Showing posts with label churches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label churches. Show all posts

Friday, June 21, 2013

More United Methodists Divest From Companies Supporting Israel’s Occupation

Press release from our member group United Methodist Kairos Response. 

Four United Methodist annual or regional conferences (New England, Minnesota, Pacific Northwest and Upper New York) have voted this month to divest or have their funds divested from companies involved with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. They joined five other conferences (West Ohio, New York, Northern Illinois, California Nevada and California Pacific) which had already taken similar action, bringing the total to nine regional bodies representing thousands of churches.  

The companies targeted in the recent resolutions included Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Hewlett Packard and, in one case, General Electric. All play significant roles in the occupation. 

In addition, at least five other conferencesi have asked the denomination’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to divest its holdings in companies that profit from the occupation.  Two more conferences, Susquehanna and Eastern Pennsylvania, established official task forces this month to examine the issue. 

As United Methodists learn about Israel’s land confiscation, home demolitions, and the segregated systems of transportation, water, and laws that discriminate against Christians and Muslims, there is a strong sense that the church must act.  Palestinian Christians have called on churches around the world to help end the occupation of their land.ii 

According to John Wagner of United Methodist Kairos Response, “Our denomination has a long history of upholding human rights around the world. The question now is whether we will bring the same resolve to the situation in the Holy Land, where our fellow Christians have asked for our help.”

The divestment movement has gained momentum as illegal Israeli settlements expand on Palestinian land and Israeli attacks on Christians and Muslims increase.  In 2012, Friends Fiduciary Committee, which handles investments for the Quaker denomination, divested from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Veolia Environnement because of their involvement in the occupation. This spring, the Mennonite Church and the American Friends Service Committee declared twenty nine companies profiting from the occupation ineligible for investment.

Divestment is a nonviolent form of economic protest long used to encourage companies to end unjust practices.  The church has engaged for yearsiii in dialog with Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola Solutions about their role in Israel’s occupation. Those calling for divestment say it will strengthen the church in future negotiations by providing a consequence for ignoring the church’s concerns.  

In 2012, Caterpillar stock was downgraded by MSCI, a prestigious ratings agency, and then dropped from the socially responsible portfolios of the giant US pension fund, TIAA CREF, which divested $72 million of Caterpillar stock.  At that time the company’s role in the occupation was given as a reason.iv  Large European pension funds have also divested from companies involved with the occupation.  According to Susanne Hoder of the New England Conference, “Divestment is a good move financially and an essential move morally for the church.”

About UMKR: United Methodist Kairos Response is a global grassroots network of laity and clergy within the United Methodist Church working to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.  Responding to an urgent call from Palestinian Christians, UMKR advocates principled investment decisions and consumer choices that will have an impact on the occupation.  Through research, education and advocacy, UMKR supports non-violent means of securing a just peace for all the peoples of Israel and Palestine. For more information, see 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Join Us to Deliver 30,000 Signatures of Support to Church Leaders

Tomorrow is the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. We and our friends at Kairos USA will be delivering more than 30,000 signatures of support to the 15 courageous church leaders who called on Congress to investigate Israel's misuse of U.S. weapons. 

If you're in DC, please join us for a press conference tomorrow, Thursday, November 29 at 10:00am at the United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Ave. NE. If you can't make it in person, watch the live-stream of the event from anywhere in the world. 

Calls for ending military aid to Israel are increasing, especially after this latest assault on Gaza that killed 130 Palestinians, including 30 children. Today 52 leading international figures released a statement "Now is the time for a military embargo on Israel!" 
Military ties with Israel have fueled relentless acts of aggression. Israel continues to entrench its subjugation of Palestinians while provoking or initiating armed conflict with its neighbors in the region.
Israel’s attempt to justify this kind of illegal use of belligerent and disproportionate military force as “self-defense” does not stand up to legal — or moral — scrutiny, as states cannot invoke self-defense for acts that serve to defend an unlawful situation which they have created in the first place[2].
We therefore support the call from Palestinian civil society for an urgent and comprehensive military embargo on Israel as an effective, non-violent measure to stop Israel’s wars and repression and to bring about Israel’s compliance with its obligations under international law. This is now a moral and legal imperative to achieve a just and comprehensive peace.
Signatories include Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Perez Esquível, former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters, Directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, international best-seller Naomi Klein and co-drafter of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Holocaust survivor Stéphane Hessel. Read the full letter with complete list of signatories

You can organize to end U.S. military aid to Israel by signing up on our website

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pro-Israel Groups React to Church Letter Challenging US Military Aid

Our National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner was interviewed about the recent letter sent by 15 prominent church leaders to Members of Congress regarding U.S. military aid to Israel. The letter decried “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians" and called for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act” and for the “withholding of military aid for non-compliance” with these laws. Thank the church leaders for their important letter.

