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

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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.

The settlement-funders who contribute to CFWME stand in stark contrast to the Dominican order’s position on Israel/Palestine. An Israel/Palestine briefing on a Dominican order website, part of 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 expressed firm support for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which does BDS work.

Lautt did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Her organization’s website is filled with appeals to fairness, the two-state solution, the peace process and negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians–nothing that on its face would seem to contradict the Dominican order’s take on the conflict. CFWME also routinely issues press releases blasting any church action or rhetoric in support of boycotts or divestment from illegal Israeli settlements.

Their most recent press release quotes a religious leader saying that “Fair Witness supports both the Israelis and Palestinians in their quest for peace. We therefore encourage Israel to continue to accept the Quartet proposal and we strongly urge the Palestinians to also accept the Quartet’s plan and sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. This is the only way peace can come to this region.”

It is a decidedly different Christian pro-Israel take than the usual fire and brimstone rhetoric from Christian Zionists.

“It gears itself, I think, towards otherwise liberal congregations,” said David Wildman, a longtime proponent of divestment who is the executive secretary for Human Rights & Racial Justice at the United Methodist Church’s Board of Global Ministries. But Wildman, a critic of CFWME, also described the organization as an “attack group” that seeks to “block other efforts at achieving a just peace.”

A New York Times profile of Lautt published in 2008 says that she “disassociates herself from Christian Zionists of the theological and political right…openly criticizes [the] occupation of the West Bank and laments Palestinian suffering.” The profile also reported that Lautt has “little contact with Jewish advocacy groups, none with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby.”

Sister Ruth Lautt (Photo: G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times)
 Sister Ruth Lautt
(Photo: G. Paul Burnett/New York Times)

But that’s not true. According to the organization’s tax filings, donations to CFWME have steadily increased since the group was founded in December 2005, from $82,432 in 2006 to over $200,000 in 2008, although donations have decreased since then (in 2010, the group received $119,652 in donations). And right-wing Zionist, settler-funding philanthropic groups have contributed to the organization’s increase in funds.

Take, for example, the funding received from the Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker Foundation, a group that gives to anti-Muslim, right-wing Zionist and neoconservative causes. In 2006, the foundation gave Lautt’s group $16,342, as well as giving $25,000 to the Central Fund of Israel (CFI), which the New York Times described as a multimillion dollar “vehicle” used to “channel donations” to West Bank settlements. A 2009 column by Akiva Eldar in Ha’aretz reported that the CFI gave money to the extremist yeshiva in a West Bank settlement “whose rabbi said it’s okay to kill gentile babies.” This foundation and its affiliated groups were identified by the Center for American Progress as one of the top donors to anti-Muslim causes in the U.S., giving $1.1 million to Islamophobic groups from 2001-2009.

Similarly, CFWME received $5,000 from the William Rosenwald Family Fund in 2006, a philanthropic group that has also contributed to neoconservative groups like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Commentary magazine. The foundation was also identified by the Center for American Progress as a main funder of anti-Muslim groups.

Other philanthropic groups that fund the organization tend to give to a wide array of causes, including liberal causes domestically, but also to groups tied to West Bank settlements. For example, in 2008 the Rosenfeld Foundation gave CFWME $1,500, as well as money to the American Jewish Committee, the Innocence Project, Middlebury college and more. The foundation also donated $1,000 to AISH New York, linked to the pro-settler Aish HaTorah network. A representative for Aish once publicly wished for the death of “a hundred Arabs or a thousand Arabs for every one Jew they kill.”

Another philanthropic group that gives to CFWME is the Jewish Communal Fund, which gave CFWME $2,000 in 2006 and $2,500 in 2007. The Jewish Communal Fund gave $18,000 to the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, a Christian Zionist group that promotes settlements in the West Bank and has given money for settlement infrastructure. The fund has also doled out tens of thousands of dollars to the Aish network. And Jared Malsin recently reported in Salon that the fund also gives to the Hebron Fund, a group Malsin linked to incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in Hebron.

Further linking CFWME to right-wing Zionist causes is the fact that Dexter Van Zile, who has worked for the David Project and currently works for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), has served on CFWME’s board. Many of the philanthropic organizations funding CFWME also fund CAMERA and the David Project. Van Zile declined a request for an interview, and said on Twitter that he has not been “involved with the organization for several years.”

According to Wildman, Van Zile is a constant presence at divestment battles in churches, lobbying against divestment efforts. The David Project helped lobby to reverse a pro-divestment Presbyterian church resolution in 2006. and CAMERA frequently issues statements against BDS and blasts church divestment initiatives. 

