Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Christians For Fair Witness on the Middle East Denounces Methodist Divestment Proposals

Christians For Fair Witness on the Middle East Denounces Methodist Divestment Proposals

FORT WORTH, Texas, April 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The United Methodist Church, the largest mainstream Protestant denomination in the U.S., is currently meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas where it will be voting on several resolutions for divestment from companies doing business in Israel.

Fair Witness is very concerned that divestment, which in other contexts has been a good and a powerful tool for social justice, is being used here as a weapon to unfairly target the Jewish state and greatly oversimplify the complex Arab/Israeli conflict.

The divestment resolutions that the Methodists are considering reflect a troubling bias on the part of certain factions within the denomination.

They focus on the alleged misdeeds of Israel and on Palestinian suffering, while virtually ignoring Israeli suffering and any culpability that the Palestinians and Arab nations have for the violence and discord in the region. They condemn the Israeli occupation, security barrier and settlements, but turn a blind eye to years of Arab aggression, Palestinian terrorism aimed at Israeli civilians and the recent non-stop Qassam rockets that have terrorized the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The resolutions also fail to acknowledge the Palestinian refusal to accept the Clinton peace parameters that would have ended the occupation in 2000/2001.

Invidious allegations of apartheid leveled by proponents of divestment at the Jewish state distract from factual realities on the ground in Israel/Palestine. Blame for the fact that some Palestinians still live as refugees lies squarely at the feet of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which instead of resettling the Arab refugees after 1948 (as the Jewish refugees at the time were resettled) maintains them to this day in camps on the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The blame is surely shared by the Palestinian leadership for refusing the offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David and Taba.

Israel can be faulted for continuing a policy of settlement expansion.

However, Israeli leaders more than demonstrated their willingness to abandon those settlements in 2000 and 2001 when they accepted the Clinton parameters that would have created a Palestinian state on approximately 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Israel demonstrated this willingness again in 2005 when it moved every one of 8,000 Israeli settlers out of Gaza.

The troubling aspects of the Methodist divestment proposals are compounded by the denomination's publication of material that appears to be strongly anti-Israel and perhaps anti-Semitic. In 2007 the Women's Division of the Methodist General Board of Global Ministries published "Israel-Palestine: A Mission Study" which is replete with factual errors, misrepresentations and distortions that serve to portray Israel as the sole villain in the Middle East. The "Mission Study" is filled with inflammatory references such as "religious racism... [as] inherent in some of the traditional writings and interpretations of Rabbinic Judaism..." and the founding of the Jewish state in terms of "original sin." These and similar references found throughout the "Mission Study" seem designed to portray Jews and Israelis in as damning a light as possible.

The "Mission Study" goes so far as to exploit Nazi Holocaust themes in the service of efforts to indict Israel. It employs a pseudo-psychological approach by inventing a "Holocaust consciousness" which it claims infects Israeli society with "attendant rage" and renders Israelis incapable of peacemaking. This attempt to exploit a tragic episode in Jewish collective life is not only un-Christian, it crosses the line of decency.

The Methodist "Mission Study" and the divestment proposals may be symptomatic of a strong bias to the point of antipathy. Instead of passing unbalanced resolutions, United Methodists should commit to taking a long and serious look at their attitude towards Israel and the Jewish people and try to find ways of becoming effective peace makers rather than merely condemning and attacking one side.

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