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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fair Witness Asks Methodists Not To Vote for Divestment

A Press Release Distribution Service from Religion News Service
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 
February 6, 2008
Contact: Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq.
Christians For Fair Witness on the Middle East
(212) 870-2320

Fair Witness Asks Methodists Not To Vote for Divestment
The following letter was sent by Rev. Dr. L.T. Archer Summers, Senior Minister, First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto, California and Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq., National Director, Fair Witness, to all voting delegates in the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Dear UMC General Conference Delegate:
        We are writing to you because you will be asked to consider Divestment from certain companies doing business with the State of Israel at the United Methodist Church ("UMC") General Conference this April.  We are very concerned that Divestment, which in other contexts has been a good and a powerful tool for social justice, is being used here as a weapon to unfairly target the Jewish state and greatly oversimplify the very complex Arab/Israeli conflict.
        During the session on Divestment at the Pre-General Conference briefing in Fort Worth Texas, there was extensive discussion of the Israeli occupation, settlements, Israeli appropriation of land, the "powerful Israel lobby," and Palestinian suffering.  On the other hand there was little or no discussion of Palestinian suicide bombing and other forms of terrorism aimed at Israeli civilians, the Palestinian refusal to accept the Clinton peace parameters which would have ended the occupation in 2000 and/or Israeli suffering resulting from years of Palestinian suicide bombing and four years of almost non-stop Qassam rockets terrorizing the town of Sderot. There was also misinformation given about an alleged "enormous gap" between the "Israeli rich" whom the speaker erroneously claimed were mostly "connected to the Military" and the rest of Israel which she claimed was "suffering." Although the session on Divestment was supposed to include the Sudan, the speakers focused almost entirely on the Middle East.  We are disturbed by the lack of balance and fairness manifest in this presentation and the misinformation that was conveyed.  We are disturbed by the underlying presumptions and attitudes it may be suggestive of.
        We do not believe that the UMC is prepared to make a decision on such an important issue at this time.  We base this belief also in part on the recent publication of   "Israel-Palestine: A 2007-2008 Mission Study," written by Revs. Stephen Goldstein and Sandra Olewine and published by the Women's Division, General Board of Global Ministries ("GBGM").
        As is the case in most situations of conflict, neither side is completely without blame here. The "Mission Study," however, makes no attempt to present the facts and the history of the conflict in an honest or balanced way.  It is replete with factual errors, misrepresentations, material omissions and distortions that serve to portray Israel as the sole villain in the Middle East.  Most disturbingly, we found blatant attempts in the "Mission Study" to portray Jews and Israelis in as damning a light as possible, even resorting to stereotypical racist caricatures.    
        We believe that this "Mission Study" may be symptomatic of a strong bias to the point of antipathy against Israel and perhaps even Jews on the part of the people responsible for its publication.  We are concerned that many good and well meaning people in the UMC have read this volume and other materials published by the GBGM and may have been unduly influenced by them.
        In 2007, the United Church of Christ Synod passed a resolution on Israel-Palestine which acknowledged that it "may have overlooked many aspects of an extraordinarily complicated situation . . ." and obligated the denomination to engage in "ongoing balanced study, commentary and critique related to the conflict in the region."
        In light of the "Mission Study," the presentations at the Pre-Conference briefing in Fort Worth and the lack of balance and even handed perspective they evidence, we entreat you not to vote on the issue of Divestment at this time.  This is too serious an issue, with too many significant and potentially far reaching consequences for the UMC to make a strong public statement without having a solid grasp of the facts.  We ask instead that the General Conference commit to taking a long and serious, but most of all balanced and unbiased look, at this conflict.  We ask you to make a serious effort to listen to all voices so that we can work cooperatively for peace, rather than merely condemning and attacking one side.
Sr. Ruth Lautt, OP, Esq.
National Director
Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East
475 Riverside Drive, Ste 1960
New York, NY 10115
(212) 870-2320

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