Israel

A Methodist and A Jew Walk Into the Tampa Convention Center In Support of Divestment

This is the first of a three-post series from Jewish Voice for Peace volunteer youth activist members on the ground at the United Methodist general conference leading up to the divestment vote. The first post is from Ariel Vegosen. -ed.
As a young Jewish person the words “Tampa, Florida” immediately make me think of bubbes and zadies, clear water, manatees, and a lack of good bagels. This week Tampa is taking on a whole new meaning for me as I join United Methodists at their General Conference in Tampa. You might be wondering what’s a nice Jewish girl like me doing at the United Methodist General Conference?
For many years United Methodist resolutions have called for an end to the Israeli occupation and a sharing of the city of Jerusalem, which along with being a holy city to Jews, is also a holy city to Christians and Muslims. Despite these resolutions, the United Methodist boards and agencies hold stock in companies sustaining the occupation including Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard. At the 2012 10-day conference in Tampa the United Methodists are voting on a resolution that would divest the church from these companies. I am here as a Jewish ally to support divestment and to support my Methodist brothers and sisters as they make this important and historic decision.

I was raised in a household committed to social justice and Tikkun Olam.(and great New York bagels). I believe in the Jewish value and Torah commandment “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) As a Jew, I cannot stand by silently while the Israeli military bulldozes Palestinian homes, harasses and harms Palestinians at checkpoints, and creates a system of segregation and oppression. The Torah teaches me to speak out, to be nonviolent, and to stand up when I see injustice. I am obligated by my faith and proud to stand in solidarity with all those working to end oppression and to end the occupation of Palestine.
Divestment is a nonviolent moral action to change unjust practices. If the United Methodist Church passes divestment it will be the moment that their words become action. I hope to see this community and many other faith-based communities, including my own, divest from companies that are profiting from the occupation. Both Judaism and Christianity teach that we are not allowed to profit from our neighbor’s blood. Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP are providing Israel with products such as unmanned, weaponized bulldozers, surveillance systems for Israeli military bases, and electronic data systems which provide biometric monitoring at checkpoints in the West Bank. These products are specifically designed for the continuation of the oppression of Palestinians and to maintain segregation between Jewish and Palestinian communities. Why should anyone get to profit off another people’s suffering?
Divestment from the Israeli occupation is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Jewish. In fact nonviolent resistance to oppression is a Jewish value. As Jews, many of us carry a lot of fear from all the oppression we have faced and often Jews and Christians do not work together because of past hurts. I think the time is now to transform this fear into love and action. I am very thankful and honored to be working with United Methodists for social change and an end to the injustices happening to Palestinian people right now. I look forward to the United Methodists divesting from injustice and I hope this act serves as a beacon of light to other communities to follow. I also am excited to continue the bonds that are being formed between my Jewish community and the United Methodist community. I look forward to more inter-faith work as we pursue justice and love.
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. Ariel has spent time working in Israel and Palestine and is proud to be Jewish and against the occupation of Palestine. She has lead programs for Jewish Funds for Justice, the Teva Learning Center, Hillel, American Jewish World Service, and has spoken at synagogues throughout the country.
For more information on Jewish support for the Methodist church divestment resolution, please visit www.rabbisletters.org and www.kairosresponse.org and follow us live from Tampa @jvplive.

18 thoughts on “A Methodist and A Jew Walk Into the Tampa Convention Center In Support of Divestment

  1. Ariel, such an eloquent and inspiring message of love, compassion and moral clarity! There are a lot of honest, caring, decent people out there who STILL BELIEVE that criticizing the Israeli Occupation is wrong – that by condemning Israel’s human rights abuses (and U.S. complicity in them) we are not only being “anti-Semitic” – we are also being hypocritical.
    I think your post does a great job of explaining why Jews (and all people of unconscience for that matter) must speak out against injustice and work to abolish it – no matter who the “perpetrators” are.
    History has taught us that “good people” are capable of committing horrible atrocities when they feel “threatened” or worse, “entitled.” Just look at American History – Genocide against the Native Americans, Colonization of Indigenous Lands, Black Slavery and “Negro” Disenfranchisement, Islamaphobia, Anti-Semitism, Oppression and Violence Against Women, Hate crimes Against Gays and Lesbians, Immigrant Xenophobia … and the list goes on and on.
    The State of Israel is no exception.
    Yet, for some reason, when Israeli citizens and internationals criticize the Occupation for its oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people (including denial of their basic human rights – like the right to access clean, safe drinking water, grow their own food, go to school, get a job, get married, build a home, etc.) we’re all being “Anti-Semitic” and ignorant of the dangers that Israel faces.
    Hopefully the Methodist vote will be a powerful move in the right direction to help the Israeli and American governments realize that State-Sponsored Oppresion, Victimization, and Collective Punishment are never okay – even if it’s “the good guys” who are doing it. 🙁

