What the United Methodist Church Got Right

  • by:
    • Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League
  • June 5, 2016

The General Conference of United Methodist Church recently concluded its quadrennial gathering, which this year was held in Portland, Oregon. I and many others in the Jewish community, not to mention many Christians as well, were pleased with the outcome of a number of votes on resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Inter alia, the Church rejected resolutions calling for divestment or for investment screens targeted at Israel. It voted to withdraw its membership from US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation – one of the leading anti-Israel, pro-BDS organizations in the country — stating that to blame “one side while ignoring the wrong-doings of Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel will not advance the cause of peace.”

Furthermore, the General Conference voted to encourage “our members around the world to develop a balanced understanding of the concerns and perspectives of both Palestinians and Israelis, being careful to lift up the voices of those victims of violence and injustice across the region, and rejecting oversimplified efforts to simply “blame” one side or the other, even as we encourage United Methodist to join in prayer for “the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) and all of those who call it home.”

Lest anyone think that the United Methodist Church has abandoned either its criticism of Israel or its support for Palestinian rights, there is plenty of criticism in the resolutions that were approved. One, citing an earlier resolution, states: “The United Methodist Church opposes continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the continued building of illegal Jewish settlements, and any vision of a ‘Greater Israel’ that includes the occupied territories and the whole of Jerusalem and its surroundings…” Another calls for Israel to “provide the same access to water and electricity in the West Bank as settlers in the area receive to recognize existing to titles to land in the West Bank which Palestinians hold.” This same resolution said that “Palestinians face systematic discrimination, depriving them of electricity, schools, and access to roads …”

So why, one is tempted to ask, do I consider this a positive outcome? The answer is really quite simple. We in the Jewish community do not, in principle, object to criticism of Israeli policy. Israel is a modern, secular nation-state and its policies, like those of any nation-state, can be criticized. Indeed, as a colleague of mine likes to say, criticism of Israel in the Jewish national sport! Just take a look at a selection of Israeli or Jewish media on any given day to see just how vibrant is the intra-Jewish debate on Israel’s policies.

However, what we do object to is criticism that is unfair, unbalanced, or denies the right of Israel to exist.

In addition to the call for a balanced understanding cited above, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church unequivocally stated these basic principles in several of its resolutions. For example, “… we affirm Israel’s right to permanent, recognized and secure borders…” Or, the Church should “actively seek a way to promote a just and lasting peace and cooperation that will lead to a two-state solution…, an end to the current occupation and violence, and the creation of a viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.” In so doing, the Church neither silenced nor compromised its moral voice; rather, it has enhanced it and given it greater creditability by acknowledging and affirming the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, and by committing itself to being an honest partner for peace and a church that works for reconciliation.

We hope other faith communities can uphold these same constructive principles.

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