The funding revelations complicate the image CFWME projects as a liberal group working for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. Instead, CFWME is being funded by groups that are linked to anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and that are partners in Israel’s West Bank colonization project. And Lautt’s advocacy is being bankrolled by people strongly opposed to the Dominican order’s view of the conflict, which calls for solidarity with Palestinian Christians.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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26 Responses

  1. dumvitaestspesest
    January 5, 2012, 12:01 pm

    Dominican nuns look like that:
    I don’t see them wearing pink suits and nice hairdo-s.
    Unless “sister Ruth” is a very “progressvie/liberal nun .
    The nun of 21 century’s modern, liberal, post II Vatican Council Church.

    • Kathleen
      January 5, 2012, 1:23 pm

      Sorry to divert Alex…read the post…lots of important information
      Nuns left different orders in droves in the 60,s and 70’s. Some of the Nortre Dame nuns that I was taught by for 12 years instilled the deepest sense of justice and compassion in their students. Now some of them were just a bunch of grumpy ladies too. But lots of women really to human rights and social justice. I have been spending a great deal of time talking with a bunch of 80 and 90 year old Precious Blood nuns at Maria Josephs nursing home (use to be a convent) in Trotwood Ohio. Some radicals really. Many of them watch Ellen everyday. Swear Ellen should do a segment covering these senior folks who watch her. When I sit and watch Ellen with my WWII/Teamster father he inevitably leans over and says “she is a lesban you know” A lesban. I laugh and then we continue to watch the show. Seniors love Ellen

  2. dumvitaestspesest
    January 5, 2012, 12:29 pm

    From UN seminary.
    “Sister Ruth Lautt, of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville, and a law partner at a Long Island-based law firm (????), said she was deeply concerned about the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism, particularly how that was taking new and insidious forms, specifically the “demonization” of Israel.
    Make no mistake about it –- that was anti-Semitism; just the same old sin wrapped in a new politically correct wrapper by a world that was all too willing to believe the worst about the Jewish State. Everyone knew all too well what could happen when that got out of hand, so something should be done about that now. Tragically, for most of 2,000 years of shared salvation history, Christians had not been a blessing to Jews, which had led to Jewish isolation and discrimination.
    She said it was time to very aggressively “unteach” the sin of anti-Semitism.
    She was working on a programme in her Brooklyn diocese, which brought together Jews and Catholics to learn the truths about each other’s religions and unlearn the negative and false stereotypes. The world was collectively faced with a very grave responsibility. Everyone was obliged to work towards the eradication, not only of anti-Semitism, but of hatred and intolerance in every form.
    When it came to the ancient sin of anti-Semitism, the world had a particular responsibility because it knew all too well how dire the consequences could be. The answer lay, in part, in an honest, thorough, and very aggressive approach to educating people in the truth”.

    And blah , blah, blah……………………..
    If one wants to see what other personas were speaking at this conference, one may look here:

    • libra
      January 5, 2012, 1:05 pm

      Let’s not forget that the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Tomas de Torquemada, was a Dominican. So who better than Sister Lautt to lead a new inquisition against anti-semites? You can be sure she’s just the woman to root out any that Abe Foxman’s missed. Maybe the old bigot battler can finally retire.

      • Kathleen
        January 5, 2012, 3:40 pm


  3. dumvitaestspesest
    January 5, 2012, 12:43 pm

    “To divestment proponents, Sister Ruth is an intrusive irritant.
    “It’s inappropriate for an outside group like this one to come in to our conference and seek to influence internal decisions that reflect our values and our previously adopted positions on the occupation,” said Susanne Hoder, a member of the divestment task force of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church.
    “It’s an odd pursuit for a nun to spend so much of her time seeking to discredit Christians who are trying to protect other Christians who are being persecuted by the occupation.”
    Sister Ruth parts ways even with her own order of nuns, the Dominican sisters, in her stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On a Web site devoted to “justice and peace,” the Dominican order formally opposes the separation barrier and calls for “solidarity” with Palestinian Christians.

    Acknowledging the friction, Sister Ruth said:
    “The overwhelming majority of these folks are extremely good people trying to be faithful to the Gospel call to justice. But they are mis- and under-informed when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and typically have only seen this conflict from one side”.
    “Sister” Ruth is a part of the Vth column that overtaken the Catholic Church.
    The are 3 major divisions in a Catholic Church as of now:
    Modernists (-), Sedevacatnists (+), Society of Pius x (+).

