Two weeks ago, the US United Methodist Conference (UMC) in Tampa, Florida considered two key votes. The first was whether to endorse a boycott of Israeli companies operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); it called for “all nations to prohibit the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.” The second called for the UMC to divest its own pension funds from three US Corporations, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Systems – all three of which have a presence there (you may recall it was an Israeli army-owned Caterpillar bulldozer that rode over 23-year-old anti-Occupation protestor Rachel Corrie in March 2003 and killed her).
Dozens of Jewish Rabbis noted in an open letter to the UMC: “There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine. Every day Jewish leaders – we among them – are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of cautious, highly-specific divestment such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are preparing to undertake.” (Source: http://mondoweiss.net).
Well, that vote has been and gone, with an interesting result. The boycott call was strongly endorsed (558 votes to 367), but the pension fund move failed (246 votes to 685 against) – in essence a vote to continue supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, despite the very public knowledge of the atrocities being perpetrated there by Israel. Also, sadly, an apparent decision based on self interest.
Now for those readers who don’t know, AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the US, responsible for sponsoring and driving pro-Israeli legislation through Congress. It works closely with the US military. AIPAC also lobbies for financial aid from the United States to Israel, helping to procure up to three billion [dollars] in aid yearly, making Israel "the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II." (wikipedia, referenced). In 1997, Fortune magazine named AIPAC the second-most powerful influence group in Washington, D.C. AIPAC also supported the U.S. congress in rejecting the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict's paper, written by (Jewish) South African Judge Richard Goldstone, which condemned Israel for atrocities committed there.
In 2008 Christians United for Israel (CUFI) held their “National Night to Honor Israel”. CUFI’s pro-Israeli stance is underwritten by its biblical beliefs, specifically Chapter 12 of Book of Genesis, which states that God blesses those who bless the Jews and curses those who curse them, and that Christian faith can't exist without the foundation of Judaism. One of the main attendees at the 2008 bash was one Senator Joseph Lieberman, who opened his speech by saying "I am your brother Joseph." Lieberman re-affirmed his support for CUFI, Israel and CUFI Chairman Pastor John Hagee.
Now, here’s the thing – Joe Lieberman is also a favourite friend of AIPAC – he speaks at their conferences, he has for many years been a close ally of theirs in congressional matters. He was a keynote speaker at their Washington D.C. conference in March this year and, as a neoconservative, is something of a hawk on the Iran question.
So we have a situation here that implicates AIPAC as a manipulator of the Christian Right in the US, playing on the biblical allusions to the Israelites as something of a “chosen people” on whose coat-tails Christians can ride into heaven. The Christian Right tends to vote Republican, and… well, you should be able to work out the rest – Republican neocons, wars in the Middle East, and so on.
Now the Jews-as-God’s-chosen-people idea has surfaced once or twice on this forum, which is not surprising as it is quite a central biblical principle, as is the notion of Palestine being their promised land. I’m not going to debate the merits of that one here – however the key point is that by blindly accepting the principles laid out in the bible, Christians are clearly endorsing these two fundamental ideas. The United Methodist Council vote to keep pension investments in Israel-based companies must be seen against those principles, given the visible and extreme human rights violations that have been visited upon Palestine by Israel (it could only be a biblical principle that is powerful enough to dissuade compassionate people from taking a right and moral action, and as Reverend Scott shows – Methodists know their bible).
Methodism is probably one of the “tamer” Christian denominations – there are plenty of more right-wing churches in the world that are now gaining profile and numbers. I would suggest that their recent pro-occupation vote is a pretty standard action in Christian circles, and that other groups take a far more visible stance in favour of the criminal Israeli occupation (I’ve seen them standing outside Parliament in Cape Town waving Israeli flags).
The more deluded variant of the Methodist action is that of CUFI chairman John Hagee (Joe Lieberman’s “brother”): in March this year Hagee prayed while holding hands with Benny “No Amputees” Hinn: “Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus, I pray for our president tonight… I pray that you would give him the Wisdom of Solomon to lead this nation into war against the enemies of righteousness”. You can catch this at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v70t0IfNglo. I suggest that anyone who doesn’t find this at least a little shocking should perhaps examine their ethics. What we see so little of in the little spiritual backwater that is South Africa is how the Christian Right are incestuously intertwined with the politics of the Middle East conflict.
But there is hope - what’s Occupy AIPAC? You’ve heard of Occupy Wall Street… the Occupy movement is a protest effort focused on various injustices in the world, such as the huge economic disparities and the gross financial mismanagement and hubris demonstrated over the past few years by Wall Street bankers. Well, Occupy AIPAC saw throngs of people lining up outside the AIPAC conference in March, protesting at the Palestinian occupation and the ever-louder drumbeat of war on Iran. It included Christians, Jews and Muslims, demonstrating that they share common human values not distorted by the fog of their respective faiths.
So the questions I put to all Christians, and especially prospective believers, are these: do you fully understand what you are endorsing when you preach the bible? Are you aware of the impact of the beliefs you hold so dear in the world today? Do you appreciate the magnitude of the oppression and warmongering that is being carried out in the name of your God and his “chosen people” – those that you regard so highly and whose spiritual passport you are so desperate to hold for yourselves? Do you not realize that far from your faith being a sacred and sweet personal relationship with your personal God, it is in reality a medium for dissemination of imperialist and nationalistic ideals?
Can you see why non-believers are perhaps a little more critical than you’d like of blind adherence to this faith and extremely wary of its impact on society? Please give it some thought. Read the papers, research on the web, and open your eyes to the reality that is the world of religion.