Methodists Join Divestment Debate

Two United Methodist conferences have joined a growing list of church organizations that are threatening to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of disputed Middle-East territories.

The New England and Virginia conferences, two of 63 total major districts in the 8-million-member denomination, passed separate divestment resolutions during their annual meetings this summer.

The New England resolution calls for “voluntary, selective divestment from companies that profit in a significant way from the Israeli occupation,” according to the United Methodist News Service.

It also urges “our United Methodist funding agencies and our local churches to support with our prayers, presence and money those Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations, which bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialogue."

The Virginia resolution is more direct. It urges the United Methodist Board of Pensions to review its investments and undertake a process of “phased, selective divestment” from any multinational corporations profiting from the “illegal demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of the Palestinian economy and confiscation of Palestinian land,” according to UMNS.

Virginian Methodists also added a clause recognizing Israel’s right to exist within permanent, secure borders and Palestine’s right to the formation of a viable state.

The two conferences join the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the worldwide Anglican Communion in taking up the controversial divestment issue to protest what they say is unjust Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Earlier this month, the United Church of Christ also weighed-in on the Middle-East debate. Delegates there chose not to join the divestment campaign, but promised to use “economic leverage” against companies profiting from violence committed by Israelis, Palestinians or neighboring Arab states.

Meanwhile, many Jewish groups based out of the U.S., including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, responded to both divestment and “economic leverage” with scathing remarks.
"This immoral resolution, which cloaks itself in the language of reconciliation, demands that Israel leave her six million citizens exposed to a renewed spate of suicide terrorism, which over the past five years has murdered and maimed thousands of innocent Israeli Jews and Arabs,” the Center wrote in response to the UCC resolution.
Opponents of divestment feel it unfairly blames Israel for the regional conflict and does not take Palestinian violence into account.
“Nowhere is there an explicit call to the Palestinians to desist from further violence and to tear down the infrastructure of terrorist groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” the Center wrote.
The United Methodist Church as a whole may join the two conferences in the boycott, but at least not for another 3 years; boycotts are sanctioned by the United Methodist General Conference – the only entity that speaks for the denomination as a whole – which meets once every four years.

At the 2004 General Conference, United Methodists adopted a resolution that opposed the “continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources, (and) the destruction of Palestinian homes.”

The “Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land” requested Israel to “cease the confiscation of Palestinian lands and water for any reason” and “urge the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian religious leaders to continue to publicly condemn violence against Israeli civilizations and to use nonviolent acts of disobedience to resist the occupation and the illegal settlements." The resolution had no mention of divestment.

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