receives Swedish government funds.

American taxpayer dollars are also entangled with boycott campaigns via the Holy Land Trust, another Palestinian Christian group, and a signatory to the 2005 “call” for BDS.

Its director, Sami Awad, told a Texas audience, “We’ve actually done training in non-violence for Hamas leaders and other militant groups as well.” (The US and EU list Hamas as a terrorist organization.) With Hamas firing 150 rockets at Israeli cities in the last week of June, it appears this training didn’t quite sink in.

THE WORLD Council of Churches (WCC) plays a key role in mobilizing churches globally in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) effort against Israel. WCC works closely with Sabeel, even promoting Sabeel’s Contemporary Way of the Cross, which uses deicide imagery: “Just as Jesus is condemned to die by the authorities to protect their own power, status and ideals so the Palestinians suffer as the result of the fear and ideology of the founders of the State of Israel.”

A major WCC vehicle promoting BDS and demonization of Israel is its Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which brings volunteers to the West Bank to “experience life under occupation.”

Upon returning home they are expected to promote EAPPI’s message, which presents only the Palestinian side, ignores terror attacks against Israelis and blames Israel entirely for the conflict.

The WCC annually receives millions of dollars from European and Canadian taxpayers, both directly and indirectly. With the WCC’s lack of transparency regarding how government funds are used, serious questions regarding taxpayer monies for the WCC and other church-based pro-BDS efforts are raised.

Why are taxes funneled to organizations that advocate positions opposed by the very governments making these grants? These Western governments emphasize their opposition to boycotts against Israel, support the two-state approach to Middle East peacemaking, and certainly reject the anti-Semitic theology of an organization such as Sabeel.

While the Presbyterians’ principled rebuff of divestment should be commended, the governmental funds granted to Sabeel and other groups actively lobbying churches continue sowing the seeds of inter-faith discord, and further damage the prospects for peace. That some of these funds enable the reviving of bigotries many thought long dormant makes it all the worse. Certainly there are better uses for taxpayers’ money.

The writer is chief programs officer for NGO Monitor.
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