Jewish, Christian Groups Clash Over U.S. Aid to Israel
by Mitchell Plitnick
October 23, 2012

Jewish groups have reacted furiously to a letter to Congress by 15 leaders of Christian denominations asking for a review of whether some of the three billion dollars in annual United States aid to Israel is being used in violation of U.S. law and policies.

After pulling out of an interfaith dialogue conference, several Jewish groups stepped up their attacks on the Christian leaders, accusing them of bias against Israel and even of anti-Semitism.

The Christians’ letter stated that they believed that the unconditional U.S. aid given to Israel contributes to the “deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace… sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The letter was sent to Congress by leaders of such prominent Protestant denominations as the Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches (USA), among others. 

It called for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.’” 

The church leaders state that their concerns are based on witnessing the questionable use of U.S. weapons firsthand as well as the annual report of the U.S. State Department, which, they say, “details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.” 

Jewish groups, led by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), responded angrily. The JCPA stated, “(The churches’) stony silence to the use of anti-Judaism and relentless attacks on the Jewish state, often from within their own ranks, speaks loudly to their failure to stand up and speak the whole truth about what is occurring in the Middle East.” 

The criticism spanned a wide spectrum of U.S.-Jewish politics. Prominent neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. official who also headed the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he frequently clashed with church peace groups, called it “the latest chapter in the unending hostility to Israel that has marked several of the mainline Protestant denominations.” 

Abrams, like the more mainstream Jewish groups, sees the letter as motivated by hostility toward Israel. Like them, he does not engage directly with the substance of the letter, nor does he answer the charges of systematic human rights abuses by Israel, but instead raises questions not directly related to the letter’s content to support his contention that the letter is motivated by anti-Israel malice. 

And, while Abrams is surely correct in asserting that “It is unlikely that the churches’ letter will affect the level of aid to Israel,” he does not explain why, if that is the case, such a wide spectrum of the Jewish community has reacted so strongly to it. 

The centrist J Street was just as critical as Abrams, though with a far more conciliatory tone. In an op-ed on Newsweek’s Daily Beast web site, the vice president of their education fund, Rachel Lerner wrote: “J Street opposes proposals to condition or cut security assistance to Israel…As with so many efforts to address this complex situation, the letter fails to weigh criticism of Israel’s behavior with appropriate criticism of, for instance, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas. 

“We also question the timing of the letter - coming as it does a few short weeks before Election Day, when this sensitive issue has already become too much of a political football.” 

These specifics were cited by Abrams, the JCPA and the ADL as well. But the letter asks not for a cut or conditioning of aid, but a review of whether that aid is being given in compliance with U.S. law, something that has been done frequently with U.S. foreign aid. 

The letter also makes several mentions of Israeli hardships, specifically rockets fired from Gaza, and consistently equates Israeli and Palestinian suffering. 

“Over the years, a number of members of Congress have asked the State Department to report on whether specific incidents constituted violations of the Arms Export Control Act, Foreign Assistance Act or other U.S. laws by Israel,” Joshua Ruebner, the National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told IPS. 

“Even though the State Department’s annual report on human rights in the Occupied Territories regularly documents abuses, the reports come back clean every time. Even though the Christian leaders’ letter asks for a comprehensive review, which has never been done before, the Jewish groups’ response seems like an overreaction.” 

Continue Reading at IPS

Monday, July 30, 2012

Divestment Debate Highlights Shift in Mainstream Opinion

Phyllis Bennis is a member of the US Campaign Steering Committee. She will be on the opening panel of our National Organizers' Conference in St. Louis Friday, September 21 at 7:00pm discussing the Arab uprisings and how changes in the region affect our organizing to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine. Register today

The mainstream U.S. press, paying unusual attention to U.S. corporate complicity in Israel's occupation, wrote quite extensively about last week's Presbyterian campaign for corporate social responsibility. Virtually all the headlines focused on the two million-strong Presbyterian Church (USA) decision not to divest from multi-national corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation and settlement policies. 

"In Close Vote, Presbyterian Church Rejects Divesting in Firms That Aid Israeli Occupation,"
said the New York Times. The Associated Press reported, "US Presbyterians Reject Israel Divestment." According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Presbyterians Reject Call to Divest over Israel's West Bank Occupation." 

It took Ha'aretz, the leading Israeli daily, to get it right: "
Presbyterian Church in U.S. votes to boycott Israeli settlement goods," their headline read. 

The voting at the Pittsburgh meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) -- PC (USA) -- was the latest step in an eight-year campaign to bring the Church's investment policies into line with its commitment to social justice. It had tried for those eight years to persuade the multinational corporations to stop enabling Israeli violations of international law -- an effort that Church leaders overwhelmingly agreed had failed. Presbyterian corporate responsibility activists, led by their Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, had moved from studying, to attempting to engage with corporate leadership, to shareholder actions, all aimed at pressing for accountability in those corporations in which the Church had invested millions of dollars. 

