Members of United Methodist Church have responded forcefully to an attack from Rabbi A. James Rudin, the “senior interreligious adviser” of the American Jewish Committee, just as the Church’s upcoming national conference is to vote on a major initiative to divest from companies profiting from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Writing in The Washington Post, Rudin belittled the divestment initiatives in the Methodist and other Protestant churches as “pointless,” and deployed the now standard tactic of trying to divert attention away from Israel by berating church members for a “biased double standard that judges Israel much more harshly than its neighboring nations and terrorist organizations including Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Not taking the bait
United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), a group organizing in favor of the divestment initiative rejected Rudin’s criticism in a statement sent out by email:
“It’s unfortunate that Rabbi Rudin chose to avoid addressing the substantive issues around divestment, like Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian land and denial of Palestinian freedom, instead focusing on canards like the size of church membership,” said UMKR member Connie Baker. “If Rabbi Rudin is truly interested in inter-religious dialogue as he claims, we invite him to meet with us to discuss what we are doing and why we are doing it, instead of publishing op-eds attacking us.”
UMKR also refused to take the bait, implied in Rudin’s article, that church divestment initiatives were motivated by anti-Jewish sentiment:
UMKR members have always been, and remain, dedicated to inter-religious dialogue and cooperation with Jewish and other religious groups. In fact, the United Methodist divestment proposal has support from many Jewish groups around the world. UMKR has worked with Jewish and Israeli partners from the beginning of our efforts on divestment. The struggle to end Israel’s occupation, like all civil rights struggles before it is an interfaith effort. Deep and lasting interfaith friendships are being formed as we stand together for equality and human rights.
According to its website, UMKR is “a grass roots effort to respond to the ’Kairos Palestine Document.’ This document is an urgent plea from Christians in the Holy Land for decisive action in support of a just peace. It is a powerful call to churches around the world to stop talking about peace and take real steps to make peace happen.”
Rudin’s editorial attempted to use what Jamil Sbitan has dubbed “Assadwashing” to distract attention from Israel:
Why are some Protestant church leaders so intent to single out Israel for financial punishment and public condemnation while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is slaughtering his own citizens? While Egypt’s once promising quest for democracy is threatened by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood? While Hezbollah effectively controls the fragile Lebanese government?
Of course the obvious answer is that whatever anyone thinks of those countries or movements, the United States government imposes varying degrees of unilateral and international sanctions on them.
Israel, meanwhile, receives billions of dollars per year from the US government and enjoys complete diplomatic, political and legal impunity and even encouragement as it commits crimes. It is that unique impunity – the singling out of Israel for special treatment by the United States government – that has compelled Methodists to act.