Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Church of Christ

Don’t Lose any Sleep Over United Church of Christ Divestment

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose. Read More

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose.

Although one cannot deny that this turn of events is a victory for the movement to boycott Israel, I doubt it is a significant one. First, as Jonathan Rynhold has explained in his recent The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture, hostility toward Israel is a great mainline Protestant tradition. Henry Van Dusen, no fringe figure he, was more provocative than but not unrepresentative of elite mainline opinion when he described Israel’s actions in the Six Day Way as “the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation.”

Second, as the reference to mainline “elite” opinion is meant to suggest, there is no reason to think that the actions of the delegates, any more than the divestment actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last year, represent the opinion of mainline rank and file. An April 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of white mainline Protestants sympathized with Israel more than the Palestinians, compared to just 11 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. That is not much different from the U.S. average. Similarly, although the delegates at the Synod plainly think that even the Obama administration is not hostile enough to Israel, the poll finds that a plurality of white mainline Protestants (42 percent) think the Obama administration’s level of support is right. Twenty-four percent think President Obama supports the Palestinians too much and only 7 percent think he supports Israel too much. Again, this is hardly different from all Americans polled. A February 2015 poll, also conducted by Pew, found that 43 percent of white mainline Protestants held a favorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared to 24 percent who held an unfavorable opinion. That’s slightly better than Netanyahu fared with the U.S. adult population overall. In short, mainline leadership appears far, indeed, from mainline non-elites on Israel.

Third and finally, the UCC is small and getting smaller, presently accounting for four-tenths of one percent of the adult U.S. population. Between 2000 and 2010, the UCC lost over 300,000 members, an astronomical loss for a group that, in fall 2014, put its membership at less than a million. Of those who remain, 67% are 50 or over.

No one should be losing any sleep over this.

 

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Will the United Church of Christ Declare Israel an Apartheid State?

Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson draws attention to the latest anti-Israel extremism to emerge out of our dying mainline Protestant Churches. Last year, it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year it is the United Church of Christ, representing 4/10 of one percent (and shrinking) of the adult U.S. population. At its 30th General Synod, taking place in Cleveland from June 26-30, three anti-Israel resolutions will be considered. Read More

Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson draws attention to the latest anti-Israel extremism to emerge out of our dying mainline Protestant Churches. Last year, it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year it is the United Church of Christ, representing 4/10 of one percent (and shrinking) of the adult U.S. population. At its 30th General Synod, taking place in Cleveland from June 26-30, three anti-Israel resolutions will be considered.

As Jacobson reports, two of the three resolutions are very similar. Both call for divestment from certain companies said to profit from the “occupation of Palestinian territories” and both call for a boycott of products of those territories. A third goes further, though it is perfectly in keeping with the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement that is in the background of the other resolutions, and calls on the Church to “recognize the actions of Israel against the Palestinians as apartheid.”

Having dealt with this sort of thing before, I will not address the substance of the resolutions here. Instead, I want to note that, as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has its Israel-Palestine Mission Network driving its anti-Israel activities, so the UCC has its Palestine/Israel Network, and its page is, or should be, an embarrassment to everyone involved in UCC. Consider what the Network considers a trustworthy source on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We get, among other things, an article from Countercurrents on “How U.S. Tax Breaks Fund Israeli Settlers.” Countercurrents has also published the authoritative “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews,” which begins “the geopolitical situation demands that the world must confront Jews particularly the ones who hold absolute sway over arms sale [sic], media and the Zionists” (I can’t bring myself to link it, but if you don’t believe me, go to Countercurrents and search for “Jewish.”)

The site also links not once, not twice, but three times, to Counterpunch, a journal with its own issues with anti-Semitism. Although the divestment resolutions both refer to UCC’s 2001 resolution, confessing to the sin of anti-Semitism and denouncing it, the UCCers who are their primary movers appears not to have let that affect their reading habits. Of course, it’s not surprising that they would turn to alternative media sources because as the title of a video they link to, “The Zionists Won’t Let You See This On Your TV,” implies, they believe, or at least are happy to publicize the views of those who believe, that the Zionists control the mainstream media. The video is, by the way, about the Rachel Corrie story. Granted, the media blackout on her case has been disturbing; when you search the New York Times for mention of her, you get only 113 hits.

The gang that produced this helpful guide to educating oneself on the conflict is the gang that has been engaged in educating the United Church of Christ on the issue. I’d like to say that the Church will notice the stench. But as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) showed, many mainline Protestant leaders do not have strong senses of smell when it comes to anti-Semitism.

