The Church of Israel Divestment

While Gaddafi murders, the Religious Left vamps up its Israel boycott lobby.

The campaign to divest from Israel has never been widely successful but neither will it accept defeat.  Even as the Religious Left continues its relative silence about Muammar Kaddafi’s accelerating warfare against his own Libyan people, it is again promoting anti-Israel divestment.

Last month, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) resolved once again to lobby its 12 million member denomination (7.7 million members in the U.S.) for anti-Israel boycott and divestment.  This lobby agency, located on Capitol Hill in the historic Methodist Building, initially tried and failed to persuade the denomination to back anti-Israel divestment at the governing General Conference in 2008.  Now it is aiming at the next convention in 2012.  The lobby also voted to affiliate with the “U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.”

As my associate Jeff Walton noted in his onsite report, GBCS’s anti-Israel resolutions were among the most controversial issues at the Methodist lobby’s directors’ meeting.  Responding to a resolution for boycotting Israeli-produced West Bank products, one director wondered if it might undermine Palestinians employed by Israeli firms. GBCS General Secretary Jim Winkler reassuringly likened the boycott to similar campaigns against Apartheid South Africa, which local black groups supported even though black South Africans might lose jobs.  A second resolution called for the massive United Methodist pension agency to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard because of their business with Israel.

During the vote on joining the “U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,” several directors asked whether any of the coalition members “sent up red flags” that would alarm some United Methodists. “Like the Communist Party?” laughingly asked one director, recalling GBCS’s controversial initial endorsement for last year’s “One Nation Working Together” rally in Washington, D.C. to counter Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” gathering.   The Communist Party USA was a co-sponsor, forcing GBCS to withdraw endorsement and sheepishly admit it was “disturbed by some of the overtly political and partisan statements issued by organizers of the march.”

Meanwhile, activists in the 3 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) are pushing similar anti-Israel initiatives.  The officially endorsed []( denominational “Israel/Palestine Mission Network” (IPMN) will lobby its church’s governing 2012 General Assembly for a more ardent anti-Israel stance. As my colleague Alan Wisdom reported, IPMN has recently joined the international “BDS movement” (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel).  IPMN moderator Carol Hylkema promised, “In addition to calling for boycott, as a mission network of the PCUSA, the IPMN will sponsor an initiative that will seek to make its position that of the entire denomination when their General Assembly meets in 2012.”

The denomination’s 2004 General Assembly created IPMN to encourage “currents of wider and deeper Presbyterian involvement with Palestinian partners.” The purpose is “demonstrating solidarity [with the Palestinian partners] and changing the conditions that erode the humanity of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.”  Essentially, IPMN mostly exists to proclaim more strident anti-Israel stances than more directly official church agencies have the gumption publicly to endorse.

Unsurprisingly, IPMN supports “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth,” an espousal of Palestinian liberation theology that rejects a Jewish Israel and supports a single state that inevitably would become majority Muslim.  So it differs with official Presbyterian Church USA support for two states and a Jewish homeland.  In 2006, the Presbyterian USA General Assembly revoked its previous endorsement of anti-Israel divestment, while IPMN clearly endorses it.

A wide phalanx of Mainline church groups aligned with the Religious Left are obsessively concerned about Palestinian “liberation.”  But none are particularly interested in the welfare of other Arabs who suffer under despotic regimes.  “Ecumenical Women at the United Nations,” a coalition of the Presbyterians, United Methodists, Episcopalians and other usual suspects, recently addressed Libya by languidly citing a United Nations resolution about Libya, from 1970.  Of course, UN resolutions, no matter how dated, are virtually Scripture for the Religious Left.

United Methodist GBCS chief Jim Winkler backhandedly acknowledged Libya by recently admitting “Libya is bombing its own people,” and “ordinary people are calling for democracy and freedom.” But he preferred to complain:   “Yet, Israel, purportedly the only democracy in the region, is not supportive of change.”  And he likened anti-Kaddafi resistance to U.S. domestic opposition to federal budget cuts and government trade unions:  “Who knows, maybe we are witnessing the start of protests against wrong-minded government here such as we are seeing in the Middle East.”   Assuredly, Wisconsin Governor Walker and U.S. House Speaker Boehner distress the Religious Left far more than Kaddafi’s 40 year murderous dictatorship.

But even more troubling to the Religious Left is Israel’s continued survival as a Jewish democracy.  Anti-Israel divestment campaigns, and comparisons to Apartheid South Africa, have not and ultimately will not prevail.  But they indicate the depth of the Religious Left’s preoccupying animosity against Israel.