The Assembly approved a call to boycott all Israeli settlement-made goods (stronger than the original proposal), and to urge all other countries to boycott such goods. The Church had earlier called for suspending U.S. military aid to Israel. The proposal calling for divestment from specific corporations profiting from occupation and militarism, was ultimately taken off the table when a razor-thin majority (333-331 with two abstentions) approved a substitute motion calling for a vote on investment in Palestinian enterprises instead. 

Continue Reading on The Huffington Post

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Investment without Divestment Entrenches Occupation

When the Presbyterian Church USA passed a resolution earlier this month encouraging "positive investment" in the Palestinian economy instead of divesting from Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola Solutions for profiting from Israel's military occupation, it highlighted a continued major flaw in thinking about how to end Israel's military occupation. 

The idea that economic development alone can help bring about peace may have gained traction a few years ago when the Palestinian Authority and its supporters were boasting of the various state development projects taking place in the West Bank. But as Palestinian-American business development consultant Sam Bahour points out in his piece "Palestine's Investments Require Divestment," today various international organizations including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund admit that Israeli control over all aspects of Palestinian life severely restricts economic development. "Over the years, not only has Israel prohibited the emergence of a new Palestinian economy -- it structurally and systematically has made certain that even the buds of such a productive economy would never see the light of day," he writes. 

The idea of an economic peace, which Bibi Netanyahu insisted back in 2008 would help make a political solution more accessible, seems even more ludicrous today. Settlements continue to expand and an Israeli-government appointed commission recently declared that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is actually not occupation. About 85 percent of the apartheid wall, which Israel started constructing ten years ago, will be within the West Bank when it is completed, annexing 530 sq km of Palestinian land- the area of Chicago- and trapping 350,000 Palestinians between it and the Green Line. And the blockade on Gaza continues, keeping 1.4 million Palestinians entrapped in an open-air prison.

The Presbyterian Church and others can continue investing in Palestine, but without pressure on Israel to end the occupation, no amount of investment will actually bring peace and justice. "After all, we don't want a more beautiful prison to live in," Sam writes. "We want the prison walls dividing Palestinians from Palestinians to come down, and that won't happen unless economic pressure is placed on Israel to end the occupation."

Read Palestine's Investments Require Divestment on The Huffington Post

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Those Defending Israel’s Actions are Fighting a Losing Battle

Anna Baltzer is National Organizer with the US Campaign. 

There is a moment, just before a pendulum changes direction, when it is perfectly still. It is precisely that moment that marks the end of an old way and the beginning of a new one. That is what happened for divestment at the 2012 Presbyterian Church USA (PC(USA)) General Assembly in Pittsburgh. 

At the General Assembly, a coalition of groups
rallied to support the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) in its efforts to pass a recommendation from the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard due to the companies’ profiting from the Israeli occupation. The IPMN also sought to pass an overture to boycott settlement products Ahava Dead Sea Mineral Skincare and Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers in addition to other pro-justice overtures

The week began with
a historic victory in the Middle East and Peacemaking Issues Committee considering divestment and boycott. The committee voted overwhelmingly—by a more than three to one margin—to recommend both measures to the General Assembly.  The deliberations lasted more than ten hours and included a sincere and often times difficult discussion about what it meant to them to stand with the oppressed, to withstand accusatory bullying, and to vote according to their conscience. 

When it came to the boycott overture, the committee decided that boycotting Ahava and Hadiklaim simply was not enough to address the abhorrent nature of occupation. Instead,
it amended the resolution to boycott “all Israeli products coming from the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and calling on “all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.” The amended boycott overture passed in plenary by a huge margin, seventy-one percent. In doing so, the PC(USA) joins the United Methodist Church in endorsing a boycott of all Israeli settlement products. This is a major victory. According to Jeff Deyoe, Advocacy Chair of IPMN, as recent as two years ago, the word “boycott” could not even be uttered in the Church. 

The boycott victory was bittersweet. While the Church supported boycott, its vote on divestment proved more difficult. The vote to substitute divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard with investment came out split 50-50, 333 to 331 to be exact. The divestment option failed by one vote, as the investment substitution needed a majority to pass, and thus it would have been defeated by a tie.
One woman subsequently approached the microphone to say she had accidentally voted against divestment and wanted a recount, but by then it was too late. 

To describe it as a close vote is an understatement, as indicated by a breakdown of the overall votes. The majority of the 221 advisory delegates, who advise the commissioners but do not have an official vote, voted against the substitution. They included the Young Adult Advisory Delegates, who represent the future leadership of the Church. Virtually all Church leadership and advocacy groups supported divestment including the General Assembly Mission Council, the Advocacy Committee on Racial and Ethnic Concerns, and key members of the Board of Pensions demonstrating institutional support within the Church for divestment. In other words, the voting commissioners may have been split, but the Church, overall, supports divestment. 

