This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
It takes one’s breath away. How far Israel has fallen. But it isn’t just the state of Israel. We Jews have fallen with Israel. With our place among and within the nations secure, Jewish alliances with power become more and more troubling.
So say the Methodists, at least on the question of the state of Israel. Their decision to withdraw their investments from five major Israeli banks for their enablement – and profiteering – from the occupation of Palestinians is telling.
Since banks and other corporations all over the world profit off injustice, this should hardly surprise us. With regard to Israel, this point was made clear years ago in A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture. Here the Israeli authors pointed out that, rather than the settlements being the result of religious right wing extremists, all Israeli institutions and corporations are involved in and benefit from the occupation of Palestinians. Banks are only part of this criminal occupation enterprise.
But here is where the Methodists become more troubling and radical. Not only do they call out Israel for its transgressions, but they add it to a list of “high-risk” areas that “demonstrate a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.” It is the nations of the world they place Israel among that’s most explosive:
Central African Republic
Though this list is of interest itself, skewing the problems of the world outside the West, as if human rights abuses exist in a vacuum, Israel’s inclusion on the list remains important. At least for the Methodists, Israel is now grouped with the lowest of the low, the dregs of the global order. This, despite the opposition of major Jewish organizations within the United States and Israel itself, lobbies that the other countries on the list don’t have. Credit where credit is due: the Methodists have persevered.
Yet as difficult as it is for the Methodists to include Israel on this nefarious list, to keep it there and now to take significant concrete actions against Israeli institutions, there remains a missing constituency – the American Jewish establishment.
Should the Jewish establishment be included on this list? Perhaps the Methodists will change the notation: Israel-Palestinian Territories/American Jewish Establishment.
So far connecting the Jewish dots have been a bridge too far for the Methodist and other Christian divestment advocates. Church divestment advocates have steered clear of the issue of a broader Jewish complicity in human rights abuses. Just the opposite. Divestment advocates have denied this link, emphasizing that the implication of Israel’s human rights abuses in no way carries a Jewish label.
This fascinating diversion is rarely remarked upon. This is true when it comes to Israel itself, as if Israel’s claim to be a Jewish state is not an issue and as if the overwhelming majority of Israel’s soldiers aren’t Jews. For the Methodists, as for other church divestment resolutions and debates, the idea that American Jews are part and parcel of the problem carries the stigma of anti-Semitism.
Yet the reality is that American Jews, indeed Jews all over the world, are entangled in Israel. Isn’t it time for Christian advocates for justice for Palestinians to take the next step and call Israel what it has always been, a Jewish issue?