Brother, Can You Buy Me a Beer?

This is the final post from our guestposters, Rae Abileah and Ariel Vegosen, Jewish Voice for Peace volunteer youth activist members on the ground at the United Methodist general conference leading up to the divestment vote.-ed.

When it comes to the nonviolent tactic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, the United Methodist Church now has B and S covered. But without the D, is it just BS? No, not entirely.

Yesterday, May 2, the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) failed to pass a measure to divest from three companies – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and HP – profiting from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses of Palestinians, but succeeded in resolving to boycott Israeli settlement products. We were in Tampa at the UMC conference this past week as part of a Jewish advocacy team for boycott and divestment, and returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area just a day before the vote took place. Yesterday we watched the UMC livestream, twitter and twitter feed on the edge of our seats. The outcome was a deeply divided church that takes a firm stand against Occupation but isn’t yet willing to put its money where its values are. And “yet” is the operative word here, because the church is clearly now one step closer to a day when this will happen.

United Methodist Kairos Response, the main Methodist group behind the divestment resolution, wrote, “We have achieved a great victory nonetheless. We have succeeded in raising awareness amongst the general public and in our churches about the suffering of Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians, living under Israel’s nearly 45-year-old military occupation, and the colonization of their lands. The brutal reality of the Israeli occupation can no longer be hidden.” Indeed, the issue became such a hot topic that it landed a major, fair and balanced story in the NY Times last night.

Let’s review who was behind the church divestment vote. If it was just a major Methodist organization – UM Kairos Response – then dayenu. If it was UMKR plus over a dozen other major Methodist organizations, including General Board of Church and Society, General Board of Global Ministries, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Black Methodists For Church Renewal, and six regional UMC conferences, dayenu. Palestinian Christians added their voices to the call, including Methodist Missionary Alex Awad and founder of the Tent of Nations Daoud Nasser, dayenu. Add in Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Young Jewish Proud and dozens of rabbis (www.rabbisletter.org), dayenu. Add to this interfaith coalition major voices in human rights and politics such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who wrote a profoundly eloquent op-ed supporting divestment), dayenu. Plus a long list of Israelis supporting divestment, dayenu. In the end, all of these voices were not enough to tip the scales from Occupation profiteering to ethical investment, much like the enormous coalition of diverse student groups at UC Berkeley who amassed to support college divestment from Occupation last spring did not see their resolution survive the student government president’s veto. Yet each time the divestment campaign is waged, unique coalitions of diverse people come together, and new, and often prominent, voices speak out. We are building a movement, a movement that is gaining strength and supporters.

Methodist Church Resolves to Boycott Settlement Products
The vote preceding the divestment debate was a vote on an amended version of the Resolution on Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land, and this vote passed overwhelmingly. This resolution states that the Methodist Church opposes “products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.” The church also called on all nations “to prohibit any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements, and the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.” Finally, the church urges “the U.S. government to examine the role played by donations from tax-exempt charities in support of discriminatory and other illegal aspects of Israeli settlements, and develop recommendations to ensure that tax-exempt funds do not support settlements and other violations of international law.”

This resolution may imply that church gift shops should refuse to sell Ahava Dead Sea cosmetics, which are made in the illegal settlement Mitzpe Shalem, and as thus are the subject of an international boycott campaign, and perhaps clergy could ask their parishoners not to buy SodaStream products, also made in an illegal settlement. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee has already filed complaints with the IRS about several US organizations that support settlements, including: Friends of Efrat, Hebron Fund, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, and American Friends of Ateret Cohanim. Certainly the church could push the government to investigate these charitable organizations and review the data already collected on the issue (see this report). It will be up to members of the Methodist Church and allies to push for action on this breakthrough resolution.

Church Advocates Sanctions
The resolution also reaffirms what the church has said for over 30 years: “We urge the U.S. government to end all military aid to the region.” Since 2004, the UMC has called for the redistribution of military aid now given to Egypt and Israel to economic development organizations throughout the region including religious institutions, human rights groups, labor unions and professional groups within Palestinian community. This bold call by the UMC for sanctions on Israel is backed by the church’s long-standing position on the occupation: “The United Methodist Church opposes continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the continued building of illegal Jewish settlements, and any vision of a ‘Greater Israel’ that includes the occupied territories and the whole of Jerusalem and its surroundings.”