Continue Reading on Jadaliyya

Monday, July 9, 2012

"If you truly want to help the Palestinian people, I urge you to listen to what they are asking for."

Our National Organizer Anna Baltzer gave the following testimony to the Presbyterian Church (USA) Middle East Peacemaking Committee on Monday, July 2, 2012 regarding divestment. She was serving as a Resource Person for the Advocacy Committee on Racial & Ethnic Concerns. 

If you are interested in learning more about church divestment efforts as well as other BDS campaigns in the United States, please register for our 11th Annual National Organizers' Conference taking place September 21-23 at St. Louis University. 

Thank you, Mr. Moderator. 

I defer to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee to answer your questions regarding the internal process of engagement with the companies leading to the recommendation to divest. Coming from my perspective as a Jewish American who has lived in Palestine, I can speak to the two other main concerns I have heard regarding Jewish-Christian relations and investment being a positive alternative to divestment. 

Friends, I am not up here as a Jew to tell that it’s okay for you to divest. Because you do not need my permission to do whatever you think is the righteous thing to do. You don’t need anybody’s permission. 

I realize that divestment is controversial. That’s okay. Slavery was controversial. The Church was divided. Desegregation was controversial. Especially in the South, people were afraid of damaging relationships if they spoke out for desegregation. But the Presbyterian Church supported an end to segregation before it was common. I urge you to honor that legacy by acting today out of love and compassion rather than fear of what others will say.

You are being told that action against the occupation will estrange you from the Jewish people. But the occupation is fundamentally contrary to our shared values of equality and justice. 

There is nothing Jewish about racial profiling with Hewlett Packard bioscanners.

There is nothing Jewish about protecting stolen land with Motorola technology.
There is nothing Jewish about demolishing Palestinian homes with Caterpillar bulldozers.
And to claim that ending cooperation with these human rights violations means ending cooperation with Judaism, or Jews, draws a very dangerous parallel. There is a sea change happening. Jews are divided on this issue. You have to follow your own conscience. 

Regarding the idea of investment as a positive alternative to divestment, let me point out first that there is nothing neutral about profiting from the destruction of Palestinian homes and schools, as you are today. To stop profiting from those things, to divest, is not negative -- it’s positive. 

Investment can also be positive, but it should be practical. No Palestinian economy can endure without access to land, water, goods, or labor. Checkpoints using HP bioscanners prevent workers from reaching work or transporting products. Settlements surrounded by Motorola cameras make it impossible for Palestinians to reach their land and resources. And anything you build can be destroyed in a flash with Caterpillar bulldozers. 

For 170 years, your church has chosen the model of mission in partnership rather than missionary work, recognizing the importance of listening to the voices and choices of those you are trying to help. Why do mission in partnership in Africa and South America, but not in the land where Jesus walked? 

Right now, the Palestinians are not asking for you to invest in their economy. They are asking you to stop investing in and profiting from their suffering. They are asking you to engage in divestment, a time-tested, nonviolent, faithful act of love. 

Giving charity can also be loving. But dismissing Palestinian voices is not loving. It’s patronizing.

If you truly want to help the Palestinian people, I urge you to listen to what they are asking for. 

Thank you. 

Thank you to the
Israel Palestine Mission Network and Jewish Voice for Peace for ideas on some of the above talking points.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Failing Boycott Campaign?

The claim that BDS efforts are failing is a favorite of pro-Israel opponents of BDS. Just this past weekend, in reaction to Madonna performing her "peace concert" Israel, the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed that comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa were "a specious and desperate effort by a failing boycott campaign." 

Let's list some of these "failures" in the past few months:
  • Arizona State University student government votes to divest from Israel
  • Student-Run Cafe at The Evergreen State College Announces Boycott of Israeli Products
  • South Africa and Denmark to correctly label Israeli settlement products
  • World United Methodist Church Recommends Boycotts & Sanctions
  • UK Co-op boycotts exports from Israel's West Bank settlements
  • UMASS- Boston Student Senate Passes Resolution Calling for Divestment from Boeing
  • M.E.Ch.A., the largest association of Latin@ youth in the United States, voted to endorse BDS call
  • Two US Delegations Endorse BDS and Call for Action in the United States
  • Madonna may have played in Israel and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have yet to cancel their planned performance (more than 6,000 people have signed a petition asking them to respect the BDS call) but the list of artists who have cancelled concerts and events in Israel include the late Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello, the Pixies, Mike Leigh, Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System. Coldplay, U2 and Bruce Springsteen have declined invitations to play in Israel without supporting the boycott publicly.
If BDS were such a failure, why then waste time filing lawsuits, urging people to buy Israeli products or spending millions of dollars to fight against BDS efforts? 

