U.S. Methodist Church renews drive for divestment from Israel|
Last update - 11:16 03/02/2008
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward
re-emerging between Jewish organizations and some mainline Protestant
churches in the wake of a renewed drive for churches to divest from
companies doing business with Israel.
The United Methodist Church
opened discussions last Friday on a resolution calling for divestment from
Caterpillar, the tractor manufacturer, because the company supplies Israel
with bulldozers used in building the separation barrier and in demolishing
Palestinian homes. The divestment resolution comes only months after the
publication of a church-sponsored report referring to the creation of the
State of Israel as the "original sin."
Relations with the
Presbyterian Church (USA) are also strained, following remarks by church
officials criticizing Israel because of the Gaza closure. A recent study
by an affiliate of the Presbyterian Church called on American Jews to "get
a life" instead of focusing on defending Israeli policies.
reflects a very disturbing trend in these churches," said Ethan Felson,
assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
"These developments are a result of work of several very wicked forces
that play in the church."
The divestment campaign, thought by many
in the Jewish community to be dormant, is still active among mainline
Protestant churches and is re-emerging as a main issue on the agenda of
Jewish groups. Attempts to block the divestment drive, which began four
years ago, have proved only partially successful. Interreligious dialogue
efforts and public pressure managed to mute some churchwide calls for
divestment, but other initiatives are still gaining support.
Methodist meeting, held on January 25 in Fort Worth, Texas, was an initial
orientation meeting for delegation heads who will lead their groups at the
church's quadrennial conference in April. Delegation leaders were
presented with speakers both supportive and opposed to the draft
divestment resolution, which calls for removing all Methodist pension fund
holdings from Caterpillar.
"The United Methodist Church holds $141
million of pension funds in companies that sustain the occupation," said
Susan Hoder, a member of the church's Interfaith Peace Initiative. "This
has to stop. We have to cut our ties to the occupation."
strongly favors passage of divestment measures, went on to claim that
American taxpayer dollars are used to fund Israeli military. "A lot of
this money goes into the pockets of Israeli military leaders and
politicians who get rich while the population of Israel suffers," she
With 11 million members, The United Methodist Church is the
largest mainline Protestant denomination in the U.S. The upcoming April
general conference, the church's main forum for making policy decisions,
will first discuss the divestment resolution in a subcommittee. Afterward,
the panel's recommendations will be put to a general vote to make them
A spokesman for the United Methodist Church did
not return calls from the Forward seeking comments on the divestment
Arrangers of the pre-conference meeting last Friday in Fort
Worth allowed a representative of the organized Jewish community to speak
on the issue. Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, the American Jewish Committee's
director of interreligious affairs, told the Methodist delegates that the
Jewish community was concerned about the resolution. "I told them that
while they may think it is not anti-Israel and not anti-Jewish, for us it
feels anti-Israel and feels anti-Jewish," Greenebaum told the Forward
after the meeting.
At the same time, Greenebaum warned the Jewish
community against overreacting to anti-Israel sentiments in the church.
Protestant churches, he said, "care very deeply about their relations with
the Jewish community."
What prompted Jewish activists to take
action was not only the renewed divestment drive but also a report from
the women's division of the Methodist church, which addressed the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 225-page report, compiled by the Rev.
Stephen Goldstein, attempts to outline the historical and current contours
of the conflict, but according to Felson, the report amounts to "the most
egregious thing that has crossed my desk that was not put out by an overt
Among the statements in the report that irked Jewish
community activists are a reference to the founding of the State of Israel
as "the original sin," a passage calling Israeli founding father David
Ben-Gurion an "extremist" and a passage defining Israeli actions as acts
of "terror." Discussing the impact of the Holocaust on Israeli society,
the Methodist report claims it has been the cause for "hysteria" and
"paranoiac sense" among Israelis.
"Are we not called to testify
when oppressors use their identity as the
oppressed with stories of
sixty years ago but through some failure of perception cannot see what
transpires now in the shadow of the Holocaust?" the report goes on to
After letting four months pass without a formal response, last
week four Jewish women's groups sent a letter to heads of the Methodist
church, calling the report "inflammatory, inaccurate, and polemical."
Hadassah and women's groups affiliated with Conservative Judaism, Reform
Judaism and United Jewish Communities signed the letter.
expected step by Jewish organizations is the launching of a new Web site
that will call for a "return to civility" and condemn anti-Israeli voices
among Protestant churches.
The Presbyterian Church, the first to
come up with resolutions calling for divestment, has so far avoided taking
action on this issue, but it still supports a line seen by Jewish
activists as anti-Israel. In recent weeks, a heated exchange of letters
took place between Jewish community leaders and heads of the Presbyterian
Church, following the church?s criticism of Israel over the situation in
Gaza. In a letter to the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, head of the church's
general assembly, 12 Jewish organizational leaders complained that "the
anti-Israel tone of your statement calls into serious question whether the
season of mutual understanding we welcomed in July 2006 has yet
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Original article: Ha'aretz
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