And More Churches Are Sure To Follow
So much bad news is hitting Israel’s leaders, so fast, these days, that they may have overlooked warnings by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), among others, that the United Church of Christ General Synod was considering becoming the first major U.S. denomination to label Israel an apartheid state. The Zionist shock and outrage didn’t have the intensity of the meltdown over the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream affair, which came at the same time, but the UCC’s condemnation of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is sure to resonate with the other mainline American churches — and their millions of members.
The UCC “A-bomb” simply said,
“We reject Israel’s apartheid system of laws and legal procedures,”
but it passed late in the day July 18 with an overwhelming 83% vote and was part of a long and unsparing indictment.
Moreover, the UCC resolution is likely to be only the first blow among many from other mainline denominations, including the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Quakers and others who will follow the UCC lead in denouncing Israel’s “continued oppression of the Palestinian people” and calling on the U.S. government to support full equal rights for Palestinians.
The UCC denounced almost all of the injuries done to the Palestinians over the decades, with the unstinting support of Washington. Thus, they:
– Affirmed the right of return to Palestine — or to compensation for property losses — of the 5.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Administration, invoking UN Resolution 194 (1948); rejected recent efforts to drastically narrow the refugee definition; and demanded full U.S. funding for UNRWA;
– Affirmed the constitutional right of Americans to protest Israel’s actions through BDS;
– Rejected “the idea that any criticism of policies of the State of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic” and opposed federal or state legislation to limit free speech on campuses or to constrain or punish BDS;
– Advocated “cessation of U.S. military aid to Israel” until Palestinian rights are “fully realized and protected”;
– Rejected any theology or ideology, particularly Christian Zionism, that “would privilege or exclude any one nation, race, culture, or religion”; and backed up the point with citations to pithy fundamental texts of the Jewish Bible and the New Testament;
– Condemned “Jewish-only settlements throughout the West Bank,” and the 2018 Nation-State basic law, while tying Israel to historical examples of “settler-colonialism” and to the pre-civil rights era racist regime known as Jim Crow;
– Faulted “provocative actions under the Trump administration, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem,” and supporting Israel’s proposed illegal annexation of West Bank territory;
– Endorsed Palestinian Christian leaders’ landmark declaration of 2020 entitled “Cry for Hope: A Call for Decisive Action.”
Looking ahead, the manager of the UCC resolution drive, Rev. John Thomas of the UCC Palestine-Israel Network Steering Committee, said, “We hope that this provides some space for other denominations to follow our lead.”
As for why it was necessary to say Israel’s conduct is a sin, Rev. Shari Prestemon of Minnesota explained, “What we speak of is not just a geopolitical matter. … The systemic oppression and denial of human and civil rights for Palestinians caused by the policies of the State of Israel violate the vision of just relationships set forth by ancient prophets and the gospels. They can rightly be described as a sin against God and God’s children.”
Citing the massive support extended to Israel by the U.S. government, “UCC Leadership” said in a July 19 statement that “as U.S. citizens and as a U.S church,” the UCC has “a special responsibility to speak out on this.”
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