Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, has released a statement defending her decision to join more than a dozen other Christian leaders in sending a letter to Congress, urging an investigation of possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Export Control Act.
Some Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and Union for Reform Judaism, were upset enough about the letter to cancel a scheduled meeting of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, formed to promote interfaith dialogue about the Middle East. And some United Methodists, in comments posted to online articles about the letter, have questioned Bishop Wenner’s decision to be a signatory.
The letter—signed by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among others—notes that the two acts prohibit U.S. assistance to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of human rights violations.
The letter notes that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have suffered, and that both bear responsibility for the conflict. But the letter also says:
“In addition to specific rights violations, we see a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored.”
The letter argues further that unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to sustaining the conflict and resulted in human rights violations against Palestinians involving “the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.”
Among the groups upset about the letter is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“The participation of these leaders in yet another one-sided anti-Israel campaign cannot be viewed apart from the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the council.
Some of the United Methodists who commented critically questioned whether Bishop Wenner had overstepped in signing the letter, given that the 2012 General Conference defeated petitions calling on the UMC to divest from firms accused of contributing to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Bishop Wenner, who leads three annual conferences in Germany along with presiding over the Council of Bishops, responded by email to the Reporter’s request that she address criticisms by United Methodists. Here’s what she said:
The president of the Council of Bishops is the spokesperson for the Council and has the task to speak on public issues of urgent concern, in consultation with the executive secretary or executive committee as may be possible. Such statements shall be made when consonant with the position of the General Conference. The General Conference clearly stated that the UMC works for peace in the Middle East and urges all parties in Israel and Palestine to respect the human rights of all people. General Conference speaks clearly in encouraging United Methodists to engage with their governments so that peaceful solutions in the Israel-Palestine conflict might be achieved.
The General Conference 2012 adopted, for example, on May 2, 2012, the resolution “Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land.” It says:
“… Be it further resolved, that we urge the U.S. government to end all military aid to the region, and second to redistribute the large amount of aid now given to Israel and Egypt; to support economic development efforts of nongovernmental organizations throughout the region, including religious institutions, human rights groups, labor unions, and professional groups within Palestinian communities.
The United Methodist Church requests that all governments, especially that of the United States, work in cooperation with the United Nations, to urge the State of Israel to:
1. cease the confiscation of Palestinian lands and water for any reason;
2. cease the building of new, or expansion of existing, settlements and/or bypass roads in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem;
3. lift the closures and curfews on all Palestinian towns by completely withdrawing Israeli military forces to the Green Line (the 1948 ceasefire line between Israel and the West Bank);
4. dismantle that segment of the Wall of Separation constructed since May 2002 that is not being built on the Green Line but on Palestinian land that is separating Palestinians from their land and farmers from their fields.
We also urge the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian religious leaders to continue to publicly condemn violence against Israeli civilians and to use nonviolent acts of disobedience to resist the occupation and the illegal settlements. …”
This resolution goes further than the letter which I signed. The letter asks the congress to urge the U.S. government to implement accountability structures for the huge amount of the military aid which Israel receives from the United States. It does not say that Israel does not have the right to defend itself. We stand clearly on the side of Israel and we are committed to human rights for all God’s people. We are ready to continue the dialogue with Jewish faith groups. And we will also continue to express publicly our desire for peaceful solutions for the conflict in the Middle East. In doing this we have to ask the politicians to act according to their responsibility and control those who are in power if people are threatened and peaceful solutions are undermined.
editor’s note: We’ve become aware that a group with a deep interest in the Israel/Palestine subject has encouraged members and friends to post comments here, supporting Bishop Wenner. That’s fine, but many of the comments make the same points, often with language that’s similar. We’ve decided, in consultation with one of the leaders of the group, to post a representative sampling of those comments – not all of them. So if yours doesn’t appear, that’s the reason. Thanks for your patience and understanding.