    • Kathleen
      January 5, 2012, 1:27 pm

      Part of the pro Israel theo cons. People need to contact them about their vows to social justice and love of all humanity

  4. Citizen
    January 5, 2012, 1:07 pm

    Sister Ruth means well, but she’s been sold a bill of shabby goods from the Zionists; who could possibly school her in reality? Nobody I know.

    • dumvitaestspesest
      January 5, 2012, 1:13 pm

      Hanna Arendt said :
      ‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people ,who never make up their minds to be good or evil”.
      Sister Ruth falls in this cathegory. You can’t pull devil’s tail and angle’s wing at the very same time. You must choose.

      ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
      Revelation 3:16.


    • split
      January 6, 2012, 4:32 am

      She’s a zionist planted trojan horse with a task to pacify Christian divestment efforts – Anyone who still have a doubts must be stupid or blind ,…

      • split
        January 6, 2012, 4:46 am

        Jews In Canada Blast Protestant Movement To Divest In Israel

        The movement has outraged Jewish groups, who say the strategy is biased, anti-Semitic and fails to recognize Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks by Palestinian extremists. “This is blatant propaganda that seeks to isolate and demonize Israel,” Ruth Klein, of B’nai B’rith Canada, told a news conference. She said the disinvestment movement, continued suicide bombings against Israelis and comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday – in which he said Israel must be “wiped off the map” – were sending fresh chills of fear through Jewish communities worldwide. Sister Ruth Lautt, national director of the U.S. Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, called on Canadian denominations to be wary of Sabeel. She was joined by the Rev. William Harter, a founding member of five Christian-Jewish initiatives in the United States and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Chilton, chairman of the Episcopal-Jewish relations committee in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Sabeel director, the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, is a Palestinian Anglican who says he condemns violence by both sides, though he blames the cycle of violence on the Israeli occupation of traditional Palestinian territory. “We condemn all violence, whether coming out from the Palestinian extremists or from the state of Israel and its army,” Ateek told a separate news conference. “We cannot reconcile violence with justice, being followers of Jesus Christ.” Sister Lautt said Ateek has indirectly referred to the Israelis as Christ killers and was fanning anti-Semitism through his divestment movement and sermons. Ateek, in a sermon in 2001, said: “Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him . . . The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.”

  5. Kathleen
    January 5, 2012, 1:25 pm

    Guess we should contact these religious dominations willing to take a stand and let them know there is lots of support for them. But bet they all ready know this

  6. Kathleen
    January 5, 2012, 1:37 pm

    Alex thanks for all your incredible investigative work. Is it possible that Lautt does not know about the groups that are investing. Nah she is a lawyer. Scratch that.Could the goal of these right wing zionist groups be to undermine Lautt’s efforts?

  7. Walid
    January 5, 2012, 2:11 pm

    The United Methodist people are on their charted course to divest since 1990; Sister Lautt and her Zio-backers are wasting their time and money in trying to stop the wave. The United Methodists stand firmly behind the Kairos Palestine Document and are in fact asking others to get on the divestment bus with them. From the United Methodist Kairos Response website:

    Aligning United Methodist Investments
    with Resolutions on Israel/Palestine

    Endorse the resolution today


    For more than 40 years, every United Methodist Church General Conference has endorsed calls for just and lasting peace for all Israelis and Palestinians, including an end to all military sales to the whole region. Tragically, ongoing military occupation and expanding Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands have deepened a system of violence and discrimination that dehumanizes Palestinians and Israelis. The biblical mandate to be peacemakers demands that we express our love of our Palestinian and Israeli neighbors both in word and through nonviolent actions. (Matthew 5: 9, 1 John 3:17-18)

    The Council of Bishops reminds us in God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action: “We love God and neighbor by challenging those who do harm. We must not only respond to the suffering already created, but also challenge people, companies, and governments that continue to exploit the weak, destroy the earth, perpetuate violence, and generate more weapons. We follow Jesus’ example of confronting authorities nonviolently using the force of love.”

