The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) General Conference met last week in Portland, Oregon in the same rooms where the PC(USA) General Assembly (GA) will soon meet. They made some very interesting decisions regarding Israel-Palestine peacemaking that will surely have a ripple effect within the PC(USA). Like the Episcopal Church, they again rejected divestment overtures seeking to declare Israel to be the singular obstacle to peace in the conflict. In addition, they issued a clear repudiation of UMC involvement in the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement.
By almost a two-thirds majority, the UMC delegates asked Methodist groups to sever involvement with the BDS umbrella group End the Occupation.
End the Occupation has been a driving force behind a ten-year divestment campaign which reached a climax with the PC(USA)’s narrow vote in 2014 to divest from three companies doing business with Israel’s defense forces. Incredibly, Anna Baltzer, the National Organizer for End the Occupation and prominent leader of the BDS movement in the U.S., was a “Resource Person” to the last two General Assemblies representing a standing GA committee. She was allowed to speak in committee hearings when concerned Presbyterians attending the hearing were not. The appointment of an international leader and advocate of the BDS movement as a committee “Resource Person” showed flagrant disregard for the ethical standards called for in the committee process. This should not have happened in 2012 and 2014, and should not be permitted this summer in Portland.
Divestment proposals put before the UMC General Conference were very similar to those narrowly approved at the 2014 PCUSA GA. By strong majorities, the UMC committees rejected the divestment overtures on the basis that they declared Israel to be the sole obstacle to peace when it is clear to diplomats and other experts that Palestinian groups such as Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are also major obstacles to peace. In their place, they chose an option rejected by the PC(USA) GA in 2014—to invest in peace.
Events at the UMC General Conference in Portland raise several interesting questions. Will Presbyterians wake up to the fact that PC(USA) policies regarding Israel-Palestine are being driven by secular BDS organizations and not by serious theological and biblical reflection? Will Presbyterians join Episcopalians and Methodists in rejecting a simplistic, dualistic approach to the Middle East conflict in which one side (Israel) is portrayed as the problem and the other side (Palestinians) is portrayed as innocents? Will Presbyterians ask their standing committees to think for themselves rather than rubber stamping the leadership of a the secular, harsh BDS agenda?