February 15, 2008

Give Equal Opportunity Commission Its Due

Opinion columnist Kathleen Peratis states that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “is mentioned in the major media no more than a few times a year” (“Bring Civil Rights Enforcement Out of the Shadows ,” February 1). In fact, a LexisNexis search shows that the EEOC was mentioned 1,282 times in the past year in the major newspapers alone. The tally rises significantly when broadcast media and magazines are added.

Just last month alone, a major commission settlement involving Lockheed Martin drew stories in the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Business Week, Forbes, San Francisco Chronicle, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg News and United Press International, among other outlets. The settlement was also reported in Europe, Canada, China, and India by the International Herald Tribune and other overseas news organizations.

Also last month, the EEOC’s final retiree health benefits rule drew a front-page story in The New York Times and a supportive Times editorial. The Times last month also quoted the EEOC’s legal counsel in a Sunday piece on English-only rules.

Divestment Effort Not Aimed at Israel Itself

No United Methodist Church entity has ever suggested divesting from Israel, or from Israeli companies as a group (“Methodist Church Renews Drive For Divestment From Israel,” February 1). Nor have United Methodists proposed divesting from companies because they do business with Israel. United Methodists support a strong and vibrant Israeli economy, and do not expect the denomination’s actions involving divestment to have any negative impact on Israel itself.

Divestment discussions in the United Methodist Church focus only on companies that sustain the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Many companies around the world are making money off of this occupation. These companies are headquartered in the United States, Ireland, France, Sweden and other nations.

United Methodists believe that the occupation endangers Israelis as well as Palestinians. The goal of selective divestment is to make sure our church is not profiting from an activity that violates United Methodist values. If we learn of companies that threaten Israel’s security, we will be quick to recommend divestment from them as well.

United Methodists currently have investments in companies that support the occupation. Our “Book of Discipline,” which contains the guiding principles of the church, states that divestment is one of the tools that should be considered when companies in which we hold shares are directly or indirectly violating human rights.

Divestment and boycotts have been used by United Methodists over the years to oppose unfair labor and marketing practices, apartheid and other unacceptable activities. Like all shareholders, United Methodists are entitled to be sure they don’t profit from activities that contradict their beliefs.

Jewish Council for Public Affairs official Ethan Felson is surely correct in stating that the current divestment campaign in the United Methodist Church is a result of “wicked forces.” Having worked many years in interfaith relations, and specifically with many in the mainline Protestant churches, I know that on the national level there are some hopelessly pious ideologues who are committed to undermine the integrity, legitimacy and security of the Jewish state.

Despite their protestations they are anti-Zionist to the core, and frequently inch perilously close to full-fledged antisemitism. The Jewish community should have no hesitation exposing this cabal for what they are: evil enemies of Judaism and the Jewish state.

The good news, however, is that this radical animus against Israel is confined to a few, and is not shared by the majority of Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians or other mainline Protestants in the pews — those who are our neighbors. The local churches are filled with people who have sentiments like all other Americans. They know that Israel is fighting the same forces of terrorism, extremism, and hatred of freedom and democracy that America is fighting. They see Israel as their ally in this world conflict. I have experienced this in nearly every local church that I have visited in the recent past.

Jews and Jewish leaders must understand this distinction and reach out to our friends in these churches. We did so when the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted for divestment, and the good people in the pews were able to force the church to rescind its ill-considered policy. The same result should occur in fighting the divestment campaign in the United Methodist Curch. This is a critical imperative, for if we friends of Israel do not reach the good people in the pews, surely the anti-Israel ideologues will.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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February 15, 2008

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