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United Methodist Church Rejects Divestment

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United Methodist ChurchDoing the right thing is easy. Doing it wrong takes effort. It also belies some groups' moral values.

UMC "emphasi(zes) Christian living (by) putting faith and love into action." On May 2, they were noticeably absent.

From April 24 - May 4, UMC held its General Conference in Tampa. On May 2, delegates voted on divesting from three corporate giants - Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. All three serve Israel's occupation harshness.

Caterpillar produces giant bulldozers. Their blades extend about 21 feet wide and 7 feet high. Israel lawlessly uses them to destroy Palestinian homes and property.

Motorola Solutions sells settlements virtual fences and radar detection systems to spot nearby human movement. They're also for Israel's Separation Wall, the one around Gaza, another being constructed on Lebanon's border, and Israel's military.

Installations are erected on private Palestinian land. Other occupation and military related equipment and services are provided.

Israel's military checkpoints use Hewlett-Packard's Basel System technology to prevent free movement, deter students from reaching school, workers from places of employment, farmers from their fields, Palestinians from accessing medical care, and enforcing family separations.

HP also sells Israel's navy hardware used to blockade Gaza.

These and many other US companies serve Israel's occupation harshness. Global BDS supporters and human rights activists urge boycotting and divesting from them. So does Cape Town's Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

On April 28, he wrote UMC. In part, he said:

Palestine must be liberated. As an occupying power, Israel bares the onus. Faith and love supporters must help.

"I therefore wholeheartedly support your action to disinvest from companies who benefit from the Occupation of Palestine. This is a moral position that I have no choice but to support, especially since I know of the effect that Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions had on the apartheid regime in South Africa."

"May God bless your conference as you deliberate on this matter, and I pray that your decision will reflect the best values of the human family as we stand in solidarity with the oppressed."

United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) supports divestment. Its landmark 2009 "Kairos Palestine" document urged "stand(ing) by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades."

It advocates boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. It also backs "non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation."

Its resolution on UMC investments states in part:

"For more than 40 years, every United Methodist Church General Conference has endorsed calls for just and lasting peace for all Israelis and Palestinians, including an end to all military sales to the whole region." 

"Tragically, ongoing military occupation and expanding Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands have deepened a system of violence and discrimination that dehumanizes Palestinians and Israelis." 

"The biblical mandate to be peacemakers demands that we express our love of our Palestinian and Israeli neighbors both in word and through nonviolent actions.  (Matthew 5: 9, 1 John 3:17-18)"

"Palestinian Christians have implored Christians everywhere to put actions behind their words to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. Although (UMC) has long opposed the occupation, The United Methodist Church boards and agencies still hold stock in companies that sustain it."

"Many faith groups and organizations around the world have already divested or publicly support divestment.[viii] The Church should lead with prophetic action by publicly and promptly aligning its investments with longstanding church policies opposing the Israeli occupation. Such action is supported by mission personnel who have served in the Holy Land since the 1990s."

"In light of our theological discernment of moral and biblical justice, the General Conference calls on The United Methodist Church to end its financial involvement in Israel’s occupation by divesting from companies that sustain the occupation."

UMKR urged UMC delegates to approve divesting from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard.

UMC members overwhelmingly endorse divestment. According to UMKR leader Susanne Hoder, 94% of them want Israel's occupation ended. "We do not believe the church should profit from a situation we have overwhelmingly stated we want to end."

In late April, 60 Minutes covered the issue in a Christians of the Holy Land segment. Hoder was interviewed. She said:

"It is heartening to see that the media is finally telling the American public what is happening to the Christian community in the Holy Land. It’s what we’ve been trying for years to tell people about."

She discussed divestment and UMKR's resolution. She said "(w)e are helping awaken the consciousness of American faith communities and Americans in general."

60 Minutes explained Israel's "burgeoning settlements" and Separation Wall. Bethlehem residents say it turned the city into an "open-air prison." CBS reporter Bob Simon said "just leaving Bethlehem is a struggle" because of Israeli checkpoints.

UMC Spurns Hope and Change

Millions of Methodists and human rights activists hoped delegates would vote to divest. Disappointment followed rejection.

A UMKR statement said:

"The conference faced a choice between standing with the oppressed as Jesus did, or yielding to fear. It appears that they yielded to fear as a result of misinformation spread about the consequences of supporting divestment."

"The brutal reality of the Israeli occupation can no longer be hidden, and the myth that Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of Muslim pressure has been exposed as false."

"Palestinian Christians who traveled 6,000 miles to share their reality told delegates that they suffer alongside their Muslim neighbors from Israel’s occupation."

Small victories accompanied defeat. Several UMC churches decided independently to divest. They expressed hope others would follow their example.

A Jewish Voice for Peace statement said in part:

"JVP is disappointed that the resolution....failed to pass....Since the last Methodist General Assembly in 2008, support for divestment has grown enormously....We are pleased that the church has come to a consensus that the Israeli occupation is wrong and must end. We are gratified to share with our Methodist friends this commitment to ending the occupation and its wrongful treatment of Palestinians."

"We salute the United Methodist Kairos Response for their organizing efforts. We will continue to work with them and with all people of good conscience in an effort to end the Israeli occupation and to bring justice and peace."

A Final Comment

Great struggles are long-term. Progress comes slowly. BDS and other initiatives chip away at Israel's occupation. Defeating South African apartheid took time. One day Palestine will be liberated.

On May 2, UMC failed the test. Several UMC regional churches did the right thing. Eventually perhaps they all will. Hopefully groundswell support from other faith-based groups will follow.

Israeli apartheid exceeds South Africa's harshness. Apartheid is an international crime. Israel stands flagrantly guilty but unaccountable. Punitive collective punishment and state sponsored terror are policies. So aren't land theft, displacement, and numerous other crimes against humanity.

For decades, apartheid was South African policy. Ending it took time. In February 1990, President FW de Klerk freed Nelson Mandela. In 1992, a whites-only referendum approved reform.

On April 27, 1994, blacks and white voted together for the first time. The African National Congress (ANC) won overwhelmingly. A Government of National Unity was formed under Mandela as president.

South African liberation has a long way to go. Neoliberal harshness replaced apartheid. Nonetheless, an important victory was won.

Palestinians will win theirs. Momentum builds towards it. UMC's conference inched forward. Other successes will follow. Palestine one day will be free. It's just a matter of time.


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