Methodist Friends of Israel
by Pam Smith
Methodist Friends of Israel was formed in July 2010, through prayer, and as a direct response to the conference resolution re Israel. Before the conference many Methodists and Jews wrote to the report’s authors, and to the Methodist Church, pointing out the bias and numerous inaccuracies contained within it. The Methodist leadership was requested not to bring the report to the conference this year, but to defer it until next year after a more balanced report could be produced. All requests for a deferral were ignored and the report was delivered in a biased, flawed state to the conference. It would be untrue to say that a debate followed, as it is not possible to have a debate when only one premise is given.
A quote from Stephen Leah, one of the authors of the report, says:-
I am a Methodist preacher. I’m also the chair of the York PSC. I personally would like to have divestment going a little bit further into the full boycott of Israel, but I know how much I can get away with in the churches sometimes... Churches are paranoid about being critical of Israel sometimes; they want to be balanced all the time. We must put pressure on church leaders.
Is the recent resolution going to be the thin end of the wedge?
When the Conference accepted the report as it stood, blaming Israel for the problems in the Land, it agreed to call for a boycott of goods from the “occupied territories”. This action by Conference has caused hurt, anger, bewilderment and fear in Jewish communities across the world.
Such an action against Israel is often translated in the world as an excuse to hate Jews and leads to verbal and physical attacks, even if those proposing the action do not, in any way, have that intention. Such a boycott would actually hurt the Palestinians, the very people those carrying it out want to help, as they are employed in farms and industries supplying the goods. A drop in demand will lead to less work and therefore less pay for the workers.
Eighty years ago the Jews in Europe were libellously blamed for ritual murders, the financial problems of the day were laid at their feet and people were encouraged to boycott Jewish businesses. This soon led to Jews not being allowed to hold positions such as lawyers, teachers, doctors etc; then not being allowed into restaurants, cinemas and so forth or use certain public transport. The rights of the Jews were diminished until they were seen as sub-human. They were then forced to live in squalor in ghettos and from there sent to the concentration and extermination camps. By this time the lies about them had been accepted as fact and they were so reviled that the authorities were able to begin to carry out the “Final Solution” without opposition. Throughout this time the Christian church either acquiesced by its silence or, in some cases, actively supported the measures taken.
In Europe and the rest of the world, we see a chilling echo of those 1930’s tactics. Anti-Semitism (sometimes in the guise of being anti-Israel) is rising rapidly. 2009 saw more anti-Semitic attacks world-wide than at any point since the Hitler era. Some people blame the Jews for the current financial problems of the world, and wrongly accuse Israel of only taking aid to places suffering from natural disasters, such as Haiti, in order to illegally take organs for donation. Israel is blamed for the lack of peace in the Middle East and, to some extent, the whole world. Israel is accused and condemned for the plight of the Palestinians. The stance taken by the conference reinforces the negative stereotypes of Israel, and by association the Jewish community.
The reports from Israel aired by the media are very often the only information that most people have concerning events out there. Sadly these reports usually give a one-sided account of the events, with pertinent facts either omitted or tagged on as an afterthought, for example, reports of Israel sending planes and firing missiles into Gaza, damaging buildings and wounding or killing people and only at the very end of the report do we hear or read that it was in response to several missile attacks by the Palestinians, on places such as Sderot. By the time the reason for the Israeli strike has been mentioned the damage has been done- Israel is seen as the aggressor. If the reports in the media were accurate, people’s views might be different. We want the full facts of events to be given in an even-handed manner.
Before Yasser Arafat died, he misappropriated 2-3 billion dollars, which had been sent as aid to the Palestinians - a fact widely reported by the world’s press. Such money, well spent, would have made a huge difference to the lives of the ordinary people. No mention is made now of the missing money. The blame for poverty is laid solely at Israel’s doors. No mention is made of the large amounts of aid sent, by Israel, every day into Gaza. No mention is made of the new shopping mall, the new Olympic size swimming pool or the Israeli goods EXPORTED by the Palestinians to Egypt (See web site).