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Church Leader Shows Where Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Merge

Last month I wrote about the letter signed by the leaders of a number of the most prominent Protestant denominations in the country asking Congress to cut off military aid to the state of Israel. The letter, which repeated various canards about Israel committing war crimes against the Palestinians, represented a new low point in the campaign of liberal Christian clerics to isolate and to strip Israel of its ability to defend its citizens against attacks by Palestinian terror groups. This initiative is the culmination of years of agitation by left-wing critics of Israel to use these churches as a platform from which they can undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance and demonize the Jewish state. It made a mockery of decades of work by Jewish groups to form interfaith alliances with liberal groups. Indeed, it should be the effective death knell of cooperation on any issue or project between mainstream Jewish groups and the churches that signed on to this demand.

The letter earned the churches a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League as well as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. But the controversy doesn’t end there. Reverend Peter Makari, an official of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ and the leader of the church group that organized the letter, was not satisfied with merely appealing to Congress. He has now taken his campaign to the public. But in doing so, he has betrayed the sinister motive that is underneath the seemingly high-minded rhetoric that the churches employ. As the blog of the media watchdog CAMERA reports, Makari gave an interview to the American Free Press, a virulently anti-Semitic publication that has engaged in Holocaust denial. Though Israel’s critics insist that it is wrong to associate anti-Zionists with anti-Semitism, Makari illustrated that in this case, it is a distinction without a difference.

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Last month I wrote about the letter signed by the leaders of a number of the most prominent Protestant denominations in the country asking Congress to cut off military aid to the state of Israel. The letter, which repeated various canards about Israel committing war crimes against the Palestinians, represented a new low point in the campaign of liberal Christian clerics to isolate and to strip Israel of its ability to defend its citizens against attacks by Palestinian terror groups. This initiative is the culmination of years of agitation by left-wing critics of Israel to use these churches as a platform from which they can undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance and demonize the Jewish state. It made a mockery of decades of work by Jewish groups to form interfaith alliances with liberal groups. Indeed, it should be the effective death knell of cooperation on any issue or project between mainstream Jewish groups and the churches that signed on to this demand.

The letter earned the churches a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League as well as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. But the controversy doesn’t end there. Reverend Peter Makari, an official of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ and the leader of the church group that organized the letter, was not satisfied with merely appealing to Congress. He has now taken his campaign to the public. But in doing so, he has betrayed the sinister motive that is underneath the seemingly high-minded rhetoric that the churches employ. As the blog of the media watchdog CAMERA reports, Makari gave an interview to the American Free Press, a virulently anti-Semitic publication that has engaged in Holocaust denial. Though Israel’s critics insist that it is wrong to associate anti-Zionists with anti-Semitism, Makari illustrated that in this case, it is a distinction without a difference.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center describes AFP in this manner:

American Free Press (AFP) is regarded as the successor to the now defunct Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight. Willis Carto, one of America’s most notorious racists, is a founder of both. Carto is also the founder of the Holocaust-denying Institute For Historical Review. Some of the books that have been offered for sale by the AFP include The Judas Goats: The Enemy Within (details governmental infiltration of the American nationalist movement at the behest of “the alien force of international political Zionism”), The Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star, El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, and March of the Titans: A History of the White Race. The AFP site includes this quote in one of their essays: “Israel…is contributing to the unification and activation of the colored world for war against the colonial and other outsiders.”

The interview, which can be listened to here, can only be described as friendly and one in which the AFP and the church official are reading from the same hymnal. In it Makari, following the lead of his interviewer, seeks not only to demonize Israel but to delegitimize the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups as well as Jewish organizations that called them to account for their slanders of Israel.

The point here goes beyond the misleading arguments put forward by the letter. The intent there was to demonize Israeli self-defense and to set up a mechanism by which the Jewish state can be deprived of the means by which it defends itself. These are dangerous arguments, especially in the current context of the Hamas missile offensive in which millions of Israelis are being terrorized and threatened.

But by seeking to make common cause with a stronghold of Jew-hatred, Makari is outing himself, the church that employs him, and all the groups that signed on to his effort.

This is a point at which the leadership of these churches ought to rethink their willingness to be co-opted by anti-Israel activists. They now find themselves in bed with anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers.

As I wrote last month, the decision of these churches–the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., the American Friends Service Committee, and other groups, including the Catholic Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns–to attack Israel does not reflect the views of most of the rank and file members of these denominations or of most of the pastors of these congregations.

However, by allowing their good names to be associated with efforts to isolate and boycott Israel and now to join forces with vicious anti-Semites, these churches and their members have been compromised to the point where no Jewish group or, indeed, any decent person, should have anything to do with them.

Repairing this terrible problem will require a thorough change on the part of all of these churches and a determination not to allow their institutions to be part of an anti-Israel campaign. But the first step toward such a change must come with the firing of Makari by the United Church of Christ. Until that happens, the church must understand that it will be thought of as a partner of anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.

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