Posts Tagged ‘apartheid’

PCUSA Divests: is the UMC listening?

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

On Friday the 221st General Assembly (GA221) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310 to 303 in favor of divesting from three companies known to be profiting from occupation infrastructure in occupied Palestine: Hewlett-Packard, Motorola-Solutions, and Caterpillar Inc. This assembly was also historic for changing their definition of marriage to “between two people”. Youth, seminarians, and mission personnel had the privilege of voice and were polled prior to each vote; I liked that. Now, I am tasked with explaining why United Methodists of all stripes should be paying attention.

The main reason is to show support to our Presbyterian neighbors: they may experience a temporary, undeserved drop in popularity. Yet I should state that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of MFSA or the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church; they do reflect my commitment to truth-telling.

Support our PCUSA neighborsAs I wrote and rewrote this analysis I returned in my memories to a pizza-restaurant in a valley neighborhood best known as “al-balled” in Amman. Two years ago I was serving in the Levant (Palestine, Israel, waiting for a visa in Jordan), so I met a Presbyterian counterpart and mentor for lunch and to discuss GA220 (and UM General Conference 2012). At that time, the PCUSA missed divesting by merely two votes. He and I already knew it was time to divest, knew from the oppression and impunity we witnessed. Three years earlier, the Christian leadership of Palestine called for divestment in “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth [2009]”. Five years prior to that, Israel ignored a 14-1 ruling by the International Court of Justice (a United Nations judicial body) calling for the destruction of the West Bank separation barrier. Knowing the enormity of the contracts at stake for these companies and the investment of political will by the Likud Party and its ethnocentric coalition, missionaries already understood that “shareholder engagement” would be fruitless. To whom should the UMC listen?

GBPHB struggles to understand "success"If the UMC and PCUSA are listening to one another it is because they are determined to remain peers, which causes me mixed-feelings. Dissenters to the overture parroted our General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. A gentleman stated that his Methodist contacts reported “success” in shareholder engagement, aptly demonstrating that GBPHB struggles to understand success outside of monetary terms. Saccharine company policies do not constitute "success" if companies still profit from systemic oppression. The Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of PCUSA testified at GA221 to the continual evasiveness of all three corporations, who were glad to dialogue about anything other than their illicit activity in the West Bank. That was taboo: to whom should the UMC listen?

Before 2012 was over, Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) divested first from Caterpillar Inc and then from Hewlett-Packard and Veolia. Roughly six months later the board of directors of the Mennonite Central Committee US, in consultation with their sponsoring denominations, eschewed all companies on AFSC’s (American Friends’ Service Committee’s) screen-list. These so-called ‘Peace-churches’ are not structured similarly to the UMC and PCUSA, it’s true. They might be called peers to one another in that both have longer, deeper, wider connections to the region – the MCC Jerusalem office predates the state of Israel and the Friends School in Ramallah is respected by both Christians and Muslims throughout the West Bank. Two bodies with deep roots in the Levant and well-known commitments to nonviolence and humility both divested. To whom should the UMC listen?

FFC & MCC divested ~ to whom will the UMC listen?Mark Tooley, of the (in)famous Institute on Religion & Democracy, said Friends’ divestment “reflects a long continuum of unwise political advocacy”. It takes a strong search-engine to find a deep, discolored cesspool of regression like the “Juicy Ecumenism” blog (cited with the help of donotlink.com to prevent traffic to their page). FFC representatives declined to comment to Tooley’s IRD, which libeled that Quakers have no interest in curbing violence against Israelis, but consider this: modern mainline denominations appear later on the justice adopters’ bell-curve. The “silly, little” peace-churches put principle before popularity and, thus, do not attract the bulk of the societies to which they witness yet in hindsight these very acts are often celebrated as quintessentially progressive.

Friend and Mennonite disengagement is hardly impetuous, more than ten years after the Oslo accords expired. There is a sort of spiritual “white-noise” that accompanies money; resources are not inherently evil but too much of them makes discernment difficult, sluggish. It is no wonder that Jesus challenged the rich young man to sell all his possessions and follow The Way with total abandon.