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will vote on divestment from Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions next month. Sign this letter of support and check out other ways you can get involved in BDS work

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Palestinian Christians Urge United Methodists to Divest

Palestinian Christians published an open letter to delegates to the United Methodist General Conference urging them to support the church's resolution to divest from three corporations--Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard--that are profiting from Israel's military occupation of Palestinian lands.

The letter implores delegates not to be misled down the false path of "positive investment" as an alternative to divestment.  As the signatories argue, "Many of you may be tempted to support 'positive investment' in Palestine as an alternative to divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation. We sincerely believe that no amount of positive investment under Israel’s harsh occupation can truly alleviate the suffering of Palestinians and correct the injustice against them."

The United Methodists will likely vote on this resolution today.  To watch the deliberations LIVE, you can go and choose the option for live-streaming.

If you can't watch, there will be minute-to-minute updates on Twitter at: 
  • #gc2012 (this will have stuff on all resolutions, not just divestment)
  • #churchdivest
  • @UMKairosResp
  • @US_Campaign
  • @jvplive
  • Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    Update from Tampa on Methodist Divestment Vote

    US Campaign National Organizer Anna Baltzer and Steering Committee member Sydney Levy write from Tampa where they provide an upbeat assessment of the impending vote of the United Methodist Church resolution on divestment from companies profiting from Israeli military occupation.

    Check out their article, "The Push for Divestment Continues as the Methodist General Conference Enters Its Second Week" on Mondoweiss.

    Palestinian Methodist Missionary and Pastor Alex Awad outside the Tampa convention center where the Methodist divestment vote will take place. (Photo: Anna Baltzer)
    The Methodist vote is scheduled to take place sometime today.  You can watch a live-stream of the proceedings  by clicking here. 

    Also, be sure to follow the live-Tweeting from the Methodist conference at the following hash tags and Twitter handles:
  • #gc2012 
  • #churchdivest
  • @UMKairosResp
  • @US_Campaign
  • @jvplive

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Anna Baltzer on United Methodist Divestment

    Anna Baltzer is National Organizer at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of "Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories." To learn more about this divestment resolution being considered by the United Methodist Church in 2012, visit

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Take action: Support United Methodist Church divestment campaign

    UMKR and FOSNA are coalition members of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

    United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) is an international movement in the United Methodist Church responding to the "Kairos Palestine Document," an urgent plea from Christians in the Holy Land for decisive action supporting a just peace in Israel/Palestine. 

    UMKR is working to put actions behind the denomination's words and seeks to align the church's investments with its resolutions opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. To that end, members of UMKR have written a resolution that would direct UMC boards and agencies to divest from corporations that sustain and profit from the occupation. FOSNAhas already endorsed this resolution as a group and now we are asking YOU to please endorse as an individual!

    This legislation will go to the UMC's next General Conference, being held in Tampa, Florida, April 25-May 5, 2012.

    Please take action TODAY:
    1. CLICK HERE to endorse the United Methodist Kairos Response resolution as an individual.
    2. CLICK HERE to sign a petition if you participate in services provided by the UMC General Board of Pension & Health Benefits.
    3. Email if you are interested in volunteering to help pass this resolution.

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Anti-BDS campaigner out of step with pro-BDS consensus of her Catholic order

    As Mondoweiss' Alex Kane reports, in upcoming assemblies of the national United Methodist and Presbyterian church bodies, leading the fight against resolutions of divestment from companies profiting from Israel's occupation and settlements will be Sister Ruth Lautt, the national director of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East (CFWME), and a member of the Dominican sisters order of nuns (Roman Catholic).

    Kane's investigation of donation tax records to CFWME show that the organization's funders are also linked to illegal West Bank settlements. The settlement-funders who contribute to CFWME stand in stark contrast to the Dominican order's position on Israel/Palestine. The order's "call to justice" which Lautt's New York-based branch signed onto, calls for prayer and support for the Palestinian United Nations bid for statehood. It also expresses firm support for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The website Dominican Life USA provides access to US Campaign resources.

    Kane gathered some insight from David Wildman, who serves on the US Campaign's Steering Committee and as Executive Secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice with the United Methodist Church's Board of Global Ministries:
    “It gears itself, I think, towards otherwise liberal congregations” ... Wildman, a critic of CFWME, also described the organization as an “attack group” that seeks to “block other efforts at achieving a just peace.”

    Christian group dedicated to derailing divestment bankrolled by settler-funding philanthropy

    by Alex Kane on January 5, 2012

    When United Methodists converge on Tampa, Florida this Spring, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) holds its general assembly in early July, the question of divestment from companies that profit off of the Israeli occupation will once again attract significant attention. Delegates at these church wide meetings will be confronted by an array of attacks on any resolution that promotes divestment as one route to pressure Israel and its control over the occupied Palestinian territories. And a familiar face to the delegates will be leading the fight against these resolutions: Sister Ruth Lautt, the national director of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East (CFWME).

