Is the UCC Headed for Another Bout of Anti-Israelism?
The United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination with approximately 900,000 members (less than half of what it was in the mid-1960s and down approximately 300,000 members from the middle of the last decade), appears ready to jump back on board the anti-Israel bandwagon that it left in 2007.
The church’s General Synod, slated to take place in Cleveland in late June, will consider two resolutions that call on the church to divest from Israel and a third declaring that Israeli actions toward the Palestinians constitute apartheid. There are currently no resolutions on the General Synod’s agenda dealing with the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Iraq and Syria.
The divestment resolutions targeting Israel were submitted by two conferences – one serving churches in Northern California and Nevada and the other located in New Hampshire. The apartheid resolution was submitted by three conferences – the Central Atlantic, the Central Pacific and the New York Conference. The three resolutions will be considered first by a committee of the General Synod that will then make its recommendation to the entire body on how to deal with the issues raised.
Ominously enough, the denomination has invited Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, to speak to the General Synod.
Raheb spoke to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) when it approved an overture targeting Israel for divestment in 2004. In 2010, Raheb told an audience at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem that”Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land.” He also suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no real connection to the land of Israel because he “comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.” With these statements, Raheb invoked the debunked argument that modern-day Jews are not really Jews with any connection to the land of Israel but “Khazars” or Europeans who converted to Judaism centuries ago.
The UCC is no stranger to controversy related to Jews and Israel. The UCC’s 2005 General Synod prompted outrage when it approved two resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The first was an “economic leverage” resolution that encouraged church bodies to divest from Israel.
The second was a “Tear Down the Wall” resolution that called on Israel to dismantle the security barrier without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction.
The blowback generated by the passage of these resolutions prompted the denomination’s next General Synod (held in 2007) to obliquely affirm another resolution that acknowledged the church’s 2005 General Synod had not taken all the relevant factors regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict into consideration when passing the resolutions.
This 2007 resolution was not subject to debate or approved in a full vote by the General Synod but was sent directly to an implementing body as part of a consent calendar. Under this arrangement, the recommendation to send the resolution to an implementing body was lumped together with a number of other resolutions, which were affirmed in single a voice vote at the beginning of the General Synod.
One possible explanation as to why the resolution – which implicitly indicated that the 2005 General Synod got it wrong about Israel – was not sent to committee and exposed to debate at the 2007 General Synod is that this was the same synod where Senator Barack Obama, then a member of the UCC, had been invited to give the keynote speech. The invitation had been extended prior to Sen. Obama’s announcement that he was running for president but by the time the UCC’s 2007 General Synod began, he was a viable contender for the office. The last thing denominational leaders wanted was a knock-down, drag-out fight over the anti-Israel activism that had taken root in the denomination, at least not when all eyes were on Obama and his church.
In the years since the 2007 there has been an interregnum of sorts in the UCC, with little anti-Zionist activity taking place at the denomination’s General Synod.
The presence of three anti-Israel resolutions on the UCC’s agenda, coupled with Raheb’s invitation to speak at the upcoming General Synod, indicates that this interregnum may be over and the church’s leadership is ready to allow anti-Israel activists to drag the denomination back into the fever swamp of anti-Zionist activism that it left in 2007.
It remains to be seen whether the delegates to the UCC’s General Synod, or the denomination’s dwindling membership, want to follow anti-Israel zealots into this quagmire.