Friday, December 9th | 16 Kislev 5783

May 24, 2016 6:53 am

Methodists Vote to Divest From Hate and Invest in Peace

avatar by Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein

The Oregon Convention Center in Portland, which hosted this month's United Methodist Church quadrennial General Conference. Photo: Fcb981 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Oregon Convention Center in Portland, which hosted this month’s United Methodist Church quadrennial General Conference. Photo: Fcb981 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 2016, the frontline of the war against the legitimacy of the Jewish state isn’t Gaza or Israel’s northern border — or even the Golan Heights. It is the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to terminate the Jewish state by delegitimizing it in the world community.

This ugly campaign plays out on our nation’s college campuses, including most recently at the University of California-Irvine, where campus police had to intervene to save (mostly) Jewish women from “activists” protesting a film about Israeli soldiers.

BDS-ers, crafting their efforts as “pro-peace,” have had considerable success with mainline Protestant denominations. But the just-concluded quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church effectively voted to begin divesting from divestment.

By the time the gavel fell to close the conference, delegates had rejected a resolution that would have seen the Church divest from American companies accused of profiting from Israeli control of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Even more importantly, by a healthy margin, members asked their church to end its association with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (ETO), one of the worst merchants of BDS toxins.

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Delegates in effect responded to the rationale offered by the measure’s sponsors, who called out ETO’s one-sided agenda seeking to isolate Israel economically, socially and culturally, and promoting “comprehensive divestment” against Israel. Methodist voters concluded that blaming only one side, while ignoring the wrongdoing of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, does not advance the cause of peace.

Frankly, Jewish activists had expected the worst from the Methodist conference. We were hoping that the least-bad of competing anti-Israel “peace” resolutions would be adopted.

While it may be premature to see this as a turnaround moment for BDS within mainline Protestant churches, Methodist members concluded that ETO’s call for divestment gets Palestinians nowhere — but investment does.

Could it be that these delegates realized that BDS is more about spite and punishment than progress? That the BDS pressure on SodaStream to close its plant in Ma’ale Adumim cost dozens of Palestinians a chance at a decent livelihood? That BDS-ers would rather hurl false charges of water-inequity at Israel than accept desalinization installations offered to Palestinians? Maybe. The bottom line is that a majority of delegates agreed that investment can serve as a building block of peace in the Holy Land by increasing economic cooperation between Arabs and Jews.

If — and it is a big “if” — churches adopt a more realistic and practical approach to the Palestinian matter, perhaps they will find a stronger collective moral voice in defense of an estimated 190 million endangered Christians on three continents. Perhaps some of their outrage can be shifted to our government’s abysmal record on Christian refugees, who number about 10% in Syria. Since emergency provisions began last October, Christians have amounted to only 0.44% of those admitted to the US, according to the State Department Refugee Processing Center. In May, of 499 Syrian refugees approved to enter America, no Christians at all were included.

Will the daily threats to Christian life and limb — and the virtual extinction of Christian life in the historic Christian communities of Iraq — finally move these churches to refocus their considerable clout to mitigate the suffering of their co-religionists? Will they lobby to help Syrian Christian refugees come to this country in significant numbers?

Delegates to the General Conference reported that a letter strongly condemning BDS — penned by Hillary Clinton, a practicing Methodist — probably had an impact on the vote, as well. In a letter to Jewish activists, she said: “I believe that BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict….I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority, and that we need to work together — across party lines and with a diverse array of voices — to reverse this trend with information and advocacy, and fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel….When antisemitism is on the rise across the world, we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.”

Mrs. Clinton got it right. We have to wonder whether Bernie Sanders would make a similar declaration.

Our community cannot afford to let down our guard in combatting BDS. But if the Methodists could see through the imbalance, distortion and extremism of BDS, perhaps others, including the European funders and backers of BDS, might eventually as well.

For some, however, loathing (and self-loathing) are stronger than reason. For some, BDS are convenient letters to hide their antisemitism. However these battles play out in churches, the many campus BDS groups and Jewish Voice for Peace, buttressed by untouchable tenured academics, will pursue their extreme anti-peace BDS campaigns long after our Christian neighbors see the light.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs.

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