Mission Study on Israel-Palestine Is Consistent with United Methodist Policy
(Revised June 2008)
A joint statement of the General Board of Global Ministries and the Women's Division
The United Methodist Church has a record solid in word and deed against bigotry, hatred, and anti-Semitism. A comprehensive 1996 statement on Christian-Jewish relationships by The United Methodist Church's General Conference, the only entity that speaks for the entire church, strongly stated the denomination's longtime opposition to all forms of anti-Semitism. i The 2008 General Conference again reiterated the denomination's stand against anti-Semitism, bigotry, hatred, genocide, and other crimes against humanity in its reauthorization of a resolution initially adopted in 2000 to urge United Methodists to observe Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust Memorial Day, in programs and by working against anti-Semitism. ii The 2008 General Conference also reaffirmed its concern about Israeli-Palestinian relations in the Middle East in actions continuing the church's support for United Nations' resolutions asserting the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace within secure borders that existed prior to the 1967 war.iii The 2004 General Conference opposed Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories; urged the Palestinian civic and religious leaders to publicly condemn violence against Israeli citizens, and to use nonviolent acts of disobedience to resist the occupation and the illegal settlements; and called on United Methodist to study the Israel-Palestine conflict.iv The 2008 General Conference urged the denomination to continue to advocate for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians through negotiation and diplomacy rather than violence and coercion.v
These positions and attitudes form the framework for a current United Methodist mission study on Israel-Palestine. The study is part of the Women's Division's 77-year-old Schools of Christian Mission program through which selected spiritual growth topics, societal issues, and geographic areas or countries are studied in one- and two-year cycles. The Women's Division and the General Board of Global Ministries produce guides and other materials for the studies. Israel-Palestine, the adult study guide, and From Palestine to Seattle: Becoming Neighbors and Friends, a storybook-style text for the children, were published in the spring of 2007 and used without controversy in hundreds of regional and annual conference Schools of Christian Mission that summer and in local congregations and units of United Methodist Women beginning in the fall of that year.
We were surprised when, beginning in late January 2008, the mission study became an issue in a public debate triggered in large measure by a public discussion of whether The United Methodist Church, at its 2008 General Conference (April 23-May 2), should support financial divestment from companies whose products or services were judged to support Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Several critics inaccurately asserted that the mission study was a motivation for proposals on divestment. Various other allegations charged that the study was biased against Israel, and even anti-Semitic in nature. Some went so far as to charge that the primary adult study book compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of Jews. The allegation is false.
More recently, a letter-writing campaign against the study material was launched by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). The Washington, DC-based organization was founded in 1982 in response to perceived anti-Israeli coverage by The Washington Post of Israel's incursion into Lebanon. CAMERA's objections extended to a children's study on Israel-Palestine. The group calls From Palestine to Seattle: Becoming Neighbors and Friends a "well-crafted bit of propaganda" vi that "will affect how the denomination deals with Israel-related resolutions at its next General Convention in 2012."
These recent allegations, like the earlier ones, are disingenuous. The children's study materials are not propaganda, but personalize the issues by way of a Palestinian girl character and an Israeli boy character in order to give children and those who teach them opportunities to encounter points of view of the Israel-Palestine conflict that may be new to them. Such encounter is essential in learning.
The mission study's perspective is in keeping with the thoughtful, informed, and consistent position of The United Methodist Church on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The United Methodist Church is not neutral on the question of military occupations. Israel-Palestine is a regional study, not an exploration of ethnic identities or faiths. It deals with Israel as a secular nation-state. The study analyzes political actions and aspirations. It seeks to expand the dialogue regarding this matter by including viewpoints rarely heard in public discourse. Many of the phrases and concepts being criticized are common in current academic and interfaith discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Peaceful solutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require addressing difficult issues of justice. This cannot happen if critiques of Israeli policies are summarily banned from discussion. These charges against the mission study materials begged the question: If the wall Israel is erecting on Palestinian lands and its impact on Palestinians are not suitable for discussions about the conflict in that area, what can be discussed?
We cannot accept the argument that it is anti-Semitic to raise questions about the actions of Israel as nation state. Many Israelis, enjoying the gift of democracy, ask hard questions about their government's policies and actions regarding the occupied territories. Israel's friends, among whom we count ourselves, are also at liberty to raise questions.
The United Methodist Church is on record as a firm advocate of both Israeli and Palestinian rights. The mission study was prepared with the goal of helping United Methodists appreciate the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the context of our commitment to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
We welcome informed critiques of our work and publications. Free expression is essential in a world that takes seriously the possibility of peace and justice.
Bishop Felton E. May
i "Building New Bridges in Hope" Statement of The United Methodist Church on Christian-Jewish Relationship, 1996; continued 2004, The Book of Resolutions of The UnitedMethodistChurch, 2004, pp. 243-252,
ii "Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah)," continued in 2004, The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2004, #75, pp 213-214; renewed by 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, April 23 - May 2, 2008.
iii "United Nations Resolutions on the Israel-Palestine Conflict," continued in 2004, The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2004, #323, pp. 811-812; readopted by the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, April 23 - May 2, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas.
iv "Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land," The Book of Resolutions of The United MethodistChurch, 2004, #312, pp. 787-790.
v "Saying No to Violence in Middle East Conflict," adopted by 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, April 23-May 2 in Forth Worth, Texas.
vi CAMERA Alert, www.camera.org
Date posted: Jun 24, 2008