Everything but the “D”
As Jewish allies never having been to a Methodist Conference before, we had a steep learning curve to understand the church decision making process. Here’s what we’ve deduced: the show isn’t over. While divestment didn’t pass on the international level, individual “conferences” – regional church bodies – can and have voted on divestment resolutions. The United Methodist conference in West Ohio has already divested from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and General Electric. And two other northeast conferences – New York and Northern Illinois – have also divested from companies that profit from the Israeli Occupation, including CAT. The Western Ohio area advocates of divestment were able to pass the resolution with support from key conservatives, showing widespread support in the church for ethical investment. In addition, just this past month the Quakers voted to divest from Caterpillar. The Church of England divested from Caterpillar in 2009. The Presbyterian Church will be considering divestment at their conference later this summer.

It’s helpful to remember that the call for boycott of Apartheid South Africa came out in 1959, but Apartheid wasn’t ended until 1994, thirty-five years later, and along the way church divestment suffered many setbacks (Ali Abunimah’s article on this is worth a click). In the 1980s, the United Methodist Church divested over $77 million dollars from 17 companies involved in Apartheid. While the struggle to overturn apartheid in South Africa was a very long process spanning decades, the use of the tactic of boycott and divestment to end Israeli Occupation has been gaining successes and receiving media attention at a more rapid rate today.

Mind The Generation Gap
On numerous issues of progressive concern, from gay rights to divestment from Occupation to youth inclusivity, there appears to be a rift in the UMC, perhaps intensified by a generational divide. Young Methodists gathered together for rallies about inclusion and voices frustration at feeling silenced, and many young participants joined in the queer solidarity flashmobs and events throughout the conference. In the twitterverse, the vast majority of tweets seem to support gay rights and supported the divestment resolution. “#churchdivest” even became a trending word within the #gc2012 stream.

As young Jews, we see this generational divide in our community as well. As Peter Beinart noted in his NY Times article, young Jewish opinion on the Israeli government and military is dramatically different than that of our parents, bubbies and zadies: “[Young Jews] are more conscious than their parents of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril.” Even when it comes to the rabbinate, young rabbis are often more likely to support the politics of JSTREET or JVP than their AIPAC-loving predecessors.

When the Jewish institutions try to shut out debate on Israeli policies and shun BDS, many young Jews move further away from the Jewish establishment. In a successful effort to bring daylight on to the issue, JVP launched a national event series this spring called Go & Learn: BDS Education in Jewish Communities. The Go & Learn curriculum has innovative exercises for creating a safe discussion on nonviolent tools for justice for Palestinians. Who knows, maybe one day soon Jewish denominations will also be considering boycott and divestment resolutions!

Friends Don’t Let Friends…
At the end of the debate I tweeted: “It’s simple: #UMC says NO to Occupation & YES to funding Occupation. It’s like telling ur friend STOP drinking & BUYING him liquor. #gc2012”

While the countless resolutions, amendments, minority reports, and floor statements may have made the issue incredibly confusing, let’s be clear – the Methodist vote yesterday was very simple: The church says “No!” to the Israeli Occupation, “No!” to illegal settlements, and “Yes!” to funding that very same Occupation. Some would call this a hypocrisy. But it’s more than that – it’s a classic enabling of a power structure that is not working. Picture this: Your friend repeatedly goes out and drinks too much, resulting in bar fights, abuse of his girlfriend, and the occasional car crash and DUI. You keep telling your friend to stop drinking – it’s bad for his health and it hurts you to watch him being so harmful. He asks you to buy him a drink – ahem, a case of beer. What would you do? Would you keep buying him beer while shaming his drinking problem?

We must put actions behind our words. Nonviolent action is the shining hope toward creating a more just, peaceful Middle East. The United Methodist Church has made major strides this week in Tampa by proclaiming a settlement boycott and urging the US government to halt military aid to Israel. And it must go farther if it aims to have its investments in alignment with its gospel and resolutions.

To read the Jewish Voice for Peace full statement on the divestment vote please visit www.rabbisletter.org.

Rae Abileah is a founding member of Young Jewish Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace. She is a Jewish American of Israeli descent and has visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. She currently works as the national co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace.

Ariel Vegosen is a professional dialogue facilitator, Jewish educator, and inter-faith community organizer. She is a member of Young Jewish and Proud – the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace. She works with the Community of Living Traditions – a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community committed to nonviolence – and serves on the board of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

9 Responses to “Brother, Can You Buy Me a Beer?”

  1. [...] (Tampa Bay Times) » Final post from young Jews who urged the Methodists to divest Brother, Can You Buy Me a Beer? May 3, [...]


