Methodists abandon Israel divestment

However, background document dismissing concerns about anti-Semitism causes outrage.

idf bulldozer 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
idf bulldozer 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jewish activists are hailing the overwhelming decision by the United Methodist Church to abandon efforts to divest from companies that allegedly contribute to Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Five divestment resolutions were shot down at the United Methodist Church General Conference in Texas last week, after a protracted campaign by Jews to halt the effort. The resolutions called on the denomination to identify companies that profit from sales of products or services that "harm the Palestinians and Israelis" and begin a phased divestment from them. Firms targeted included Caterpillar, which manufactures tractors used to raze Palestinian homes and olive groves, and Motorola, which manufactures security systems. "I think this general conference is an important and positive milestone," said Ethan Felson, the associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy umbrella group. "We clearly have many friends and have made many friends community by community, and that's a lot of what this is about." Though the recent decision is a "turning point," said Felson, the divestment campaign, once thought to be dormant, is still active among mainstream Protestant churches. A 2004 decision to begin a phased divestment by the Presbyterian Church was amended two years later. But the church will consider similar resolutions calling for targeted divestment this summer, said Felson. "This is an ongoing thing, and in many ways this is a proxy for a much larger conversation that has political and theological dimensions to it," said Felson. "In some ways it is a reaction to Evangelical support for Israel, and in some ways it is calling attention to theological issues related to the promise of the land." Many of the strongest proponents of divestment, on theological grounds, believe that the promise of the land is not attached to Jews today. "There is a constituency within this church informed significantly by Palestinian liberation theologians and more fringe elements that see every tragedy in the region as the fault of just one party, the Jewish state," said Felson, who attended the 10-day conference which began on April 22. Rejection of such "one-sided narratives," shows that the "Durban strategy to paint Israel in the most negative terms imaginable hasn't taken root in the churches and that the leaders find that the situation is more complex than the stark one- sided narrative that informs those who favor divestment," said Felson. More upsetting than the divestment efforts was a background document, which dismissed concerns about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Among the statements in the report are a reference to the founding of the State of Israel as "the original sin" and a passage defining Israeli actions as acts of "terror." The Methodist report claims the Holocaust has been the cause for "hysteria" and "paranoiac sense" among Israelis. Thanks to an alliance of grassroots church activists who have nurtured ties to the Jewish community the convention also passed resolutions promoting Holocaust awareness and working to combat anti-Semitism, as well as a resolution opposing the proselytization of Jews.