Yet the principle stumbling block of mainline denominations is self-aggrandizement, not greed. A wise Presbyterian wisely noted at GA221 that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not interested in PCUSA’s attempts to aid reconciliation and that churches were over-estimating their influence in the world. Rather than following Palestinian Christian leadership (via Kairos Palestine) or joining forces with deep-rooted peace-partners (the MCC or AFSC, for example), mainstream churches doubled-down on one-anothers' misconceptions, as well as delusions about “share-holder engagement”. Western institutions struggle to recognize that values alone do not make them appropriate partners: the Savior-Industrial-Complex, in essence.

A Savior-Industrial-Complex, in essenceIn order to sustain this fantasy, they stage performances for an Israel that is not real – either because it’s an idea of Israel preserved from the Labor-Party-led government that died with PM Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in the mid-nineties or a fantasy taken from collective beliefs about what ‘Jews’ deserve. Not incidentally, Jewish groups of conscience like Jewish Voice for Peace recognize Israel’s drift away from democratic ideals and constantly call for divestment to ‘right the ship’ in Israel. To whom should the UMC listen?

Contrary to popular myths, the 21st Century Israel is a neo-colonial enterprise cloaked in religious over-tones with a manifest-destiny regime at the helm via the Likud-led coalition government. The words “Likud Party” never even entered the discussion at GA221. Neither the UMC nor the PCUSA, as collected bodies, possess the knowledge to be effective intermediaries but their investments are a powerful witness, indeed. Ultimately, I discourage Methodists from looking too deeply into PCUSA divestment because of BDS-phobic rhetoric in the overture. Some Presbyterians were spooked by the idea of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement; again, this showed a lack of familiarity, not a moderate stance. At this point, BDS is THE moderate stance.

UMC/PCUSA should join BDS, not eschew itWith the Palestinian Authority government hobbled by double-standards, disgraced, the BDS campaign creates a well-known movement offering a nonviolent hope for all Palestinians and an alternative to militant groups. Jewish Voice for Peace explicitly affirmed their place in the larger BDS movement, which speaks volumes. The UMC and PCUSA should join and percolate into Global BDS to achieve a high-level of engagement. As it stands, mainline churches are all generic “Evangelicals” in the mid-East. This is a case where two big denominations could do something right: explicitly join Global BDS and tip its mass Christ-ward, understanding BDS will tip Christians into ‘political advocacy’—a healthy challenge.

Bishop Tutu, smiling; purple shirtYet if you want to keep pace with society, UMC, feel free to be just one step behind the PCUSA ~ especially concerning marriage equality but soon with divestment as well. Tip-toe slowly until the moment the Earth shifts beneath your feet then dash ahead and extol justice. When it is popular enough you will divest, UMC – just like South Africa. Famed South African religious leader Desmond Tutu has already condemned the infrastructure in Israel and joined the call for BDS on Palestine’s behalf. To whom will the UMC listen?

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JD Gore; Cherry BlossomsJD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. He begins an MA in International Training & Education at American University this Autumn.

 

Removing the Screens: reflections from last weekend’s conference in Arlington

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

The Statue of Liberty Weeps for Handala

Through my co-workers at the Wi’am Center, I received a feet-first education on Palestinian solidarity: my shoes were dirty from Bethlehem’s streets before my perspective solidified. I reconnected with a Wi’am Center volunteer (a Palestinian-American), this weekend, at a conference in Arlington, VA hosted by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. In the midst of trading travel stories, she asked if Israeli Border Security “made you an activist for life.” Of course it did, yet the driving force the reawakening impetus  is not a lingering grudge with particular personnel but the Christian Call to wash the camouflage from systemic oppression.