  2. Thank you for your powerful post, Ariel. I wish you, your fellow JVP members there on the ground, and the United Methodists the best in your work together supporting the the United Methodist Church’s divestment resolution.

  3. Okay, I posted a sarcastic comment yesterday because I was too upset to formulate a serious response. All joking aside, your views andactions represent an extremely misguided view of the situation in Israel. The Palestinians are victims of their own failed leadership that refuses to rake the peaceful steps to better the lot of their people. Israel has made unilateral withdrawals, delivered thousands of tons in humanitarian aid, and offerred unprecedented concessions and has not received any reason to feel comfortable that they will be safe it would not be exposing its citizens to grave danger by leaving the West Bank.

  4. The Palestinians are victims of their own failed leadership that refuses to rake the peaceful steps to better the lot of their people. Israel has made unilateral withdrawals, delivered thousands of tons in humanitarian aid, and offerred unprecedented concessions and has not received any reason to feel comfortable that they will be safe it would not be exposing its citizens to grave danger by leaving the West Bank.
    @Avraham,
    Hand on your heart, if a Palestinian leadership emerged that–to you– was committed to peaceful steps, how would you respond?
    In other words, if tomorrow, a Palestinian Mandela was able to take leadership of Gaza and the West Bank, and he/she was prepared to go for a deal like the Geneva Initiative, what would you say? Hand on your heart, you’d say no, wouldn’t you?

  5. Ariel – I thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking sincerity in addressing the basic rights and freedoms of all people. I support the work and the colloboration – we are always stronger when we unite over our commonialities than when we let ourselves be separted by our differences.
    I honor and respect the right for the people of Israel to live free of oppression and with security. I honor and respect that same right for the Palestineians and all people. Freedom and security are fragile and need to be protected; however, if we are consumed by protecing ourselves that we infrindge on the freedoms of people who have not harmed us, we become the oppressors and this must be stopped. Freedom through the oppression of others is still oppression.

  6. Ariel, as your friend and admirer, it is utterly heart-breaking to witness you wasting your incredible brains and talent on the misguided, counter-productive BDS “movement.” While I utterly embrace our obligation as Jews to encourage Israel to act justly, divestment has long-since proven itself to be ineffective and destructive towards peace. I can only image the saddening scene at this conference when the Methodists have found all the legitimization they need for such actions right there in the attendance of you, their token Jew (and perhaps a few others). Please use the faculties with which you have been blessed for good.
    @Jonathan1 – I think you are being inappropriate as Avraham’s comments don’t imply a “no” to your questions. Please go cyber-bully elsewhere. Or better yet, nowhere.
    @Avraham – Thank you for the interesting link. I hope that, for their sake, no USB flash drives were used in the making of the Methodist conference, lest they benefit three innovative Israelis.

  7. Let’s be clear about the bait-and-switch philosophy of the BDS movement for which JVP gladly provides cover against charges of anti-Semitism. The BDS Movement openly calls for elimination of the Jewish state of Israel– within any borders at all– via the (fictional) “right of return”. JVP openly endorses this as well. BDSers of course will take any small endorsement of any part of their program and advertise it as the organization (in this case the Methodists) signing on to the full BDS agenda.
    Wouldn’t that be duplicitious? Yes; and no more duplicitous than JVP’s open encouragement for anyone (rabbi or not, heck even non-Jews!) to sign onto their “Rabbi’s letter”. When you live in a truth-optional world, that’s what happens.

  8. Jonathan1, Your question is something I have personally struggled with. My answer is yes to giving them the settlements, and yes to reparations for the refugees and just about every other point in the initiative (and that was a very difficult sentence for me to type). I cannot, however, accept giving up part of Jerusalem and I do not think that it is a reasonable demand. Having said that, I think that for better or for worse, mainstream opinion here is not on my side and it seems to me that the Israeli public would vote to accept it in total.
    Of course, this is all likely to remain a theoretical discussion, as the initiative goes against many fundamental principles of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian street.

