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April 8, 2015 11:54 am

Is the UCC Headed for Another Bout of Anti-Israelism?

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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First Congregational Church of Long Beach, California, a local church of the United Church of Christ. Photo: Wikipedia.

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.

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  • Firstly Lisa – how dare you use the Shoah as a whip against Jews – how dare you, you dishonor humanity by your statement which means absolutely nothing. Some of the worst of antisemites have used a spurious connection to the Jewish people to try to harm them. Using the Shoah is absolutely disgraceful. House Jews and Jewish Uncle Toms have no right to lecture those of us who really do care about the moral or physical state of the State of Israel. You mention 50 laws LIST THEM.

    Oh and btw – I have been to Israel some 20 times, I lived in Israel for 8 years with all that that entails. I have heard the anti-Jewish racists and propagandists live. Their hypocrisy is legendary. One of my sisters, living in Israel, has an Arab doctor, her community doctor (and nurse) are Arabs, her accountant is a Christian, her dentist is an Arab – they are all rich, as compared to my sister who is not. No prejudice there, no bitterness. Just the facts – only a useful idiot would describe that as “apartheid.”

  • Lisa

    I am Jewish, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and I’ve been to Israel/Palestine 6 times including a year in college on a kibbutz.

    Lammie is giving you propaganda. There are over 50 laws in Israel “proper” (inside the Green Line) that discriminate against Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. They are discriminated against in every area of life: education, healthcare, where they can live etc. Then there are the Palestinians living under Occupation who have virtually no rights whatsoever – they live under military law while the Jewish Settlers, who violate international law by living on lands stolen from the Palestinians, continue to enjoy full rights as Israeli citizens. There are roads Palestinians cannot drive on, buses they cannot ride on, streets they cannot walk on. Settlers attack them regularly and the IDF stands by and does nothing – why? because the IDF’s sole job in the Occupied Territories is to protect the settlers. This is the very definition of apartheid. Desmond Tutu said the situation for Palestinians is WORSE than it was for Blacks in South Africa. Are you going to listen to the Bishop, who is Black and lived under S.A. apartheid? Or are you going to listen to the privileged white South African guy who is now a privileged white Jewish man in Israel?

    Calling people anti-Semitic for criticizing human rights violations is pathetic and it minimizes the danger of real anti-Semitism. And ask yourselves this: why are people afraid of being called anti-Semites for criticizing Israel, but not afraid of being called anti-Palestinian for turning a blind eye to their persecution? Advocating for justice and equal rights does not make you anti-Semitic. But defending persecution and racism by anyone definitely makes you a sorry excuse for a human being.

    During the Holocaust, churches were silent while Jews, Gypsies, Communists and Homosexuals were taken away and never heard from again. Palestinians lose their lands, suffer daily persecution and indignities, and thousands of them, including children, have been injured and killed at the hands of a government that privileges one people over another because of their religion and ethnic identity. I stand behind the UCC and all churches who are (finally) starting to speak and act out against Israeli apartheid.

    • Pearl

      You are Jewish? Really? Must be one of the original anti-Israel, anti-Semitic Jews. I’m ashamed to o call you a member of our tribe. May I suggest you live with the Arabs in Gaza or the West Bank. Better yet, go live with the Iranians. Then you’ll understand apartheid, and anti-Palestinian angst. You are both blind and stupid. What a shame!

  • David Goshen

    I very much doubt whether The Protestant United Church of CHrist is aware that the Palestinean Authority under Abu Mazem and previously under Yassar Arafat has continued to carry out ethnic cleansing of Christian Arabs and all non Muslim minorities and has succeeded in reducing the the number of Christian Arabs from several hundred thousands to less than fifty thousand.There are no longer sufficient Christian Arabs to care for the Christian Holy Places and these jobs are being held by Arab Muslims.It is also likely that the Church of Christ does not know that Pope John Paul II made several urgent appeals to Yasser Arafat to stop the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Arab Christians but his appeals fell on deaf ears.
    If it is Apartheid it is Abu Mazem who is supporting Apartheid by objecting to non Muslims being in the vicinity of the El Aksa Mosque complaining that they affect Muslims prayers!
    Sadly the Church of Christ has little idea that no non Muslims will be accepted in the Palestinean State to be

  • Lou VanDelman

    It is amazing to me that the United church is more involved with anything anti-Semitic over the deaths of Christians in all the arab lands. I foresee the day when Christians hold memorial services for their lost co-religionists and bewail that nobody came to their aid. The United church should wake up.

  • Lammie

    I am a former South African. I moved to Israel. There is not the slightest resemblance between life in Israel and what went on in S. African Apartheid, which was totally ugly, evil and immoral.

    In Israel Jews travel on the same buses as Arabs. We sit next to each other in theaters, and eat at the same restaurants. In hospitals Arabs and Jews are treated in the same wards and are treated by both Jewish and Arab doctors. An Arab doctor is the director of one of our major hospitals. The man who overseas the Israeli Elections is an Arab Judge. An Arab judge sentenced a former Israeli President to a long jail term for sexual misconduct. One of our “beauty queens” has been an Arab. An Arab has represented us in the annual Eurovision contest. We have Arab and Jewish drivers on our buses.

    Arabs and Jews go the same parks on holidays for picnics. There are many Arab/Jewish schools where the children learn together. You can choose if you want your child to learn in an Arab or a Jewish or a mixed school. Arabs and Jews work side by side in shops and factories.

    In no sphere of life in Israel is there any apartheid whatsoever.

    NONE of this was possible in South Africa – black people were totally segregated in every single sphere of life. The benches at bus stops all had signs “For Whites Only”! Any infringement resulted in severe punishment. Marriage between a white and a black person was considered a crime! Here Arabs are free do do whatever they please, wherever they please.

    Any accusations of Apartheid is purely and simply a transparent excuse for anti-semitism. BDS harms Israeli Arabs. If BDS succeeds, many Israeli firms will either reduce staff or close down. Jews and Arabs alike will lose their jobs. This does not seem to bother the BDS people – as long as they can hurt the Jews, they do not care what happens to the Arabs.

  • Rev Victoria Matlock

    Wow The UCC is Going to Pull sides in this Wow I am Glad I am A Unlighted Methodist Minister Of God We love all Open Hart Open Mind Open Doors Reverend Victoria UMCC

  • Leo Toystory

    Below you will find the hotels at which the synod attendees are supposed to book their own reservations.
    If all the rooms are booked no one can attend anything.

    1. Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center ($159)
    127 Public Square – Cleveland, OH 44114

    2. Doubletree by Hilton ($137)
    1111 Lakeside Avenue East – Cleveland, OH 44114

    3. Hampton Inn Cleveland-Downtown ($132 – $142, includes breakfast)
    1460 East 9th Street – Cleveland, OH 44114

    4. Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade ($159)
    420 Superior Avenue – Cleveland, OH 44114

    5. Renaissance Cleveland Hotel ($159)
    24 Public Square – Cleveland, OH 44113

    6. The Westin Cleveland Downtown ($159)
    777 St. Clair Avenue, NE – Cleveland, OH 44114

  • Eric R.

    Remember, this is the denomination of the Church that President Hussein Obama attended, and where “Reverend” America-hating, white-hating, Jew-hater Wright was a pastor.

  • Barbara Strauss

    To all the antisemites, who dare to call themselves Christians, …..its may be new to you, but Jesus was a Jew!

    • The early Christian Church was mostly Jewish !