When the Israeli government got wind that the CBS program “60 Minutes” was running a piece on the plight of Palestinian Christians, their lobbying efforts kicked into high gear. According to an Israeli official who spoke with Nathan Guttman of the Jewish Daily Forward, the Israeli government’s lobbying postponed the story from running on “sensitive broadcast dates during Christmas and Easter.” The government’s principal concern was that airing of the report could “harm” Israel's image in the United States.
But the Israeli government, it appears, overlooked another significant set of dates apart from Easter and Christmas: April 24-May 4, when about 1,000 delegates from around the world will meet for the United Methodist Church’s general convention in Tampa, Florida.
The CBS report on Palestinian Christians aired the weekend before the gathering kicked off, where a resolution to divest from three companies profiting off the Israeli occupation will be voted on. And pro-divestment delegates say that the "60 Minutes" piece is a boost to their efforts to convince delegates to vote in favor of their resolution.
“It is heartening to see that the media is finally telling the American public what is happening to the Christian community in the Holy Land,” said Susanne Hoder, a member of United Methodist Kairos Response, the group behind the resolution. “It’s what we’ve been trying for years to tell people about.”
The resolution takes aim at Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard, companies that profit from Israel’s occupation, and instructs the church to “divest promptly.” As the resolution notes, divestment would align the Methodist Church’s actions with its long-held anti-settlement and anti-occupation position. All three of the companies mentioned in the resolution help supply Israel with the tools it needs to carry out its occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.
Divestment advocates praised CBS for showing the reality they are trying to wake people up to at the convention. The report made note of “burgeoning settlements” and the separation barrier that residents of Bethlehem say has turned their town into an “open-air prison.” Bob Simon, the CBS reporter, also noted that due to Israeli checkpoints, “just leaving Bethlehem is a struggle.”
Hoder also noted in an interview that Methodist church members who support divestment “were especially glad” that CBS mentioned the “Kairos Palestine” document. “It’s a profound, eloquent call to churches around the world to move from talking to action,” explains Hoder.
The Kairos Palestine document, released in 2009, is a landmark document authored by Palestinian Christian leaders. It calls on the world to “stand by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades.” The document advocates for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and has been attacked by supporters of Israel. Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the US, criticized the denominations behind the document on CBS.
In addition to mentioning the Kairos Palestine document as a call of “non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation,” CBS News has posted an online segment on Palestinian Christians advocating for boycott.
This weekend will see the first actions taken on divestment at the church, as a committee will examine the resolution. According to Hoder, a vote by the whole conference will likely take place next week. She’s confident about the outcome of the vote.
“We are helping awaken the consciousness of American faith communities,” said Hoder, “and Americans in general.”