In July, the 2 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) will similarly ponder divestment. The head of the Presbyterian committee of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network is contacting Methodist delegates encouraging them to sound the anti-Israel trumpet.
“This is an important time for those of us who have worked so hard for peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis,” Carol Hylkema wrote. Promising she was “watching/looking for news coming” from the United Methodists, she told them that their decision “will have some influence on the outcome” of the Presbyterian General Assembly. “We will covet your support and prayers at that time,” she told them.
No doubt. A network of anti-Israel groups, aware of the symbolic importance of Mainline denominations backing their cause, is plotting feverishly for Methodist and Presbyterian approval of divestment. A recent confidential conference call among anti-Israel church activists revealed their strategies for the Methodist event.
About 20 leftist U.S. rabbis recently have endorsed anti-Israel divestment, which excited the church activists. Meanwhile, 1,250 U.S. rabbis from left to right have signed a letter opposing divestment. “It’s important for people who are concerned about Jewish relationships too, and help people understand that this is an interfaith effort that we are a part of,” explained one. They were also excited by support from the Israeli Committee on Home Demolitions [ICOHD]. “That’s another great connection from a group that is on the ground there in Israel and supporting this effort,” it was noted.
Conscious that United Methodism is global, with nearly 40 percent of its members are overseas mostly in Africa, the church activists emphasized their international outreach for divestment. The church’s official General Board of Church and Society, which is lobbying for divestment, has even hired a Zimbabwean to liaise with African United Methodists.
Citing counsel from the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, one activist implored her fellow activists that when contacting Methodist delegates “don’t alienate, so keep your politics in check, if you are talking to a conservative person and you are progressive, keep that in mind.” And she urged stressing: “We all support freedom and equality for all people.”
Unlike previous divestment initiatives, this latest round targets 3 firms that ostensibly profit from the “occupation.” They are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola. “We have been very careful to focus only on companies that are directly involved with the occupation,” explained one activist, citing a 2010 trip when a delegation photographed U.S. equipment nefariously at work on the West Bank. “Caterpillar is knowingly providing equipment that is used to destroy homes, more than 26,000 homes have been destroyed with that equipment, and to destroy water cisterns at orchards,” the activist complained. “The sixty ton bulldozers are used as a key weapon by the Israeli army in the Gaza strip and West Bank.”
The activists heard how Hewlett-Packard is providing biometric monitoring at checkpoints inside the West Bank and security equipment for Jewish settlements. Apparently equally as sinister, Motorola provides a radar system that protects dozens of” illegal settlements.” This equipment is also used on the “separation wall” and on top of “sniper towers” throughout the West Bank. “All of these companies have been involved for a long time and made clear that they are not willing to change their practices,” an activist on the conference call solemnly concluded.
Hewlett Packard was also faulted for providing information technology for the Israeli Navy. And Israeli ships have shelled the coast of Gaza and killed civilians, have intercepted the “aid ships” in open, international waters and “frequently attacked fishermen in Gaza’s own territorial waters.” So the Israeli Navy, the activist surmised, is complicit in “oppression and violation of human rights” thanks to the U.S. firm. But so as not to get complicated, the activist counseled to focus on the West Bank: “Hewlett Packard is equipping checkpoints that are built illegally inside of the West Bank instead of on the Israeli border.” As precedent, she recalled the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war crimes found a corporation guilty of violating human rights.
Another activist complained that Methodist delegates were being contacted by “outside groups, people who are not United Methodists.” She was almost certainly citing some local Jewish leaders who have contacted delegates with concerns about anti-Israel divestment and its impact on interfaith relations. “We need to make certain that these last two weeks every delegate hears from a Methodist,” the activist counseled. “Our voice is really stronger since this is our General Conference making decisions for our church.” Of course, the activists were not distressed about the extensive coalition of non-Methodist anti-Israel groups behind the divestment crusade.
The conference call’s host claimed “pretty good support” from overseas United Methodists, especially in Africa and the Philippines. “There’s some optimism in the fact that we are a worldwide denomination and there is some opportunity in that as we are a denomination that continues to grow outside of the United States,” he insisted. A United Methodist Board of Church and Society official reported meeting with Africans and gaining support for divestment. In fact, the overseas Methodists, especially in Africa, are much more conservative than U.S. Methodists. And for them, spreading radical Islam, especially in Nigeria, is likelier a concern than divesting from Israel. United Methodist missionary Alex Awad, a frequent critic of Israel who teaches at Bethlehem Bible College, will be lobbying at the General Conference in Tampa, the activists also rejoiced to note.
“The theological questions can be tricky for us,” the conference call’s host admitted. “It is one of the ways people try to divide us because indeed we do have supporters among evangelicals, classic liberals, and people with an understanding of Israel as some kind of continuation of Ancient Israel as well as those who see Israel as simple another state within the community of nations.” He urged unity behind the “simple fact that people we care about are being hurt, abused, and human rights violated,” all by Israel. “I have a very conservative colleague here in West Ohio, we both have a very different theological framework but we both seem to agree about the oppression of Palestinians,” he added.
What the Methodists decide in the coming days about Israel will have larger repercussions, the conference callers agreed. “One of the Presbyterians I’ve worked with who is one of their leaders – he just said to me ‘please don’t lose’ because that makes it more difficult for them,” the host shared. Undoubtedly.
But the United Methodists, as they move away from being a left-leaning and declining U.S. Mainline denomination towards becoming a more evangelical global church, are less beholden to the fads of U.S. leftist church activists. The likely defeat of anti-Israel divestment at the Methodists’ General Conference in Tampa will help signify their move in a newer, healthier direction.
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