    Lautt is a member of the Dominican sisters order of nuns (Roman Catholic) and a former lawyer. Her organization, which she runs on her own (though there is a board), says it “advocate[s]” for “fairness” in American church dealings related to Israel/Palestine. In practice, this has meant leading delegations to Israel, promoting “positive investment” in the region instead of divestment, and working “behind-the-scenes” at religious conventions, “helping opponents of divestment draft motions [and] applying persuasion at the subcommittee and committee levels,” as the New York Times has reported.

    But an analysis of donations to the organization reveals a much more complicated picture that raises questions about CFWME’s professed mission and their role in church politics on Israel. My investigation of donation tax records to CFWME show that the organization's budget has more than doubled since its founding through the support of funders linked to illegal West Bank settlements and promoting Islamophobia in the U.S.


    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    The Power of an Insurrectionary Imagination

    By Jody Scholz
    US Campaign intern
    I recently had the good fortune of attending a conference in Atlanta sponsored by US Campaign coalition member group Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA). The conference, From Birmingham to Bethlehem: The Power of Nonviolence in the US and Palestine-Israel, featured a variety of workshops and plenary speakers linking the nonviolent resistance of the US Civil Rights movement to the ongoing nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and apartheid. Legendary civil rights activist Dr. Bernard LaFayette implored conference attendees to join in solidarity actions with the Palestinian Freedom Riders, Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall spoke of her trip to the West Bank in June as part of a US delegation of women of color feminists, led by US Campaign Advisory Board member Barbara Ransby, which subsequently endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Kennesaw State University Professor Jesse Benjamin led a packed workshop on whiteness in the Jewish-Christian Zionist embrace, and US Campaign National Organizer Anna Baltzer gave a dynamic presentation chronicling expanding apartheid conditions on the ground in Palestine-Israel eloquently advocating for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a powerful form of nonviolent resistance.
    FOSNA has organized 33 regional conferences across the US over the last nine years and they have several scheduled for next year. If you have the opportunity to attend one, I would highly encourage you to do so. It was a challenging and richly rewarding experience.
    In keeping with FOSNA’s mission of engaging North American Christians on the issue of a just peace in the Holy Land, many of the workshops focused on the moral, legal and theological basis from which US churches can work to end US complicity in the occupation. One of the recurring points of discussion throughout the conference was how US churches should respond to calls for “balance” when discussing the Palestine-Israel conflict. This is a particularly tricky issue for progressive US churches, many of whom feel a need to atone for Christian anti-Semitism and complicity in the Holocaust, and have admirably dedicated themselves to building relations with the Jewish community via interfaith dialogue and reconciliation.
    While invoking the need for balance in discussing the conflict seems reasonable enough, it is almost always employed as way of normalizing the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. Several conference speakers, notably author and activist Mark Braverman, noted that in practice this means interfaith dialogue far too often results in Christian theologians refusing to condemn or even discuss Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians. And where there is criticism of Israel, it is almost always accompanied by recognition of Israeli suffering as somehow on par with the suffering of Palestinians living under the scourge of apartheid and occupation. The apparent reasonableness of entreaties for balance and dialogue helps explain why normalization is such an insidiously powerful and effective discourse.
    The issue of normalization was also the focus of a skills-building workshop led by a Columbia University SJP member, cartoonist and solidarity activist Ethan Heitner, and US Campaign National Organizer Anna Baltzer at last month’s National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference. Columbia SJP and Adalah-NY, of which Heitner is a member, are both US Coalition member groups. Palestinian solidarity organizations on US campuses are often challenged by Zionist student groups to organize events together to present both perspectives of the conflict. In order to help student groups (and other solidarity activists) better understand and explain how normalization legitimizes Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, Keilani and Heitner created a comic. The comic, titled “Nothing Normal About It,” does a great job of bringing to life how normalization misdirects attention away from Israeli crimes and frustrates our efforts to educate people in the US about the conflict.

    As we continue to confront the discourse of normalization in the US, we must remember the importance of speaking differently. Our challenge is to articulate narratives that move beyond the entrenched vocabulary of the dominant discourse. This discourse serves not only to limit the scope of permissible discussion, but it also works to demoralize our spirits (so aptly depicted in the comic) and lock our imaginations. Cultural activism of the kind embodied by Keilani and Heitner’s comic enables us to question the dominant ways of seeing things and to present alternative views of the world because it opens up our imaginations, or what Jennifer Verson has referred to as our “insurrectionary imagination”:
    An insurrectionary imagination is at the heart of cultural activism. It is a sense of possibility that is not limited by copying a pattern or following a design that somebody else created, or by what Augusto Boal (2002) calls the “cop in the head.” We all have that voice, the one that tells us our ideas are stupid, they won’t work out, they are too difficult or are bound to fail.
    Cultural activism relies on killing the cop in your head and expressly tries to develop this insurrectionary imagination to create performances and actions. This living practice addresses complicated questions about how we build the world that we want to live in. Insurrectionary imaginations evoke a type of activism that is rooted in the blueprints and patterns of political movements of the past but is driven by its hunger for new processes of art and protest.