  9. Having said that, I think that for better or for worse, mainstream opinion here is not on my side and it seems to me that the Israeli public would vote to accept it in total.
    Of course, this is all likely to remain a theoretical discussion, as the initiative goes against many fundamental principles of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian street.

    Ok. I hear what you’re saying.
    I would put it this way, though: There just isn’t a deal that will be acceptable to both side, and there isn’t enough room for two separate states to begin with–so the best answer is one, bi-national state.

  10. I’m afraid I don’t follow your logic. Whether I like it or not, Israel would give the Palestinians a state under the terms of the Geneva Initiative if they were convinced that they would receive a lasting peace in return. Because the Palestinians have been unwilling or unable to provide those assurances and do not agree with the basic principles of the initiative, Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish State? I also don’t see how such a Binational State existing in harmony is any less of a fantasy than a peaceful two state solution.

  11. Just me wrote I think you are being inappropriate as Avraham’s comments don’t imply a “no” to your questions. Please go cyber-bully elsewhere. Or better yet, nowhere.
    Avraham wrote (above) I cannot, however, accept giving up part of Jerusalem and I do not think that it is a reasonable demand
    It is just you.

  12. Because the Palestinians have been unwilling or unable to provide those assurances and do not agree with the basic principles of the initiative, Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish State?
    @Avraham
    Yes.
    This isn’t the Jewish State of which we’ve dreamed (because of what’s happened in the territories since 1967).
    Bi-nationalism might work out ok. The settlers wouldn’t have to move, Hamas might be brought into the arrangement, we’d still be able to maintain our own school systems and family court systems. There could still be a thriving Jewish community in the Land of Israel, albeit under different conditions than what exist presently.
    It might work, it might not. But the status quo isn’t what we dreamed about.

  13. Jonathan 1 – I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on how realistic binationalism is. I have a hard time seeing it working as a permanent peaceful solution.
    This isn’t the Jewish State of which we’ve dreamed (because of what’s happened in the territories since 1967).
    I sustpect that this too is an agree to disagree situation, but perhaps you can elaborate so I can know exactly what it is that I am disagreeing with.
    Just Me – I agree completely with your comments directed at Ariel and am glad that you enjoyed the link. I appreciate your support, but I visit this blog expecting to find people I disagree with. Jonathan 1 has shown a greater understanding of the reality, at least in my opinion, than other contributers and I enjoy trying to get to the bottom of the many disagreements on this topic.

  14. I have a hard time seeing it working as a permanent peaceful solution.
    Ok. I have a hard time seeing how any arrangement will lead to a permanent peaceful solution.
    I do, however, think that one bi-national state has more of a chance of working. Even if the two sides came to a 2-state agreement (which they never will) there just isn’t enough land/natural resources to be allocated between two distinct political entities.
    Maybe with one bi-national state, we can create a situation where there is a common incentive to cooperate vis-a-vis natural resources, and the strongest opponents of partition perhaps can be brought into the fold . . . . but for sure it might lead to disaster.
    I sustpect that this too is an agree to disagree situation, but perhaps you can elaborate so I can know exactly what it is that I am disagreeing with.
    The dream–for me–doesn’t include holding a million plus people in an open air prison in Gaza, nor keeping our collective foot on two million people’s necks in Judea and Samaria. Whoever is at fault for all of this, it’s just not how things were supposed to turn out–to me.

  15. Thanks for clarifying. I maintian that all evidence shows that Palestinian leadership has only ever been interested in independence as a means to weakening or destroying Israel. Furthermore, Israels purpose for existence is to be a Jewish State. This is a purpose that many people have and still are willing to give their lives for. Bi-Nationalism does not serve this purpose.
    Open air prison? How many tons of aid pass through Israel to Gaza each day? I am not saying that the border closure does not make life difficult, but open air prisons do not have markets, zoos, and shopping malls.
    I think identifying who is at fault is quite important. As long as the the Israeli Government cannot defend its people without using checkpoints and border controls, than doing so, while certainly not ideal, is both necessary and moral. Every state has the right and obligation to defend its citizens, Israel not excluded. I agree that its not what I would have wanted, and I do hope to see the day when the Palestians can get leadership that will prepare them for a real peace, but as long as Israel continues to act with dignity, I am proud to call it home. Sorry if this sounds like a rant.

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