In the last year, many in the pro-Israel community have been expressing satisfaction about the fact that the campaign for divestment from Israel has been losing ground on college campuses, as well as within the leadership of Protestant churches. News, however, about the publication of a "study guide" on the Middle East by the United Methodist Church should dissipate any such illusions by those who thought the battle was already won.
The Methodist pamphlet has come to light in the context of a renewed push within that church group for the adoption of punitive measures against companies that do business in Israel. The UMC, the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States, will consider the issue at an April gathering in Texas.
The necessity of beating back this assault on Israel by a mainstream Christian group is particularly frustrating since the solid decision of the Presbyterians, who initially supported divestment in 2004, to back away from this decision two years later.
That was a triumph for Jewish community-relations groups who worked hard to educate that church group as to the damage that their decisions might have on any chances for peace, as well as for rank-and-file Presbyterians who knew their faith was being hijacked by anti-Israel extremists.
Unfortunately, the Methodists appear to be undergoing a similar struggle. The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have rightly termed the Methodist "study guide" as an exercise in demonization of the State of Israel. In this case — as in other instances of churches being pushed into attack mode — sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians has morphed into a tacit sympathy for those who are trying to destroy the Jewish state. In the case of the Methodists, their rhetoric borders on hate speech.
As in previous cases of mainline denominations flirting with anti-Zionism, it is incumbent on people of goodwill to make it clear to the Methodists what's at stake in this debate. Those who cloak their refusal to accept the right of Jews to defend themselves in the mantle of support for human rights are charlatans. Divestment from Israel is a form of economic warfare, not a gesture of support for peace. Churches that adopt such measures, or publish vicious and unbalanced attacks on Israel, cannot expect to then go about and conduct normal interfaith relations with their Jewish neighbors in this country. While this topic is on the table, business as usual remains simply impossible.
As was the case with the Presbyterians, most Methodists are largely unaware that extremists seek to use their faith's good name to bash Israel. We urge all members of the Jewish community to reach out to our Methodist neighbors to educate them as to the truth of the situation and to support efforts to beat back this attempt to delegitimize America's sole democratic Middle Eastern ally.