    Final post from young Jews who urged the Methodists to divest « www.RabbisLetter.org · May 3rd, 2012 at 5:34 pm
  2. Regarding the “dozens of rabbis” who support church BDS, I counted 25 including students. On the other hand, more than 1200 rabbis opposed it:

    rabbis-letter.org/

    BDS will never lead to peace, because it will inevitably break apart any possible coalitions of the center and left. It might make you feel good to stake out such a morally pure position, but it will set back the cause of compromise by empowering extremists on both sides- on the Arab side by giving the Palestinians hope that they can get what they want without negotiation, and on the Israeli side by reinforcing a narrative among some factions of “the world is always against us.”

    It is not a strategy for real peace.


    R Neal Loevinger · May 3rd, 2012 at 5:41 pm
  3. Great article, and great analogy. The only thing I would add is that it is not just buying your alcoholic friend a case of beer, but buying him a case from your own brewing company, that you sold him for profit. We are not just supporting Occupation while condemning it, we are making MONEY off of it. As one of those UMCs, I am ashamed that we are war profiteers. THIS is what is “incompatible with Christian teaching” (not all of our LGBTQ allies who stood in solidarity with us during this conference).
    Thanks for your work!
    Beth Corrie


    Beth Corrie · May 3rd, 2012 at 5:53 pm
  4. Excellent article, rae and ariel, thank you! And yes, it did take 30+ years to end south african apartheid — hopefully it will take less to win full equality, dignity and justice for Palestinians. Thanks for your powerful work and clear upbeat energy in helping building this movement.


    penny rosenwasser · May 3rd, 2012 at 6:43 pm
  5. “When the Jewish institutions try to shut out debate on Israeli policies and shun BDS, many young Jews move further away from the Jewish establishment.”

    Interesting use of “and” in this sentence. While the current status of debate on Israel policies moves some young jews further away form the Jewish establishment, slipping BDS into the same sentence doesn’t make it a major factor. Even in Berkeley, the base of Jewish Voice for Peace, BDS is a fringe position. If you walk outside JVP offices, how many people do you meet who say that they would join a synagogue, JCC, or other Jewish organization if only that organization was willing to host speakers supporting BDS? They exist, but I could probably count them on my hands.

    There are many progressive Jews who want to see change in Israel, who have very good reasons why they don’t support BDS. If calling them enablers of drunkards is the level of your argument and how you view those people, it’s pretty clear why the Jewish BDS movement is and will remain on the fringe.


    Dan Ab · May 3rd, 2012 at 11:26 pm
  6. I agree with Dan, its a completely flawed premise.

    A good many people, progressives and lovers of strong drink alike, should be offended by the employment of the metaphor. There’s nothing wrong with a good stiff drink. In this world, an occasional drink is sometimes an effective way to cope.

    If anything, it seems those truly under the influence, who believe they are capable of feats which more boring sober people cannot accomplish, are the JVP youth being spoon-fed medicinal spirits and sent off to Methodist conclaves to drink the real cool aid.

    The sh*tstorm Beinart created showed how unpalatable BDS is within the main body of the Jewish community and the spectre of boycotting fellow Jews is never going to fly with “many” young Jews. Myself included.

    The author quotes Beinart but neglects to mention that his Boycott call only applied to settlement-made products, not to items within the Green Line. This is exactly the sort of obfuscation the organized communities fear and against which they steadfastly defend.

    Its why Beinart, who is very smart, well spoken and possibly right, will never see his proposal adopted. Too many hear it and fear it, or conversely assign his voice to exactly that which he does not want.

    “Even when it comes to the rabbinate, young rabbis are often more likely to support the politics of JSTREET or JVP than their AIPAC-loving predecessors.”

    This is scientifically unproven, but the real red herring is even putting JVP in the same sentence as JStreet and pretending the two are somehow close in character, position or level of support.

    There are far more productive ways to approach the issue than inciting hatred toward the Jewish state. JVP talks about enabling on the on hand but ignores that its doing just that at the UMC conference in others’ eyes. The road JStreet has taken is to influence policy, and yes, that is gaining traction. JVP is in the radical minority both on this issue and in its support among American Jewry. Talk about being drunk on something.

    With regrets to my colleagues on this site who continue to flog BDS and allow the debate on this ineffective and unattractive tactic to take center stage here, in the words of my hero and fellow progressive Asher Ginsberg, “Lo Zeh HaDerech.”


