Despite fierce targeting by the international anti-Israel lobby, the 12 million member global United Methodist Church soundly defeated anti-Israel divestment at its governing General Conference last week in Tampa.
The margin was over 2-1. African delegates, who comprised 30 percent of the total, were key, as were U.S. evangelical delegates, joined by numerous moderate and liberal U.S. delegates. United Methodist rejection almost ensures that the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly will reject anti-Israel divestment next month, leaving the divestment movement with almost nowhere to go among U.S. religious groups.
But sadly, the divestment debate among United Methodists frequently demonized Israel, with one intemperate delegate from Montana comparing the Jewish nation and the firms who do business with it to companies who facilitated the Nazi Holocaust. She was preceded by a delegate from Oklahoma who cautiously tried to point at the threats against Israel, only to be chastised by the presiding bishop, who apparently disapproved of criticism aimed at Hamas.
“Of course we care about the Palestinians and what they have gone through—the loss of land, the loss of homes, the wall,” the Rev. Earl Long opined. “But we also care for the people of Israel and what they too have gone through.” He cited a “small, radical, fringe, terrorist Palestinian group who is set on their destruction and resorts to suicide bombing.”
Rev. Long was not even able to name Hamas before he was interrupted by presiding Bishop Warren Brown of Sacramento, who chided him: “Just [to] remind the speaker that the body has adopted a rule to avoid personal attacks of persons.” So even to imply criticism of Hamas is apparently an unacceptable “personal attack,” at least according to Methodist standards of hyper political correctness.
There was no such interruption or chiding for the delegate who levied her Nazi comparison against Israel. Margaret Mary Novak of Montana, while urging anti-Israel divestment, suggested: “I would just ask us all to imagine that we were United Methodists in the 1930s and ’40s, that our Board of Pensions held stock in the very successful manufacturing firms in Germany that bid and received the bids to manufacture the ovens for the concentration camps. At what point would we decide it was time to divest? How much evidence would we ask for before it was time to stop the wholesale destruction of people?”
Bishop Brown merely reacted by asking Novak whether her Nazi comparison was a “speech for or against” the divestment proposal. It was, she clarified, decidedly for. Evidently likening Israel to the Third Reich is so unexceptionally routine that the bishop was unclear about Novak’s intent. Novak is vice president of the Foundation for United Methodist Communications.
More temperately, a Texas delegate pointed out that Israel has legitimate security concerns. “The small state of Israel, which we support politically, is surrounded by enemies who wish it to be destroyed and will not have peace until it is destroyed,” said Henry Lessner. “We are only adding fuel to the fire and giving more people more reasons to think they have more support to get rid of Israel.” But getting rid of Israel as a Jewish democracy, while comparing it to Nazi Germany, seems to be the objective of pro-divestment activists. Massachusetts minister We Hyung Chang, leading the charge for an Israel stance, displayed a map ostensibly showing ever expanding Jewish territorial expansion against the Palestinians. The first map showed the region before Israel’s1948 founding, by implication disputing Israel’s basic existence.
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