    Rafeef Ziadah’s spoken word performance of her poem “We teach life, sir,” exploded across the internet this past week because she creates a narrative which simultaneously unmasks the violence of the Israeli occupation and the complicity of a noxious discourse that excuses Israeli brutality by invoking that great racist colonial trope of the Palestinians as uncivilized barbarians who can only be tamed through brute force. In a mere four minutes, Ziadah turns that discourse, so often repeated in the media, inside out and exposes its moral shallowness. This is the power of the insurrectionary imagination.
    As we move forward as a movement, we must be consciously open to seeing, speaking, listening and thinking differently. We must believe in the power of our imaginations to help dissolve the boundary between dream and reality to create a world of unbounded freedom for all.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    United Methodists in Northern Illinois Annual Conference vote to divest

    Great news on the church divestment front: ST. CHARLES, ILL. June 15, 2010 - At its annual conference, the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted to divest all holdings in three international corporations that profit from the occupation of Palestine. This action is in response to a plea by Palestinian Christians for action, not just words. Divestment is a nonviolent form of economic protest long-used by churches and other shareholders to encourage companies to end unjust practices. By selling its investments in Caterpillar (CAT), General Electric (GE) and Terex (TEX), the NIC expresses its commitment to do no harm with its investments and affirms the call of the UMC Book of Discipline to "avoid investments that appear likely, directly or indirectly, to support violation of human rights” (Paragraph 716). These three companies are among 20 targeted by many UMC conferences across the country because they (1) have a presence on occupied land, (2) are involved with the physical settlements, checkpoints and the separation wall, or (3) support activities of the Israeli military in the occupied territories. Connie Baker from the End the Occupation Task Force of the Board of Church and Society which brought forth the resolution stated: “We are resolute in our support of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land and the rights of each to co-exist according to the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions. It is a small step, but an important one.” The conference will also send a list of the 20 identified companies to the nearly 400 local churches in Northern Illinois and encourage them to consider divestment from any corporations on the list. For the list of targeted corporations, which was compiled by the New England Conference (UMC) Divestment Task Force, please click here.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    "US military aid to Israel violates domestic, international law" says member of PCUSA Middle East Study Committee

    N.H. Gordon, a member of the Presbyterian Church USA's Middle East Study Committee, writes at Electronic Intifada:
    "Based on international and domestic US laws, and the Goldstone report's finding that Israel committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the US government, in providing military aid and the transfer of arms to Israel, has violated its responsibility not to participate in the internationally wrongful acts of another state. With these observations in mind, I personally believe that the recommendation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Middle East Study Committee to withhold military aid to Israel as a last resort -- in attempting to enforce international law vis-a-vis the occupation of Palestinian territories and the human rights violations against the Palestinians -- is a mild statement, indeed."
    As Gordon notes, the Presbyterian Church has been the target of attacks for publishing the recommendations of the Middle East Study Committee, which include suggestions for leveraging military aid and a condemnation of Caterpillar's military sales to Israel. You can help support the Presbyterian Church's efforts for justice by sending a supportive email to the following individuals: Rev. Dr. Ronald L Shive, Chair Committee on Mideast Study Presbyterian Church USA Rev. Dr. Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church USA Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow Presbyterian Church USA Elder Linda Bryant Valentine Presbyterian church USA Here's a sample email you can use: To the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.), The Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) Committee on Mideast Study, in its published report, expresses the belief that ‘we all do have a shared responsibility to guard human rights everywhere . . . for every suffering victim in the world today, including the Palestinians.” We know that in today’s political reality in the United States that to mention, let alone advocate, for the human rights of Palestinians is a courageous stance. We urge the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) General Assembly to consider and accept the report and recommendations of its Middle East Study. We encourage you to remain strong and courageous in speaking truth for the sake of peace and justice in Palestine-Israel.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Boycott and divestment gets mainstream attention in church, on campus

