It’s that time of year again, when national denominations gather to be inspired, transact business and take stands on issues of importance.
Increasing those “issues of importance” have included the never-ending, seemingly irresolvable conflict in the Holy Land.
This year is no exception.
Except the perception that more and more Christians are taking the matter seriously and are seriously considering what they and their denomination could do concretely to make a difference for justice and peace in that contested area.
That includes divestment from U.S. businesses that benefit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.
The United Methodists, meeting earlier this spring, voted against divestment as such. But they took a number of actions that placed them on the side of the occupied and oppressed Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim.
The Presbyterians are up next. They too have under consideration a strong proposal for divestment. It will be hotly contested.
People in the U.S. tend to be uncritically predisposed toward Israel for all sorts of supposedly religious and patriotic reasons, so hearing Palestinian voices is important if issues such as divestment are to be evaluated fairly.
An American-born and educated, now Palestinian businessman has recently written U.S. Presbyterians preparing for their forthcoming General Assembly (June 30-July 7), urging them to resist Israeli calls for economic investment in Palestine and instead to adopt the divestment proposal.
Actually, Sam Bahour’s argument is a little more complicated than that. As someone who has lived under Israeli occupation since 1993, he has long recognized that Israel, primarily through its military presence, controls virtually every dimension of Palestinian life, including the realm of economics.
He writes: “Without exaggeration, the Israeli military, directed by the Israeli government, micromanages every aspect of the Palestinian economy.”
To participate, therefore, in an investment campaign in and for Palestine without at the same time standing against Israel’s subjection of the Palestinians is simply to side with the oppressors and in opposition to the oppressed.
Investment in and for Palestine would only make sense, in Bahour’s assessment, if it were accompanied by a strong and effective strategy that reversed Israeli policies of subjugation and brought an end to the occupation itself.
He believes divestment is that strategy, even if many have their doubts: “Some will argue that one should invest in Palestine instead of divesting from Israel. Divestment, they claim, is so negative. Nothing could be further from the truth. Divestment is a highly mature, time-tested method to resist injustices by states.”
Bahour adds: “In a perfected Orwellian move, pro-Israeli lobbyists publicly promote investment in Palestine, but simultaneously turn a blind eye to the systematic Israeli policies that strangle the Palestinian economy. Investment in Palestine – without divestment from the Israeli occupation – only continues to underwrite the status quo of military occupation. The pro-Israeli lobbyists who believe otherwise are those who accept the slogans of the Israeli state propaganda, but refuse to scratch the surface to reveal the reality of occupation on the lives of Palestinians.”
One need not be against the State of Israel or its right to exist by advocating for divestment in U.S. firms that profit from Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Many now argue just the opposite: that the continued occupation of Palestine and the refusal to negotiate a resolution to the conflict makes Israel more vulnerable.
Up until recently, I have taken the position that the most effective way for Americans to work for justice and peace in Palestine-Israel is to urge our own government officials to exercise our nation’s (potentially) considerable political and economic power to bring about change in Israeli policies.
I will continue to make that case to my senators and representatives, even while recognizing how nearly futile it is to make even a small dent in their lockstep support of Israel’s unjust – indeed criminal – actions.
But, given my despair over the political options available to us as U.S. citizens with our own officials, I am now ready to hear and accept Bahour’s plea for divestment and investment – for divestment from firms profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine as the only reasonable partner to investment in Palestine itself.
If I’m impotent politically, maybe I can overcome that dysfunction economically.
Underlying it all, however, is a religious obligation, grounded in my Christian faith, to work for justice and peace, and a religious potency aroused by the Holy Spirit.
Actually, the discussion of divestment ought not to be limited to individual Christians. And it shouldn’t be limited to a few denominations. It deserves to be considered by every Christian and every Christian denomination in the U.S.
Well, for that matter, it ought to be considered by every U.S. citizen, religiously affiliated or not, if we still have a passion for justice and peace.
But those of us who find the roots of our faith in the Holy Land have special reasons to rethink what our faith now requires of us. Not just to rethink, as a matter of fact, but to redirect our faith-filled actions.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.