by James M Wall
Episcopalians, United Methodists and Presbyterians are actually debating how they should deal with the Israeli Occupation
Martin Luther King, sitting in that Birmingham city jail, would most certainly inform these prelates that there is no debating evil. A brutal military occupation is not open to debate.
It is a disturbing spectacle. The collective ignorance displayed by many of the men and women—though, thank God, not all—who govern these denominations, boggles the mind.
The issue, my dear Christian friends, is justice, pure and simple. And yet, there they are, these robed religiosos, dripping with interfaith piety, proclaiming that the simple act of divestment of church funds is too harsh a tactic to use against Israel’s settlement obsessed, right-wing government.
Here is the Episcopal News Service report on the current presiding Episcopal bishop explaining why she, and the church that elevated her to denominational leadership, oppose the simple, non-violent tactic of targeting divestment of church funds from US corporations that profit from Israel’s military occupation:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to “invest in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza” rather than focusing on divestment or boycotts of Israel, during a March 25 “Middle East Peacemakers” luncheon in Los Angeles.
“The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott,” the presiding bishop told more than 200 people gathered at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles. “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically.”
She also called for “a two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis” and for “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories,” she said, adding that the interreligious, multi-ethnic gathering hosted by Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles was an example of what is possible.
That statement is an incredible display of ignorance of the political realities of a brutal military occupation.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wants investment in Palestine, not divestment from Israel’s occupation.
Who proposed that approach?
Sounds very much like the warden of the world’s largest outdoor prison inviting church members to come inside the prison and do their good works.
Cottage industries in cell block six?
Starting April 24, delegates to the United Methodist Church General Conference will debate the issue of using targeted divestment as a legislative tactic against injustice.
The United Methodist and the Presbyterian national churches have labored for many years to develop resolutions that focus tightly on US corporations that profit from the Occupation.
One of these corporations, Caterpillar, produces heavy equipment that Israel uses to build its apartheid wall, a wall that has nothing to do with security and everything to do with stealing even more Palestinian land.
Caterpillar also produces those monstrous bulldozers that tear down Palestinian homes, another “security” measure that is really designed to tighten the Occupation noose.
An Israeli soldier drove one of those American-built bulldozers over an American citizen, peace activist Rachel Corrie, on March 16, 2003, as she tried to stop an attack on a Palestinian home. In death, this young woman has become a symbol of non-violent courage to Palestinians.
Not so in the US, where neither action nor formal government protest was taken against the army that killed her.
And yet, here is an Episcopal bishop, standing before 200 of her fellow Episcopalians actually calling for Palestinians and Israelis to “eat together and listen to one another’s stories”.
This is blatant Israeli propaganda. These words were not uttered in the spirit of Amos; they sound more like an American politician scrambling for Israel Lobby money than they do of a Christian leader who must at some point in her career reflected upon, and perhaps even preached on, the call from Amos 5:4 to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!” (NIV).
The saddest thing about this failure of a church leader to grasp the reality of injustice is that she offers palliative words that sound more like a Southern bishop of the 1950s begging the segregated and segregator to live together peacefully.
Bless you bishop, but there are people in Palestine on protest hunger strikes. Others are dying under the boot of a brutal occupying army. This is not a problem that will be addressed by our “eating together and talking to one another”.
For an example of the pepper spray at work, see the Ammar Awad Reuters photo above of Israeli soldiers spraying a Palestinian protestor. This took place on Land Day, when Palestinians remember their land losses.
Richard Silverstein, who writes the Tikun Olam web site, posted this photo from the New York Times and adds:
The Times headline for the slideshow presentation of Land Day images that includes this one was: Protesters Scuffle With Forces.
I don’t see protesters scuffling with Israeli forces. I see Israeli border police mauling unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. I see them pepper-spraying one at point-blank range.
That headline confirms once again that the New York Times is not just biased on this issue on behalf of Israel. It is simply an Israeli hometown paper. Its perspective is always that of the home team, that is, Israel.
Silverstein is Jewish, one of many Jews who knows the damage that the Occupation does to Israelis as well as to Palestinians. Fortunately, Silverstein is also a blogger with a large following.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori knows better than to speak of the Palestinian issue in the language she used. One of my sources who follows this issue with diligence, wrote to say:
It was she who, perhaps three years ago, visited Gaza, was duly appalled, and vowed to press with all of her and her church’s authority, to end the sadistic blockade and occupation of all of Palestine.
It mystifies me that she can ignore the precedent of, and successful use of BDS, in the closest parallel, South Africa. Schori has succumbed to expedience or the copout of “interfaith” wishy-washiness-cum-cowardice.
How can one have any hope for justice and a viable existence for the Palestinians in the face of such cavalier disregard for the well-known and often courageously expressed recitations of the “facts on the ground” created by the Zionist enterprise?.
Well stated, and true. Trips by church leaders, who finally see first -hand the ugliness of Occupation, are the best way to break through Israeli propaganda.
But, based on Bishop Schori’s public display of hasbara (propaganda) in Los Angeles, the power of the Israel Lobby trumps the truth.
All is not lost. Another source, who attended the bishop’s presentation, did not find the audience very receptive to her call for kum ba yah.
Two denominations will debate divestment resolutions over the next few months, first, the United Methodists and then, the Presbyterians.
The United Methodist supporters of targeted divestments are encouraged at the feedback they are hearing from the grassroots.
Blocking their way to the passage of a divestment resolution is the denomination’s General Board of Pensions, which objects to non-financial types interfering in their decisions to maximize pension profits.
This body has determined over the years that it will not invest in corporations that profit from, for example, South African apartheid, and that old reliable United Methodist staple, alcohol.
Faced with requests that it extend its no-no list to include three companies supporting the Occupation, the General Board of Pensions has adopted the Episcopal mantra of “eating together and sharing stories”.
Of course, the General Conference has the final say in this matter. Starting April 24, in their Tampa, Florida, meeting, the Methodists will have their chance to remember that its founding parent, John Wesley was not a “get along” guy; he was a justice guy.
This is the same denomination, by the way, that moved its 2012 meeting from Richmond, Virginia, to Tampa, Florida, because Richmond has a baseball team named, “The Braves”, a no-no among United Methodists who have agreed not to patronize locations with sports teams the Methodists believe denigrate Native Americans.
Good for them. Now let us see what can be done about the denigration of Palestinians.
Editing: Debbie Menon
James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. He has made more than 20 trips to that region as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region. Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. Jim launched his new personal blog Wallwritings, on April 24, 2008.