“Israel Firster” is a game of screens and the justice movement strives to cut through the blinds. The Friday evening plenary focused on the driving economic forces of Israel’s continuing presence in the West Bank and Gaza, often obscured by panic around ethnic and religious prejudice. The panelists placed Israel in the constellation of military-industrial power-players who profit from war & repression technology and techniques. Palestinian villages are the laboratory where devices are tested before sale—historic buyers included terrible regimes in Latin America and Africa. Corporations in and outside Israel, with US government support, are helping the current regime sustain and aggravate distrust in the Levant to generate the fear used to justify preemptive violence and mass surveillance. Radical and religious inflammation is a convenient symptom—a distraction from the guns and money agenda.

At a session on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, a presenter mused that it was difficult to attack the “beautiful” face of ‘Brand-Israel’ but that the tactic was useful for exposing the ugliness beneath its mask. Arms and surveillance gear are developed at Israeli universities. It is neither desirable nor necessary to fatally undermine ALL of Israeli fine arts and scholarship but planned boycotts on select targets create opportunities to expose those programs as whitewash for institutions complicit in dispossession. Powerful ministries in the government, invested in its military prowess, provide the outpouring of funds that promote Israel’s arts globally. They make the most beautiful camouflage!

Refugee Girl Uses Laser-sight to Destroy WallNaturally, corporations and financial institutions are finding creative ways to profit from the occupation. That fact is well-documented and increasingly known.

Progressives must be aware of the screens that work against Palestinian Rights movements, themselves. Wit and diligence can defuse many of the discrediting tactics employed by zionist sympathizers, so long as justice workers are no divided among themselves.

Curtains will rise between us if we gloss over our privileges, as those unrecognized senses of privilege continue to operate unguided. A break-out session on Saturday afternoon created a space for participants to talk about the diverse voices within our movement in order to discover overlaps where we still lack complete understanding. For example, because mainstream media may privilege Jewish voices in discussions of Israel (and because of still-existing anti-Semitic sentiments in society) disambiguating the place of Jewish voices in a Palestinian Rights movement is a regular task. Conversely, everyone in attendance took time to think about which voices were not represented. Rather than turning our backs to differences, we must take strides to braid those differences into a concerted, self-aware movement.

An especially touching session took place on Sunday morning, when panelists from the African American and Indigenous American communities shared their respective views alongside a Palestinian BDS strategist. Two issues became salient. First, any sense of complacency among us about the position of historically oppressed groups was dashed and we faced the long-term consequences of practices that dehumanize and dispossess. The second screen only partially cleared; other rights movements cannot merely blow away the fog of problems that already surround them. One panelist commented that solidarity had to go beyond being “transactional” to become “integral” for all groups in coalition. Personally, I believe that only a movement that is both inclusive and rooted in the voices of those most affected will be worth brandishing on Capitol Hill, when ears finally open, and it needs to be grown and honed in the media before that day.

A holistic, comprehensive solidarity movement difficult to build and I cannot diminish the necessity of creating a spread of practical milestones to accompany the needed cultural shift. We can do that. Yet there is a danger of falling into a fragmentary culture of nonprofit “benchmarks”, where the success paradigm calcifies at a non-analogous point in history and objectives fail to connect with present needs. If maintaining relationships is valued equally to meeting goals, then I think we can look forward to a long, arduous, but rewarding justice journey.

A final comment on justice and movement building for Palestinian Rights: though we should be track the many threads in this movement, I realized that each of us cannot be involved in every aspect nor responsible for even one facet, alone. Ideally, this movement is made of many people operating within focused roles without slipping into ‘silos’. The only fatal screen is one put over the mirror. Just now, I noticed all the times I say “we” in my article and questioned if I earned that collective pronoun. Though my role may never be as a leader, I celebrate saying “we” because the struggle for a just society belongs to everyone and at all times.

[Top] The Statue of Liberty weeps for Handala, as painted on the Annexation barrier slicing through Bethlehem. [Right] A cartoon girl offers to destroy the Annexation barrier, adjacent to the Wi'am Center. Photos by J.D. Gore

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JD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. JD is a product of the Michigan State Wesley Foundation and of greater West Michigan. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.

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