Morality Wins, BDS Loses at 2016 Methodist Conference
At the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), proponents of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) were soundly defeated. The BDS movement, which speaks the language of morality but acts against these principles, systematically targets churches in pursuit of its anti-Israel agenda. They had expected the Church to pass various resolutions condemning Israel and invoking economic warfare. Despite the UMC Pension Board’s decision to divest from five Israeli banks in January, at this year’s GC, BDS activists were routed.
United Methodist Kairos Response, a major proponent of BDS within the Church, proposed three resolutions calling for BDS against Israel; a fourth was proposed by the UM Young People’s Legislative Assembly (General Assembly). All four were rejected in favor of an inoffensive petition calling more generally for socially responsible investment. Instead of BDS, more neutral language called on the Church to invest in companies that promote human rights and are aligned with the UMC’s Social Principles. According to Susanne Hoder, co-chair of United Methodist Kairos Response, “Positive investments are not a substitute for divestment.”
Another blow to BDS was the Global Ministries Committee vote calling on the Church to “withdraw its current membership in the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation…and to end any financial contributions, including staff participation.” The U.S. Campaign is a leading BDS umbrella group that was also part of the campaign to divest within UMC. Officials regularly lobby Congress to end aid to Israel due to its “military occupation and apartheid policies.”
This is a cautious victory, as it is not yet known if the Church will act on the committee’s recommendation.
Nevertheless, UMC’s rejection of BDS followed years of intense campaigns by highly political, radical, and anti-peace non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that exploit the language of human rights and religious rhetoric to delegitimize Israel. As highlighted in NGO Monitor’s statement during the January debates, churches in particular are a major BDS battleground. Activists recognize that churches “are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles” and that successful campaigns “raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.” NGO Monitor also published the role of external funding groups, primarily based in Europe, in enabling this form of political warfare targeting Israel.
The United Methodist Kairos Response, which exemplifies this phenomenon, was created to promote the Kairos Palestine Document. This 2009 document calls for BDS, denies Jewish historical connection to Israel, and blames Israel solely for the continuation of the conflict.
Working with United Methodist Kairos Response is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a tiny pro-BDS NGO that aims to create a “wedge” in the American Jewish community over support for Israel. Partnering with Christian anti-Israel groups is one of its tactics in generating turmoil with American Jews. NGO Monitor research shows that JVP’s funders and enablers include the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.
JVP touts its partnership with United Methodist Kairos Response, and issued a statement celebrating the January decision to divest from Israeli banks. More recently, JVP sent a letter in April to the UMC, encouraging the Convention to pass the proposed BDS resolutions. JVP was also defeated when the General Conference rejected this attack.
Another UMKR partner in divestment is Sabeel. Sabeel is a major actor in the effort to convince Christian churches to support BDS and promote “Palestinian Liberation Theology,” which includes Christian replacement theology, as a means to refute Jewish religious and historical claims to the land of Israel. Sabeel plays a central theological role for pro-Palestinian activists within churches of various denominations. Sabeel receives indirect government support via “humanitarian aid funds” from the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada.
In contrast, a number of groups fought against this anti-Israel campaign. Groups like the United Methodists for Constructive Peacemaking in Israel and Palestine (UMCPIP), a coalition of United Methodists from across the theological spectrum, urge their fellow Christians to reject divestment for more diplomatic approaches.
Despite the successes at this year’s General Conference, there is still more work to do at UMC. The Church still supports EAPPI, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, sending volunteers to “experience life under occupation” and “provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace.”
In reality, EAPPI provides a narrow and distorted experience for innocent volunteers, pushing them to view Israel through the lens of Palestinian “victimization.” Unsurprisingly, EAPPI consistently demonizes Israel, makes accusations of “apartheid” and “war crimes,” and calls the security barrier, which has saved countless lives from suicide bombings, “evil.” Participants return to Europe and the United States, disseminate anti-Israel allegations, and instigate BDS campaigns against Israel.
BDS against Israel is immoral and damages prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. January’s decision at the UMC to divest from Israeli banks reflects the destructive power of these anti-peace NGOs.
Yet, the defeat of BDS at this year’s General Convention gives hope that this damaging influence can be countered.