Pro-Peace, Not Anti-Israel

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The Methodists appear to be on to something: a realization that the Middle East is not a zero-sum game.

Over the last several years, mainline Protestant denominations have become increasingly active in their opposition to Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, known to the rest of the world as the West Bank. The territory is where Palestinians hope one day to establish a state. In support of that effort, the churches have turned to selective boycotts, appearing to coordinate their efforts with such groups as Students for Justice in Palestine and the International Solidarity Movement. In 2014, for example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from companies that profit from Israeli construction and military activities in the West Bank. And a year later, the United Church of Christ followed suit.
When the 12-million-member United Methodist Church considered four such resolutions at its quadrennial General Conference in Portland, Ore. this month, many pro-Israel groups expected more of the same. But that didn’t happen. Resolutions that called for divesting from three companies that were accused of working with Israeli security forces to sustain Israel’s settlement movement — Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola — were defeated. To the surprise of many, rather than becoming yet another Protestant endorser of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the Methodists effectively said “no.”
Then, another vote — a nonbinding petition that called for the church’s mission agency to cut ties with a group founded to end Israel’s presence in the West Bank — passed 478-318. The petition was noteworthy because it called the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation a “one-sided political coalition” that seeks to isolate Israel “while overlooking anti-Israel aggression,” and it noted that “blaming only one side while ignoring the wrongdoing of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran will not advance the cause of peace.”
The Methodists appear to be on to something: a realization that the Middle East is not a zero-sum game. Instead, they appear to now realize that you can be pro-peace, and still be pro-Israel. What comes with that is the more important understanding that if you are more anti-Israel than you are pro-peace — meaning that you are trying to delegitimize Israel in the guise of seeking peace — you are not really a friend of peace.
More than a decade ago, the seeds of the BDS movement were planted in Presbyterian conferences and resolutions. It spread from there to a number of college campuses and beyond. By breaking from the pack, the Methodists may be signaling that it is time to stop targeting Israel and to change the focus from punishing Israel to trying to do something to end the conflict. We hope this is the case.

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