While mainline churches in America seem to be lining up these days to divest from Israel, the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop condemned the boycott. “The Church does not endorse divestment or boycott”, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori just told a Los Angeles group. “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel.”
The Episcopal Church has two million members and 7,200 churches in the US and is part of the 77-million member Anglican Communion. Because of the relative wealth of its members, and its connections to the Church of England throughout the world, the Episcopal Church is in a strategic position to influence attitudes toward Israel on both a national and global scale.
Since the first Intifada, the mainline churches have become increasingly hostile to Israel, viewing Arab violence as a legitimate grassroots rebellion by “oppressed natives” against Israel's “colonial conquests” of Palestinian lands. All five of the mainline denominations in the United States – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran and United Church of Christ – have debated or adopted policies intended to divest or boycott Israel.
These Churches are now at a crossroad. During the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church scheduled for April 25 in Tampa, Florida, and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (June 30 in Pittsburgh,) anti-Israel actions in the form of boycott, divestment or sanctions are expected to be brought to the floor for a vote. The strategic objective of this campaign is not economic. It has been and continues to be about the isolation and the weakening of Israel’s image in the eyes of the world — and most crucially, America.
Apologists for Arab rejectionismOften identified as supporters of Israel, Pentecostal Churches are now being targeted by BDS activists from the Evangelical camp. The Society for Pentecostal Studies just gathered in Virginia, where it screened “Little Town of Bethlehem,” a film with a virulent anti-Israel message. “World Week for Peace in Palestine,” an initiative of the World Council of Churches, will be observed May 28 to June 3.
Elsewhere, BDS initiatives will be promoted at the World Council of Churches, the world's largest Protestant organization, claiming to represent more than 560 million Christians and 349 churches in more than 110 countries. A General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the same denomination of President Barack Obama, debated multiple strongly worded resolutions against Israel (one comparing Israel to South Africa’s apartheid regime.)
Historically, if one surveys the American presidents and secretaries of state, one finds that with very few exceptions, they all come from these Churches. The Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies and the landed aristocracy of America are found in these churches. If the divest and boycott campaigns will be adopted by these Churches, it will have severe consequences in many other Christian quarters around the world.
In Australia, the National Council of Churches last year passed a motion backing the boycott. In Europe, most of the Churches adopted BDS. The national Church of Sweden promoted a boycott of Israeli goods. Archbishop Karl G. Hammar, heading the Swedish Lutheran Church, has been among the first Western Protestant leaders to call for a boycott.
The official Lutheran State Church is also a source of anti-Israeli attitudes. In 2010, the International Advice Council of the Church of Norway, the highest Church authority in Norway, decided to call for a full boycott of Israel. In 2007 the Protestant Church in the Netherlands reexamined “policy of solidarity with Israel.” The Church of Scotland considered a divestment at its general assembly. The British Methodist Church has also seen a number of resolutions against Israel passed in recent years.
With 26 member Churches, the South African council has endorsed an “academic and cultural” boycott of Israel. If BDS won’t be rejected, the global Churches will become unabashed apologists for Arab rejectionism, wrapping genocidal violence against Israelis in the mantle of innocent suffering and caricaturing the Jews as a divinely forsaken people, superseded in God’s favor by Christian “New Israel,” stripped of any right to a land or a future.
This doctrine was key in fanning the flames of the Holocaust, which could not have happened without 2,000 years of anti-Jewish Christian polemic. The future of Jewish-Christian relations is now at stake.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism