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The Oklahoma minister, Rev. Long, pointed out that Israel no longer suffered from routine suicide bombings since building their much condemned security wall. “Would you want al Qaeda living in your backyard?” he asked. “Those who are set on destroying you?” This time, Bishop Warner did not chide him for lack of courtesy to suicide bombers. Virginia delegate Alex Joyner pointed out what should be obvious: “Israel is not solely culpable in continuing the occupation and it’s not solely capable of ending it.” In reaction to heated anti-Israel rhetoric, North Carolina delegate Ken Carter said he was “concerned” about implications that Christianity is “detached” from the Jews. He reminded his fellow United Methodists that “we also as Christians have a relationship to Judaism and Israel,” since the Scriptures say “they are the root system and we are the branches.”
Nigerian delegate John Simon Jatutu, like many African delegates, was more direct: “We all know that Israel is surrounded by its enemies. It is a small country but all the Arabs are looking at it to destroy and even eliminate it from the face of the earth. Without standing firm to protect itself from all these attacks from outside, one day we will wake up to discover that Israel is no more.” He also noted that undermining Israel would only hurt the Palestinian Christians whom Israel’s critics like to cite. “The Muslims in the Arab countries are looking for a way to make sure that it takes over the Holy Land completely.” He accused anti-Israel activists of “using” Palestinian Christians.
Only several days before, the Islamist terror group Boko Haram attacked several Nigerian churches, killing 27 Christians. There are over 400,000 United Methodists in Nigeria, but the General Conference said not a word, preferring to focus on Israel. No doubt African delegates, especially from Nigeria, noticed.
In the end, 73 percent of delegates supported “positive” investment to help Palestinians. Earlier, only 33 percent had directly supported anti-Israel divestment. After the votes, dozens of angry demonstrators interrupted the General Conference to protest the overwhelming result against them. They hadn’t even come close, despite their extensive, and expensive, lobby campaign.
The day before, United Methodist missionary-activist Alex Awad, portraying himself as an “eye witness to discrimination” against Palestinians, had promised these activists: “Tomorrow, if you vote to divest, there will be celebration all over Jerusalem, Palestine and even Israel.” After the vote, Awad angrily compared divestment’s rejection to Christ’s crucifixion.
“Once again shouts of injustice prevailed over the shouts of those who yearned to see actions promoting justice in Palestine,” Awad lamented of the votes against divestment. “And I watched with pain my people being crucified again.” He accused The United Methodist Church of defying God: “A Church that is not ready or willing to hear the voice of the oppressed and stand with justice is out of sync with the will of her Head and Maker.”
Such hyperbolic rhetoric has fortunately failed to persuade any major U.S. church to back anti-Israel divestment. Undoubtedly anti-Israel activists will regroup. But the divestment cause seems to be meeting a well-deserved death.
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