    Adam · May 4th, 2012 at 3:56 am
  7. I think Adam nails it here. Beinart is not advocating BDS (or if he is, it’s a very narrow kind, and not comparable to what JVP is advocating). It’s importantto make a distinction between people who live in Israel proper, and those who are using up lives (of israeli soldiers, not least) and being supported by an irresponsible government by essentially giving away free houses while inside the green line normal israelis are hoping for peace, struggling to make ends meet, and wondering where the hell their safety net went. If no distinction is made between Inside and outside the green line, if we boycott everything, then what we are saying is that Israel as a whole needs to disappear, rather than saying that the settlers need to get their collective heads out of their asses and stop endangering everyone else in the country. There is a distinction, and I don’t believe that most young Jews fail to see it. IN fact Steven M. Cohen’s study shows that those who are engaged on the Israel issue on either side are those who come from engaged families and (sorry everyone to drag this other issue in) it is for example intermarried families who are less engaged whose offspring are wandering away from love of israel. They aren’t less engaged because of AIPAC, they’re less engaged in everything because they don’t care. They also don’t care about shabbat,, kashrut, Passover, the Jewish community or any number of other things Jewish.
    Those who are engaged on israel do support a variety of views, but it is untrue that most or even many rabbinical students or young jews support BDS as JVP understands it. TO the contrary, they *are* likely to support a position closer to J Street’s or to Americans’ for Peace Now’s (which is the position, more or less, that Beinart argues for, just that APN has been arguing for it for decades). But JVO lies largely outside that spectrum.

    Nonetheless, we’re glad to have you post here, and glad that you have the courage to present your views and get people talking. I hope we’ll hear fro you again, even if I don’t agree with you.


    KRG · May 6th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
  8. Thanks for the lively discussion happening here and for its mostly respectful tone. Just a couple points of clarification regarding Adam and KRG’s comments on this metaphor:

    1. The Methodist church was not voting on or even interested in boycotting any products within the green line, in Israel. They were considering divestment from three American companies that profit off the Israeli Occupation. These companies are: Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and HP.

    2. The metaphor was not used in reference to just any drinking, or as a rally cry for prohibition. Quite the contrary. I was implying that just as a friend can enable someone with an addiction disease while simultaneously chiding them, so too we can oppose the very things we are funding, and as Beth Corrie pointed out, profiting from!

    3. “inciting hatred toward the Jewish state” – I would say that my activism comes from a deep place of love – for my people, for all people, and for justice. In our opinion, if we love Israel, we will work to end the occupation.

    4. Regarding the discussion of Beinart: Beinart doing a great service by raising issues to an audience that might not otherwise be able to hear it. The substance of his criticism isn’t new. What is new is that someone who already had a big platform started saying these things – especially in Jewish spaces where such painful realities have been generally unwelcome. And Beinart is a phenomenal communicator and will help open the eyes of a new generation.


    Beinart’s beginning steps of supporting settlement boycott are good in that he recognizes that people who care about peace in the region have to use our financial power to pressure Israel to end its occupation. Governments have failed us.  And by calling it BDS, he acknowledges the symbolic power of the “BDS movement” although I would say that these words – boycott, divestment and sanctions – are tactics of a movement, not a stand alone movement. 

But his model is limited because it focuses only on getting Jews who support Zionism to act, while we at JVP think everyone- Palestinians, non-Jews around the world, all consumers needs to act. His angle is symbolic, but even small campaigns, such as the Ahava Boycott (StolenBeauty.org) can have an impact. JVP goes further than Beinart in supporting divestment from multinationals like Caterpillar that profit from the illegal occupation in order to show that nonviolent resistance to occupation can work on a larger level. Lastly, it’s incredibly difficult to separate Israeli companies from occupation profits, as I have learned from the Israeli research group Who Profits? (www.whoprofits.org) – the banking systems, and many other forms of financial exchange and industry are intimately tied to the Israeli economy. Nonetheless, to be clear, nowhere in the Methodist church or in JVP is there a focus on indiscriminate boycott – we are talking about boycotting the profiteers of occupation, segregation, and injustice.

    It appears these points were not clear enough in my piece and I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify and for the discussion.


    Rae Abileah · May 7th, 2012 at 11:40 am
  9. [...] One thing that occurred was with the United Methodist General Conference. Many of my friends were at the conference or following it closely. The thing that consistently appeared on my facebook feeds were about their disappointment in not including queer people in the church. At the same time, the general conference voting against divestment from companies that build the equipment that help perpetuate Israeli state violence against Palestinians. I am sure that a few words were said on the latter but most of the discussion was about the former issue.  For a Jewish perspective on the failure to end divestment, you can read here. [...]


    Gay Marriage is so Neoliberal « No Lace, Just Terrycloth · May 9th, 2012 at 7:44 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik