Methodists Reject Divestment Resolutions

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 06, 2008, issue of May 16, 2008.
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Washington — After nine days of meetings, The United Methodist Church rejected five proposed resolutions urging divestment from companies doing business with Israel.

The church’s National Conference, which convened in Fort Worth, Texas, last week, overwhelmingly turned down anti-Israel measures, though it included a statement declaring that “Israel continues to violate the international law” by building the separation fence. The conference added a call for both sides to uphold United Nations resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rejection of the divestment resolutions is seen as a significant achievement for the mainstream organized Jewish community, which launched a massive effort both on the grass-roots level and within the leadership to fight against the divestment trend within mainline Protestant churches.

“This is another piece of evidence that many people in the church do not support a one-sided approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” said Jewish Council for Public Affairs associate executive director Ethan Felson, who was among the activists who went to Fort Worth to fight the divestment initiative.

While Jewish groups were working on the ground in Fort Worth to convince delegates not to support divestment, other Jewish activists were aggressively pushing forward the divestment resolution. Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that has been supportive of divestment, found itself in a spin battle with pro-Israel Jewish groups after the conference ended. While the mainstream organizations focused on the rejection of a variety of divestment measures during the conference, Jewish Voice for Peace tried to put the focus on the fact that the church did not rule out divestment as a future option. The group also stressed in its press release that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a member of The United Methodist Church.

While most divestment resolutions were rejected by the quadrennial conference, one of the prominent calls for divestment from heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar never reached the decision-making forum. The resolution was withdrawn days before the conference, following the opening of a dialogue between Caterpillar and members of the church. This move was viewed as an achievement for proponents of divestment measures.

National Jewish groups welcomed the outcome of the Methodist conference, praising delegates for their refusal to adopt divestment measures. Mark Pelavin, director of the Reform Movement’s Commission on Interreligious Affairs, said that as Israel and the Palestinians move toward a negotiated peace agreement, “we are reassured to know that we can count on the friendship and support of the United Methodist Church in this endeavor.”

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement declaring that rejecting the divestment resolutions “sends a loud and clear message” that targeting Israel “is the wrong road.” The American Jewish Committee also praised the church for passing a resolution condemning proselytizing of Jews.

Yet while the organized Jewish community celebrated its success in convincing The United Methodist Church to reject divestment, other churches are still considering similar measures. The Presbyterian Church (USA), which will hold its conference this summer in San Jose, Calif., has resolutions on its agenda calling for divestment from Caterpillar and Motorola because of their business with the Israel Defense Forces. Several other denominations will also consider similar moves next year.

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