The Jewish community is organizing against anti-Israel resolutions that will be voted on in the next few months by three prominent Protestant denominations in this country, and one religious group with Christian roots.
The United Methodist General Conference (May 10-20), the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (June 18-25) and the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (June 22-26) will vote on resolutions that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically isolate Israel.
Members of local Jewish communities, coordinated by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America, are meeting with representatives of the individual churches to encourage votes against the resolutions, said Ethan Felson, executive director of the Israel Action Network, a joint project of JCPA and JFNA.
“We have our work cut out for us” in trying to convince members of the various churches to support Israel at their respective denominations’ national conferences this summer, Felson said. “It’s definitely a challenging climate.”
“Some of it is the confluence of when these groups meet,” said Rabbi David Sandmel, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of interfaith affairs, who has also participated in the anti-BDS effort. “This stuff has been going on in the churches for over a decade.”
In recent years, several Protestant denominations in the United States have defeated pro-BDS resolutions, but the votes in support of Israel, after active lobbying by Jewish and Christian supporters of the Jewish state, have decreased each time.
Some Protestant groups like the Episcopalians and Southern Baptists have consistently rejected such resolutions or not considered them in the first place, Rabbi Sandmel said.
“The activists within the churches for whom this is an important issue represent a minority within their churches,” Rabbi Sandmel said. “They have the ability to put these things on the agenda — these are the ‘mainline’ or liberal Protestant churches.”
The resolution to be considered at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly declares that “Israel’s nearly half-century-old military and governance systems for maintaining its occupation … violate the basic principles of our Unitarian Universalist faith.” The text cites five corporations — Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise and G4S — as “complicit in severe abuses of human rights.”
While BDS resolutions have become common at the Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran national conferences, a resolution urging divestment from U.S. firms that do business in the West Bank or whose products are considered part of Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians, are emerging as an issue among Unitarian Universalists, a liberal faith based on “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association announced recently that it will divest from “several companies” that are involved in “human rights abuses and environmental degradation” as part of a “human rights screen focusing on conflict zones.”
The UUA did not respond to the Jewish Week’s questions asking which other countries are subject to its divestment action and how much money is invested in businesses with ties to Israel.
The dollar figures are less significant than the anti-Israel publicity created by such BDS resolutions, Felson said. “It’s always symbolic.”