The General Synod of the United Church of Christ met in Cleveland during the last four days of June 2015 and passed a resolution calling on members, local churches and the denomination’s investment managers to sell stock in companies that do business with Israel’s defense establishment. In addition to calling for a boycott of Israeli products produced in the West Bank, the resolution also endorsed the Kairos Document prepared by Palestinian Christians in 2009 which is so one-sided and hostile toward the Jewish state that the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has declared it antisemitic.
Another resolution, declaring Israel to be guilty of the crime of Apartheid, received a majority of votes at the General Synod, but failed to get the two-thirds supermajority it needed for enactment.
By themselves, the actions of the UCC’s General Synod will not have much of an impact on public opinion in the United States. The denomination has long since ceased to be a vital and vibrant force in American religious practice. It has been hemorrhaging members ever since it was founded with a merger of two shrinking Protestant denominations in 1957.
In the mid-1960s, the denomination had close to 2 million members. Today it has less than a million. The church is not representative of the mainstream of American society, from which it is estranged. To drive the point home, two other Protestant denominations, the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church in the USA have both recently defeated efforts to promote BDS resolutions at their deliberative bodies.
Still, there is something deeply troubling about the endorsement of the BDS movement by a historically important Protestant denomination whose roots go back to the Mayflower. In the weeks and months ahead, BDS activists, many of whom seek Israel’s destruction, will invoke the votes in Cleveland as proof that their cause is righteous and just and gaining traction in the United States.
With its votes, the General Synod has enlisted local UCC churches in the campaign to de-legitimize Israel and single out the Jewish state for opprobrium. That was the goal of the resolutions, neither of which offered one word of condemnation toward Palestinian leaders; the General Synod’s ire was directed solely at Israel. Israel’s repeated efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians were left unmentioned in these resolutions, as was the refusal of Palestinians to accept these offers.
These votes were motivated by a counterfactual and nonsensical belief that Israel is singularly responsible for the continuation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the suffering it causes and that Israel can unilaterally bring this conflict to an end.
Not only did the UCC’s 2015 General Synod fail to speak up about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the violence and ideology of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in its resolutions, it did not offer up any official condemnation of ISIS and Boko Haram, two groups that have engaged in horrific crimes against humanity on two different continents – often specifically targeting Christians.
The General Synod also failed to condemn the Syrian government, which has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own citizens in that country’s civil war.
No organization with a serious commitment to peace and human rights in the Middle East can allow the crimes committed by ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Syrian government to pass without comment, but the UCC’s 2015 General Synod did not offer any official statement about these groups.
The conclusion is inescapable: As a body, the UCC’s General Synod is irrationally obsessed with Israel and indifferent to Arab and Muslim misdeeds, no matter how outrageous and horrific. Misdeeds perpetrated by Arabs and Muslims simply do not offend the sensibilities of the UCC’s deliberative body with the same force as Israel’s efforts to defend itself from terrorism. This distorted focus immeasurably harms Muslim and Christian victims of Islamist aggression who warrant world attention and rescue.
The passage of the boycott and divestment resolution was facilitated by a long-term propaganda campaign advanced by activists associated with the United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network (UCC-PIN). UCC-PIN, which receives logistical support from the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, propounds a one-sided and jaundiced narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict that ultimately serves to demonize the Jewish state. The organization does not promote peace, but is part of the decades-long propaganda war against Israel.
The anti-Israel votes that took place at General Synod were also facilitated by the UCC’s denominational leaders in Cleveland who invited Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem to give a sermon at a worship service held the night before the Israel-related votes. During his talk, Raheb wrote the Jewish people out of their scriptures and out of the Land of Israel itself, repeatedly referring to the people of ancient Israel as “the Palestinians” or the “people of Palestine.” He did, however, use the word Israel in reference to the “occupation.”
Raheb’s ugly effort to write the Jews out of the Bible is contrary to the spirit and letter of a resolution passed by the UCC”s 1987 General Synod which condemned replacement theology (which it referred to as “supersessionism”), but that did not stop delegates from giving the pastor a standing ovation.
Another factor contributing to the passage of the boycott and divestment resolution was the presence of activists from Jewish Voice for Peace at the General Synod. These activists worked assiduously to assure delegates that singling Israel out for condemnation while remaining silent about the misdeeds of Arab and Muslim countries in the region is not discriminatory or antisemitic. The leaders of the UCC apparently did not see fit to bring in representatives from Jewish groups that have a viewpoint different from JVP’s to speak to the General Synod. The JVP does not speak for American Jews, most of whom would be horrified at the thought of singling out Israel for divestment and boycotts.
CAMERA deplores the actions of proponents of these resolutions in citing JVP as representative of the mainstream Jewish community in the United States. Interestingly enough, the boycott and divestment resolution passed by General Synod calls on UCC churches to dialogue with Jews in their community. How exactly are Jews supposed to engage in dialogue with a church whose General Synod has repeatedly – and for decades – singled out their homeland for condemnation while remaining silent about the misdeeds of its adversaries? How are Jews in the U.S. supposed to dialogue with congregants of a denomination whose General Synod has endorsed the antisemitic Kairos Document?
Fortunately, there are some people within the UCC who understand what is at stake. One delegate, Joanne Marchetto from Pennsylvania, pointed out the one-sided aspect of the deliberations at the UCC’s 2015 General Synod. Prior to the vote in favor of boycotts and divestment, she told her fellow delegates that “it does not seem that we really allow Israel to tell their [sic] story or that we have heard their story. We have named the enemy and we do not allow them to have a voice at our table.”
The delegates heard stories about the “occupation” and “settlements,” Marchetto said, but
“we never heard about how Israelis have not been safe in their own schools or homes or on buses and how they face threats of terror from their many borders. We do not know what it means to live in the constant threat of fear.”
Marchetto added that delegates did not hear about Israeli peace offers made in 2000 and 2008. “We condemn them for the occupation, but we don’t want to hear about any efforts they have made to end it.”
Another delegate, Dawn Berry from New Hampshire, asked the General Synod to think seriously about the fear Israelis endure on a regular basis. “Do you know what frightens Israelis more than rockets and suicide bombers that have terrified them for years? It’s people like us who ignore or dismiss the very real threats they live under and negate or misinterpret the very viable peace offers they agreed to in 2000 and 2008.”
Sadly, these voices did not carry the day at the UCC’s 2015 General Synod.
The UCC’s next General Synod is scheduled to take place in Baltimore in 2017. Perhaps by then members of local UCC churches will have decided to speak out against the sullying of their venerable institution in the shameful vote to slander and damage the Jewish homeland.