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BDS Scorecard: Methodists recommend sanctions & boycotts; reject divestment

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May 3: Afternoon session of United Methodist Church General Conference.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation was honored to witness and support a historic vote by the world United Methodist Church (UMC)’s 2012 General Conference (GC), the highest decision-making body of the church, to adopt a resolution:

1. Urging the U.S. government to “end all military aid to the region”;

2. Calling on “all nations to prohibit… any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements”; and

3. Calling on “all nations to prohibit… the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”

May 2: Afternoon sessionof United Methodist Church General Conference.

At the same time, the U.S. Campaign regrets that the GC subsequently voted against a resolution to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard (HP) due to the corporations’ complicity in the Israeli occupation. For more than forty years, the UMC has passed countless resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation and affirming the rights of the Palestinian people to freedom and self-determination. The divestment campaign, led by United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), a US Campaign coalition member, sought to align UMC policy with UMC pension fund investments in response to the Kairos Palestine document, a call from Palestinian Christians to move from sympathetic words to tangible action.

The votes followed multiple impassioned speeches on the GC plenary floor, witnessed by 1,000 voting delegates; hundreds of supporters, bishops, and church leaders; and thousands around the world online. Diverse delegates, young and old, who had traveled from as far as South Africa, the Philippines, and Jerusalem, spoke eloquently in favor of the resolutions. [The deliberations can be viewed here (starting at minute 17:58) and continuing here.] The US Campaign was proud to be there in support of them.

The passing resolution, entitled “Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land,” [view original and amendments] urges United Methodists to read Kairos Palestine, a document that calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) as tools of love and solidarity to support Palestinian liberation. The document in essence endorses the U.S. Campaign’s flagship End U.S. Military Aid to Israel Campaign, along with numerous member group-led campaigns challenging military aid and the costs of occupation.

The resolution specifically commends “the 2010 British Methodist Church’s call ‘on the Methodist people to support and engage with [a] boycott of Israeli goods emanating from illegal settlements,’ as well as a call for nonviolent actions issued by several Annual Conferences.”

The New York, Northern Illinois, and West Ohio UMC Annual Conferences have already divested from companies involved in the Israeli occupation, and the California – Nevada Conference has voted to do so as well.

The resolution states: “The United Methodist Church does not support a boycott of products made in Israel. Our opposition is to products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.” It bears reminding that the vast majority of Israeli companies, even those with products made in Israel, operate in some way in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, so the distinction is largely a false one. Nonetheless, many BDS campaigns in the United States and around the world do target specifically settlement-produced goods, including the “Stolen Beauty Campaign” spearheaded by U.S. Campaign member group CodePink targeting Ahava beauty products made in the Israeli settlement Mitzpe Shalem. The new Methodist resolution implicitly endorses this among many other BDS campaigns.

The resolution urges United Methodists to “develop recommendations to ensure that tax-exempt funds do not support illegal settlements and other violations of international law,” citing the ongoing settlement funding by tax-exempt organizations today. A list of such organizations would include the Jewish National Fund (funding Jewish-only colonies while actively displacing and dispossessing Palestinians since before 1948), currently targeted by the international “Stop the JNF Campaign” led in part by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, a new member of the U.S. Campaign coalition.

The resolution also affirms the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands, and it encourages United Methodists to work with solidarity organizations on the ground such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, a U.S. Campaign member group.

The original divestment resolution was gutted in the GC Finance and Administration Committee, which sanctioned two amendments. The first replaced clear, binding language calling for active divestment with consideration of advocating that companies sign the “Ruggie Principles,” which assert the responsibility of business enterprises to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts” and to “seek to prevent or mitigate” any such impacts linked to their business operations or relationships, but provides no enforcement of the principles. The amendment, rather than complementing divestment, cynically sought to replace it, evading the UMC’s responsibility to end its own contributions to “adverse human rights impacts.”

The second amendment by anti-divestment delegates advocated investment in the Palestinian economy to help ease the suffering of Palestinians. This silencing of widespread Palestinian demands for divestment, masquerading as support for Palestinians, was challenged repeatedly by Palestinian guest speakers who insisted emphatically that charity is not a substitute for freedom and justice.

The amended resolution, which is also non-binding and open-ended, passed. Despite flowery messaging in support of peace, the UMC refused to end its investments in corporations profiting from Israel’s brutal and illegal military occupation, and thus remains deeply implicated. The US Campaign joins UMKR and others in asserting that actions speak louder than words.