    Palestinian Christians have implored Christians everywhere to put actions behind their words to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, which is destroying their lives (Kairos Palestine Document).[i] Although The United Methodist Church has long opposed the occupation, The United Methodist Church boards and agencies still hold stock in companies that sustain it.[ii]

    In 1996, The United Methodist Church General Conference declared that “continuing efforts by the State of Israel to build settlements in the occupied territories violate both international law and the spirit of the Declaration of Principles [the Oslo peace process].”[iii] The 2004 General Conference approved a resolution opposing “confiscation of Palestinian land … the continued building of illegal Jewish settlements, and any vision of a ‘Greater Israel’ that includes the occupied territories and the whole of Jerusalem and its surroundings.”[iv]

    The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline discourages investment in companies “that directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights” (¶716).[v] Palestinian human rights are violated by companies that sustain illegal settlements, segregated roads, checkpoints, the separation wall, home demolitions and other realities of the occupation.

    Researchers with the General Boards of Global Ministries, Pensions and Health Benefits, and Church and Society, several annual conferences, and ecumenical partners have identified a limited number of US and international companies that sustain Israel’s occupation.[vi] United Methodists have engaged Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard on this issue for years and have asked them to end their involvement with the occupation.

    The Book of Discipline requires consideration of divestment when companies do not respond to corporate engagement with changed practices (¶716).[vii] At the October 2010 Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Summit, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits stated that SRI measures it has employed in the past, including screening and divestment, have not violated the board’s fiduciary responsibility to beneficiaries.

    Divestment is not aimed at Israel itself, but at the occupation of land beyond its internationally recognized borders. As a non-violent moral action, divestment seeks to strengthen the Church’s support for the peoples of Israel and Palestine, whose future can only be secured through a just peace. Even if such an action resulted in a lesser financial return, we believe our moral mandate overrides financial gain.

    Many faith groups and organizations around the world have already divested or publicly support divestment.[viii] The Church should lead with prophetic action by publicly and promptly aligning its investments with longstanding church policies opposing the Israeli occupation. Such action is supported by mission personnel who have served in the Holy Land since the 1990s.


    In light of our theological discernment of moral and biblical justice, the General Conference calls on The United Methodist Church to end its financial involvement in Israel’s occupation by divesting from companies that sustain the occupation.

    The General Conference

    – instructs all United Methodist general boards and agencies to divest promptly from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard, which have been engaged repeatedly by United Methodist agencies and annual conferences on this issue, until these companies end their involvement in the Israeli occupation.

    – calls on all United Methodist general boards and agencies to immediately engage with other companies in their portfolios that have been identified by researchers in United Methodist agencies and annual conferences as being involved in the occupation.[ix] If these companies do not change their involvement within two years, they should be removed from United Methodist portfolios.

    – requires all United Methodist general boards and agencies to provide updates on their websites regarding the process of corporate engagement with and/or divestment from companies that support the Israeli occupation.

    – directs all United Methodist general boards and agencies to provide a report to the 2016 General Conference regarding their progress toward complying with this resolution.

    – calls on The United Methodist Church boards and agencies, annual conferences, local churches and individuals to prayerfully consider corporate involvement in Israel’s occupation when making investment decisions.

    – encourages United Methodists to partner with Jews, Christians, Muslims and other people of conscience working for corporate accountability, human rights and an end to the occupation.

    Endorse the resolution

    P.S. This subject (minus the Sister Ruth connection) was covered last Sept 13th here by Adam about the Presbyterians:

    • llama lady
      January 5, 2012, 7:52 pm

      Thank you, Walid! We know from our annual conferences that this task will be difficult but it must be pursued. With a recent investment decision reversal on funding private prisons, we do have hope.

  8. Annie Robbins
    January 5, 2012, 4:11 pm

    gggggreat reporting alex!!!! lil sis ruthie sounds like a zio wolf in cuddly sheeps clothing. mondoweiss to the rescue!

  9. GalenSword
    January 5, 2012, 6:07 pm

    Connections between Hagee and Jewish Zionists or Zionist organizations:

  10. MRW
    January 5, 2012, 6:44 pm

    Read this letter she wrote.

    She’s a Zionist stooge.

  11. Newclench
    January 5, 2012, 7:37 pm

    Great reporting job. This is the kind of story that highlights the value of MW.

    • john h
      January 5, 2012, 11:15 pm

      Yes, and ably backed up with key information from several posters with their links. Thanks all.

  12. W.Jones
    January 5, 2012, 10:27 pm

    This article about a traditionalist Christian group being funded by C.Zionists is good reporting.

  13. GalenSword
    January 6, 2012, 8:25 am

    Another Ruth Lautt link. Note that BC Professor Dennis Hale is a long time collaborator with Charles Jacobs and that the Center for Christian Jewish Learning at BC is funded by the Krafts.

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