    It's good news to see that boycott and divestment campaigns against companies profiting from Israeli occupation and apartheid are becoming increasingly mainstream. Here's a couple of recent examples. The National Catholic Reporter ran a great article about the Kairos Document produced by the Palestinian Christian community, calling for churches around the world to intervene for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine via boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns:
    "The leaders of the thirteen Christian communities serving in the Palestinian territories -- including Latin and Orthodox patriarchs -- have declared the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories a “sin against God and humanity” and urged Christians everywhere to nonviolently intervene to end its injustices....Such a response, the authors wrote, includes civil disobedience, boycotts, and divestment campaigns. “Resistance is a right and duty for Christians. But it is resistance with love as its logic,” they said....The national committee for the Palestinian Boycott and Divestment and Sanctions campaign said it “saluted the moral clarity, courage, and principled position conveyed in this new document which emphasizes that resisting injustice should ‘concern the church.’ "
    The article quotes US Campaign National Media Coordinator David Hosey in regards to U.S. church involvement with divestment campaigns:
    "David Hosey, media coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a missionary with the United Methodist Church, said members of the New England conference of that church are in correspondence with the targeted companies, the first step in “phased divestment.” The Methodists adopted a resolution in 2004 opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories. Various regional conferences are now debating whether or not to express that opposition with divestment campaigns....
    As for action from the Roman Catholic Church, Hosey said members of the Sisters of Loretto, a U.S. order of Catholic women religious, were pushing for shareholder resolutions urging Caterpillar to stop its sale of militarized bulldozers to Israel.
    Christian calls for divestment have sparked criticism from various Jewish organizations and, at times, strained inter-religious dialogue. But Hosey thinks that could change as more Jewish and Israeli groups endorse using economic pressure to change Israeli action in the Occupied Territories."
    Divestment is becoming part of the mainstream discourse on U.S. campuses as well. The University of Arizona Daily Wildcat now includes a weekly column on corporate involvement in the Israeli occupation. This week's column notes the connections between corporate accountability work against sweat shops, the BDS campaign against South African apartheid, and the BDS movement against Israeli occupation, as well as highlighting the University's investments in human rights abusers Caterpillar and Motorola:
    "After an intensive anti-sweatshop campaign last spring led by students in the Sweatshop-Free Coalition and University Community for Human Rights, President Robert Shelton had the UA divest our financial holdings in the Russell Corporation due to the company’s singularly cruel labor abuses in its factories in Honduras. Now, while all eyes are on Shelton as he continues to sit on the UA’s illegal business contracts with Caterpillar and Motorola, it’s worth noting that divestment activism on campus stretches back far beyond Shelton’s tenure and probably beyond everything else on campus except for the oldest of UA’s buildings........Motorola and Caterpillar, two companies perpetuating grisly crimes upon mostly Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, are so unspeakable as to have prompted Jewish South African politician Ronnie Kasrils, who was quoted in the United Kingdom’s Guardian in a 2006 article, to denounce the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation as “much worse than apartheid” of the sort under which Kasrils and others survived for so many long, bloody years. A rich history has proven that UA students have risen to the occasion of doing everything they can to disassociate themselves and their universities from such atrocities. One doesn’t have to look far to see that such a time has come again."
    Check out the US Campaign's website for resources on starting your own boycott and divestment campaign on campus and/or organizing against Caterpillar and Motorola in your community.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Jim Wall: Churches should stop talking and start acting for justice

    James Wall, contributing editor of The Christian Century, has had about enough of faith communities talking and talking about peace in the Middle East without taking any action. Wall has issued a call for U.S. churches to stop issuing resolutions and start putting pressure on Israel using the proven, effective tactics of boycott and divestment.
    "This is not the time for U.S. denominations to keep debating inadequate, diluted, compromised resolutions on “peace in the Holy Land”. It is rather, kairos time, the moment to move against Israel’s apartheid dominance over four million Palestinians by embracing the non-violent strategy of BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Christian denominations have spent far too many years trapped in dreary hotel conference rooms working to “get along” with one another by approving meaningless resolutions that fooled few and excited none. Resolution time has far outlived its expiration date. It is time to join a growing number of justice-oriented communities and take direct action against Israel’s oppressive actions against an oppressed people."
    Wall's article is timely. With Israeli professor Neve Gordon's recent LA Times op-ed raising the profile of BDS in the United States, a British bank divesting from settlements, and a UK firefighters union calling for a boycott of Israel, the time is ripe for involvement in the BDS movement. (Keep up with the latest in boycott, divestment, and sanctions news by clicking here). Luckily, you don't have to wait for institutions to change for you to get involved with the BDS movement. You can join the US Campaign's ongoing BDS work against Caterpillar and Motorola, check out our BDS resources, and educate others about this effective and time-tested tactic for creating social change. As more of us join the movement, we'll be able to mobilize more pressure to get faith communities, universities and colleges, labor unions, and other institutions to use their economic power to push for justice and human rights in Israel/Palestine. James Wall thinks it's time to stop talking so much and start taking action for justice. And although those of us here at the US Campaign come from a wide variety of faith and secular backgrounds, we couldn't agree more.