Broad media coverage of and grassroots contributions to UMKR’s divestment campaign, however, have caught the attention of the world and amplified criticism of the Israeli occupation and complicit U.S. corporations — such as Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP — to new levels that cannot be ignored. There is more work ahead to hold these companies (among others) fully accountable for their abuses. The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, the University of California at Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Adalah-NY, Global Exchange, and the American Friends Service Committee, are among the many U.S. Campaign coalition members actively targeting the companies in grassroots BDS campaigns, many of them through the nationwide “We Divest Campaign” calling on financial giant TIAA-CREF to divest from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation.

BDS has entered the very highest levels of mainstream U.S. institutions. The Presbyterian Church (USA) also will be debating resolutions this summer at its General Assembly on boycott of Ahava settlement products and divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP. Presbyteries around the country have already passed local overtures calling for boycotts and divestment.

Thousands of allies around the world, both individuals and organizations, joined together in support of UMKR on their grassroots Methodist-led campaign. Hundreds of volunteers from dozens of U.S. Campaign member groups contributed in creative and diverse ways, large and small, joined by allies from Serbia to Puerto Rico; South Africa to the Philippines; London to Tel Aviv; and beyond. This truly grassroots, unifying, Methodist-led initiative reminds us of the noble legacy of faith-based organizations leading the way on social justice struggles, one victory at a time.

The highest voting body of the United Methodist Church, which is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States, has recommended boycotts and sanctions — as well as an end to individual and organizational financial support for settlements — as tools for ending Israel’s brutal occupation and discriminatory policies. The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation congratulates United Methodist Kairos Response and the thousands of other Methodists and people of conscience who joined together to support this historic move.

Anna Baltzer
About Anna Baltzer

Anna Baltzer is the Director of Organizing & Advocacy for The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR).

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15 Responses

  1. FreddyV
    May 5, 2012, 8:35 am

    I bet one of our resident Zios will quip about it not being BDS and only BS now.

    Sorry guys, beat you to the punch.

  2. FreddyV
    May 5, 2012, 8:41 am

    All in all, that’s pretty much a winner and kind of makes the against divestment argument untenable. We’ll just have to wait until next year.

  3. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    May 5, 2012, 8:43 am

    The significance of the BDS campaign is not in economics: I doubt that divestment by the Methodist Church would deal a major economic blow to the Israeli economy. Instead, BDS is a way of condemning Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

    As Anna Baltzer says in the story, the Methodists supported a boycott while rejecting a divestment policy. The partial victory by BDS supporters will encourage other Christian denominations to support a boycott, and perhaps divestment also.

    And during the debate that the Methodists experienced, the truth about Israel’s appalling treatment of the Palestinians comes out, a truth that Israel tried to suppress. Holding the debate is devastating to Israel’s image. Divestment failed to pass this time, but this only guarantees another attempt to pass it next time, and another debate.

    • Hostage
      May 5, 2012, 2:37 pm

      As Anna Baltzer says in the story, the Methodists supported a boycott while rejecting a divestment policy.

      No it’s really just the General Finance Committee. Several of the largest regions have divested. Anna Baltzer noted that “[t]he New York, Northern Illinois, and West Ohio UMC Annual Conferences have already divested from companies involved in the Israeli occupation, and the California – Nevada Conference has voted to do so as well.”

      • Citizen
        May 5, 2012, 6:20 pm

        General Finance Committee’s job is to be good steward of donor’s money re investments, and investing in military-industrial-security complex companies is better than most investments these days; you can count on it from both major political parties. (There’s a reason the Pentagon has never been audited.) I’m sure they thought they were looking at a slippery slope when reviewing their portfolio for such investments. The Vatican probably does the same thing with its investments–if memory serves, a Jewish firm actually handles Vatican finances and has done so for a very long time. I never can get over the difference between the character of Jesus as depicted in the bible stories, and the church. Lutherans should have went farther; OTOH, the Evangelicals went so far yet came up even worse in terms of matching their institutions with the morality and ethics of the biblical Jesus (who himself was rebelling against the same thing in the Jewish Establishment of his day!)

      • Winnica
        May 6, 2012, 9:22 am

        Is there any problem with Jews doing the Vatican’s finances?

      • Citizen
        May 6, 2012, 5:22 pm

        Yes, Winnica, there’s a small problem with Vatican investments, both in the past and in the present. Here’s a small taste of it: BTW, what is the Vatican’s current stance on once-forbidden usury? Shall we compare Islamic stance?