Israel is an unrighteous nation and does not always get things right. BUT it is also one of the most strictly self-critical countries in the world. Mistakes made, or allegations of the IDF acting inappropriately, are carefully examined and judgements passed- for example recently an IDF commander was sentenced to 5 months imprisonment for stealing electronic equipment from the Mavi Marmara.
Often it is implied, if not openly stated, that Israel does not want peace at all. History does not bear this out. In 1993 the Oslo accord stated that part of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians should include (amongst other requirements) the giving up of Jericho by Israel and the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip. In 1994 Jericho and then Gaza city were handed over to the Palestinian authority. Homicide bombings and missile attacks followed, killing 100’s of innocent Israelis. The world condemned Israel for retaliating and continued to clamour for Israel to pull out of the Gaza Strip. In 2005 Israel complied, hoping that surrendering this area of land would bring peace. Since that withdrawal more than 9000 missiles have been fired into Israel.
There is, however, one Israeli left in Gaza. In June 2006, almost a year after Israel withdrew from the Strip, a 19-year-old soldier, Gelid Shalit, was abducted in Israel by Hamas. Since then he has been imprisoned somewhere in the Gaza Strip. In direct contravention of the Geneva Convention, Hamas has refused to allow him any visits by the Red Cross. Instead Hamas has demanded the release of all female and underage Palestinian prisoners held in Israel as well as another 1000 prisoners, many of whom are convicted terrorists, in exchange for Gilad Shalit’s release.
In 1938 Hitler persuaded Europe to surrender Sudetenland to him (Munich Agreement) in order for there to be peace. Hitler signed Chamberlain’s piece of paper promising peace between the UK and Germany, but the Second World War followed. Appeasement, land for peace, didn’t work in 1939 and doesn’t work now. The missiles continue to fall on innocent Israeli civilians, and no steps are being taken by the Palestinians to secure a true and lasting peace.
As soon as someone declares that he/she is a friend of Israel it is assumed that they are, therefore, anti Palestinian. Usually, and certainly with MFI, this is not true. We want fairness, justice, mercy and the best for ALL people in the Land of Israel. We do, however, believe that Israel has the right to protect and defend its land and people against those who seek to destroy them. Blockades were deemed essential for the UK during the Second World War; a wall separating Protestants and Catholics was erected in Belfast in the 1970’s. These were felt to be necessary to protect the innocent. Why condemn Israel for protecting civilian men, women and children?
As Methodist Friends of Israel we believe that God called Israel (the nation) into being and gave them, in an eternal covenant, the Land in which He wanted them to live. God is either a covenant-keeping God or He isn’t - He can’t be both. If He is a covenant- keeping God then our salvation in the shed blood of Jesus is secure. So too is the covenant made with Abraham and confirmed to Isaac and Jacob (Israel). If He is not a covenant- keeping God, if He has gone back on the covenant made to Abraham, then there is nothing to stop Him changing His mind about our salvation and the assurance we have is non-existent. We can’t have it both ways.
Israel was brought into being by God as a nation through whom He could reveal Himself to the world, firstly in the Law and then in Jesus. God did not cut them off once His revelation in Jesus had been seen. Through Israel God has blessed, and continues to immeasurably bless, the world, in the realms of science, technology, medicine, music, agriculture etc. God’s promises to Israel are eternal.
We are not uncritical of Israel but, just as we love and stand with our children, we aim to stand firm with Israel as the world, including some sections of the church, turns against her. We are deeply saddened that the Methodist Church has taken such a stance against Israel and hope that it will look more carefully at the whole picture. The Wesleys recognized God’s relationship with the Jews and looked for them to return to the Land God gave them.
The response to MFI has been very positive both from the Christian community (all denominations) and the Jewish community- including the Israeli Embassy. Every week there have been emails, phone calls and letters (and not just from the UK) offering support and solidarity.
Our hope and prayer is that we can go some way towards easing the hurt and pain inflicted on our Jewish friends in July, to help them see that there are many Methodists who love the Jewish people and are prepared to stand with them.
Pam Smith is a founder member of Methodist Friends of Israel www.methodistfriendsofisrael.com