Methodist church meeting votes down BDS resolutions

Proposals urging Protestant denomination to adopt divestment measures over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians ‘went down in flames,’ delegate to UMC confab says

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. CC BY-SA Brad Clinesmith, Flickr)
A United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. CC BY-SA Brad Clinesmith, Flickr)

The United Methodist Church has rejected several resolutions calling for the 12-million-member Protestant church to divest from companies engaging in business with Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

Church committees over the weekend voted down four Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolutions brought to a vote at the church’s quadrennial United Methodist Church General Conference in Portland, Oregon, taking place this week.

The resolutions “pretty much went down in flames,” UMC delegate and BDS opponent John Lomperis told Religion News Service on Sunday.

The resolutions would have seen UMC divestment from three companies that pro-Palestinian activists have accused of working with Israeli security forces to sustain Israel’s West Bank settlement enterprise: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

Instead, the Finance Committee opted to favor a petition that had been amended into a general commitment to responsible investment of church funds.

A number of groups, including one called United Methodist Kairos Response, who prepared the resolutions for this year’s conference, had lobbied for the divestment measures at the 10-day church policy-making forum.

The group’s co-chair Susanne Hoder told Religion News that while the amended proposal was a reasonable compromise among delegates, positive investments were not a substitute for divestment.

“Where we see opportunities to move forward together, we’re going to seize them,” she said.

Similar BDS petitions in the UMC failed in both 2008 and 2012.

The defeat comes on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s May 9 letter to Jewish leaders reasserting her position that BDS campaigns are counterproductive to Mideast peace and calling for the reversal of the trend of increasing “attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, was raised and remains a practicing Methodist.

“I believe that BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict,” she wrote in response to an appeal from the Israel Action Network, an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America to respond to the church’s BDS resolutions.

“When anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world, we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people,” Clinton said. “We must never tire in defending Israel’s legitimacy, expanding security and economic ties, and taking our alliance to the next level.”

In January, the United Methodist Church’s US pension fund removed five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio, saying the investments were counter to its policies against investing in “high risk countries” and to remain committed to human rights.

BDS activists have scored a series of successes in recent years in advancing similar resolutions, most prominently the United Church of Christ in 2015 and the Presbyterian Church (USA) a year earlier.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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