  4. Citizen
    May 5, 2012, 8:43 am

    Thanks for the update summary, Anna. I’m disappointed, but Rome was not built in a day as they say. If memory serves, the US government was one of the last to join the BDS campaign against apartheid S Africa. (The last state supporting that regime was–Israel).

  5. American
    May 5, 2012, 9:24 am

    “”The United Methodist Church does not support a boycott of products made in Israel. Our opposition is to products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.”

    That is so stupid they might as well have said nothing. ISRAEL occupies the Palestine territories… boycott Israel.

  6. HarryLaw
    May 5, 2012, 9:38 am

    The US Government regard the settlements as war crimes under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, these conventions are regarded as customary International Law the implementation of which is mandatory for all states, to aid and abet or assist in any way war crimes by investing in companies that profit from the occupation is also a war crime. In the UK unlike the US we have the ICC act 2001 which makes it a criminal offence to aid and abet or assist war crimes 55[1a] and/or 55[1d]. Caterpillar for instance have specially designed bulldozers with hugh blades and armour plating to destroy Palestinian homes and businesses to make way for illegal settlements, all in breach of those criminalised sections of International Law in Geneva and ICC and ipso facto war crimes. Put another way anyone sending money or investing money even in a charity which is in any way associated with what the US state dept consider a proscribed organisation involved in war crimes [ see Holy Land Foundation] can be sent to prison for life. What is the difference?

  7. HarryLaw
    May 5, 2012, 10:27 am

    Just to further the anology in the comment above, if anyone suggests that because Caterpillar are a legal company and the Holy Land Foundation are not, imagine two cases of speeding [1] an upstanding member of the public is caught speeding [Caterpillar] he is prosecuted, no question [2] a thief is caught speeding [ Holy Land Foundation] he is also prosecuted for speeding and also for theft. So in my opinion to answer my own question above, there is no difference.

  8. yourstruly
    May 5, 2012, 10:54 pm

    on so many fronts and in so many ways bds is going to wear down the zionist government such that it’ll have no choice but to sit down with palestinian leaders and work things out based on one equals one with liberty and justice for all, with peace on earth and goodwill to all living beings sure to follow.

  9. HarryLaw
    May 6, 2012, 5:21 am

    It would appear the United Methodists [UM] have been looking at the Caterpillar investments in the wrong way, as somehow supporting the occupation of OPT as a bad thing, which it is of course, but it is not illegal per se, its longevity is unusual since occupation is supposed to be temporary, and so the UM have maybe thought, some people think the occupation right, some think it wrong, if we keep up the investments, well no big deal. The problem for the UM is this, they are investing in well documented war crimes as set out in my comments above,and not simply what some people might argue as being an illlegal occupation. For instance Halliburton assisted the occupation of Iraq quite legally after the UN gave its belated blessing to the coalition and after UN resolution 1483 was passed telling the coalition that all monies collected from the sale of oil was to be put in a fund for the Iraqi people only. No one could complain had the UM invested in Halliburton since whether you agree with it or not, was legal, but had Halliburton used their bulldozers to ethnically cleanse Iraqis from their homes end businesses then the question of war crimes would have been raised and quite rightly, I wonder if the UM looked at these investments in that way?

    • Citizen
      May 6, 2012, 6:41 am

      HarryLaw, if the UM financial arm did not look at their investments in said way, it’s not because the information was not readily available to them, so I don’t get your point, especially in the context that four Methodist sub-jurisdictions did divest, as well as, for example, the Quakers.

  10. HarryLaw
    May 6, 2012, 9:10 am

    Citizen, The point I am trying to make is that it is not just the investments in the occupation which is problematical, but that those investments are in fact aiding and abetting or assisting war crimes, did they look at it in this way, I don’t know, but last year I wrote to all the Managing Directors of the major supermarkets in the UK with the accusation that their investments in the settlement enterprise constituted breaches of the ICC act 2001 for the reasons above [Knowing that only the Attorney General can bring a criminal charge under that act] I threatened a civil suit under the act to them personally [similar to the Bilin village v Green park International in Canada last year that was a civil action] it concentrates the mind wonderfully to be one day expecting a Knighthood through the post from the Queen, instead to be accused of being a war criminal. All I know is if the shoe was on the other foot, thousands of zionist lawyers would be firing lawsuits all over the place with a guarantee that most people would be intimidated. By the way most of them wrote back saying they no longer source produce from the OPT, I do hope this makes sense. If you are interested I will post the letter I wrote in the near future.

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