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Methodist Madness

Divesting from Israel.

11:00 PM, Feb 21, 2008 • By MARK TOOLEY
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ONE OF THE OLDEST Religious Left groups in America is targeting Israel for divestment. The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) was founded in 1907 after its leaders met with President Teddy Roosevelt. It was one of the Social Gospel's chief proponents in the early 20th century, when much of Mainline Protestantism was exchanging theological orthodoxy for progressive political action. Functioning as an influential caucus within America's once largest Protestant denomination, MFSA for decades has commanded the allegiance of bishops, church bureaucrats, and seminary professors.

Famously derided in the 1950's by Reader's Digest as Methodism's "pink fringe," the increasingly far-left church caucus was briefly marginalized after its infatuations with Stalinist Russia. But MFSA roared back with the counter-culture of the 1960's, vigorously promoting the welfare state, disarmament, and racial, and gender justice. In the 1970s and 1980s it enthusiastically embraced Liberation Theology, touting the Sandinistas and countless other revolutionaries. Of late, MFSA has focused on homosexual causes and "marriage equality."

But now MFSA is demanding that the 7.9 million member United Methodist Church divest from firms consorting with Israel. The church's official lobby arm, the Capitol Hill-based General Board of Church and Society, is more cautiously recommending divestment only against Caterpillar, Inc. for its bulldozer sales to Israel. In late April, the denomination's governing General Conference will decide whether to accede to the anti-Israel initiatives.

MFSA wants a "phased, selective divestment from companies supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and other violations of human rights in Israel/Palestine," according to MFSA's chief Kathryn Johnson. "Those who support selective divestment will be accused of being anti-Semitic," she admitted. "Pleas will be made to consider inter-faith relations." But Johnson countered that divestment to pressure the U.S. and Israeli governments is not anti-Semitic. Instead, it can be a "powerful nonviolent tool to change unjust policies that lead to massive suffering and human rights violations in Palestine." She confessed that ties to Jewish groups will be "strained" by divestment, requiring more "compassionate" dialogue. And she urged that "interfaith relationships" also should include Muslims.

The rationale for MFSA's divestment legislation declares: "The destruction of Palestinian homes and confiscation for Palestinian land is made possible by the use of armored bulldozers, helicopter gunships, tanks and other equipment that may have been purchased from the U.S. corporations in which the United Methodist Church may hold investments." If the MFSA proposal were approved, the United Methodist Church would give the targeted companies 60 days to "change" their ties to the "Israeli occupation." Absent this "change," all church entities would divest from that company.

Anti-Israel divestment would primarily involve the United Methodist Church's $17 billion pension portfolio. But it also would affect another nearly $1 billion in assets by the church's 13 national church agencies. And it presumably would affect the even more considerable assets of United Methodism's over 100 affiliated universities and colleges and about 60 hospitals and clinics. Especially wealthy United Methodist universities include Duke, Emory, Southern Methodist, Boston, and Drew. United Methodism has never before targeted governments for corporate divestment, not even South Africa under Apartheid.

But MFSA, along with many United Methodist elites, apparently believes that Israel is uniquely guilty among the world's numerous oppressor regimes. MFSA's January-February 2008 newsletter offers a rather sinister history of Israel. Muslims, Christians, and Jews had lived in "harmony" in Palestine for centuries until disrupted by "extremist" Zionists, whose zeal for a Jewish state provoked violence. "High-placed American Zionists" pressured the United Nations to "give away" most of Palestine to Jews, who avariciously went on to "conquer" three quarters of Palestine. The Jewish conquest advanced in 1967, when Israel launched a "Pearl Harbor-like surprise attack" on Egypt. Israel's continued "confiscation" of Palestinian land perpetuates injustice until this day, inevitably igniting Palestinian uprisings.