United Methodist Church in Florida votes against initiative backed by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who says Israelis ‘not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel.’
The majority of delegates at the plenary of the general conference of the United Methodist Church that convened in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday rejected an initiative to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, companies that trade with Israel.
Palestinian Christians behind the initiative, United Methodist Kairos Response, expressed disappointment with the decision, saying these three companies “profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and denial of Palestinian freedom.”
“The conference”, UMKR said in a statement, “faced a choice between standing with the oppressed as Jesus did, or yielding to fear. It appears that they yielded to fear as a result of misinformation spread about the consequences of supporting divestment.”
They noted, however, that they did score some success, as several regional churches decided independently to divest from these companies, and expressed hope other churches will follow their example. Additional success was seen in raising awareness. “The brutal reality of the Israeli occupation can no longer be hidden, and the myth that Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of Muslim pressure has been exposed as false. Palestinian Christians who traveled 6,000 miles to share their reality told delegates that they suffer alongside their Muslim neighbors from Israel’s occupation”, they wrote, pledging to continue their efforts “to inform and educate United Methodists and others about the plight of the Palestinians.”
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who recently endorsed the initiative, published an op-ed on Wednesday in the Tampa Bay Times, saying he reached the decision to support divestment from Israel “slowly and painfully.”
“I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government”, Archbishop Tutu wrote. “And I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades. But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel’s discriminatory course,” wrote Tutu.
Tutu also defined the letter by over 1200 American rabbis (http://rabbis-letter.org/) calling to the United Methodist and the American Presbyterian Church to reject the resolution as “sadly misguided.”
“My voice will always be raised in support of Christian-Jewish ties and against the anti-Semitism that all sensible people fear and detest”, he wrote. “But this cannot be an excuse for doing nothing and for standing aside as successive Israeli governments colonize the West Bank and advance racist laws,” wrote Tutu.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization representing Jewish community relations organizations in America, responded to the vote.
“The rejection of divestment is a welcome outcome and a relief to me and the over 1,200 American rabbis who signed an unprecedented letter to Church delegates offering partnership in peacemaking and warning that divestment would undermine ongoing efforts for peace and damage interfaith relations,” said Gustow in a statement released by the JCPA.