Mondoweiss Online Newsletter


When the Methodist Church decided that slavery was regrettable but none of our business

Apr 30, 2012

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, succeeded as no other abolitionist writing had in rousing public sentiment across the country against slavery with its vivid depictions of the cruelty of the practice. One of Stowe’s central ideas was that Christian principle forbade slavery. But the church was deeply corrupted by it. In 1853, Stowe, whose brother and father were famous ministers, published a Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story is Founded. In it she laid out the record of churches blessing slavery. Stowe acknowledged (as Joe Catron wrote on this site today) that John Wesley, founder of Methodism, opposed slavery, but the southern Methodists had a shoddy record, as these excerpts below demonstrate. The Methodists are holding their global conference this week in Florida, at which they will vote on a resolution to divest from three companies profiting off the Israeli occupation of Palestine. We have boldfaced some passages.

The Methodist Church is, in some respects, peculiarly situated upon this subject, because its constitution and book of discipline contain the most vehement denunciations against slavery of which language is capable, and the most stringent requisitions that all members shall be disciplined for the holding of slaves; and these denunciations and requisitions have been re-affirmed by its General Conference.

It seemed to be necessary, therefore, for the Southern Conference to take some notice of this fact, which they did, with great coolness and distinctness, as follows:


  Resolved unanimously, that whereas there is a clause in the discipline of our church which states that we are as much as ever convinced of the great evil of slavery; and whereas, the said clause has been perverted by some, and used in such a manner as to produce the impression that the Methodist Episcopal Church believed slavery to be a moral evil—

Therefore Resolved, that it is the sense of the Georgia Annual Conference that slavery, as it exists in the United States, is not a moral evil.

Resolved, that we view slavery as a civil and domestic institution, and one with which, as ministers of Christ, we have nothing to do, further than to ameliorate the condition of the slave, by endeavouring to impart to him and his master the benign influences of the religion of Christ, and aiding both on their way to heaven.

On motion it was resolved unanimously, that the Georgia Annual Conference regard with feelings of profound respect and approbation the dignified course pursued by our several superintendents, or bishops, in suppressing the attempts that have been made by various individuals to get up and protract an excitement in the churches and country on the subject of abolitionism.

Resolved, further, that they shall have our cordial and zealous support in sustaining them in the ground they have taken.


  The Rev. W. Martin introduced resolutions similar to those of the Georgia Conference.

The Rev. W. Capers, D.D., after expressing his conviction that “the sentiment of the resolutions was universally held, not only by the ministers of that conference, but of the whole South;” and after stating that the only true doctrine was, “it belongs to Cæsar, and not to the church,” offered the following as a substitute:

  Whereas, we hold that the subject of slavery in these United States is not one proper for the action of the church, but is exclusively appropriate to the civil authorities.

  Therefore Resolved, That this conference will not intermeddle with it, further than to express our regret that it has ever been introduced, in any form, into any one of the judicatures of the church.

Brother Martin accepted the substitute.

Brother Betts asked whether the substitute was intended as implying that slavery, as it exists among us, was not a moral evil. He understood it as equivalent to such a declaration.

Brother Capers explained that his intention was to convey that sentiment fully and unequivocally; and that he had chosen the form of the substitute for the purpose not only of reproving some wrong-doings at the North, but with reference also to the General Conference. If slavery were a moral evil (that is, sinful), the church would be bound to take cognisance of it; but our affirmation is, that it is not a matter for her jurisdiction, but is exclusively appropriate to the civil government, and of course not sinful.

The substitute was then unanimously adopted.

… The question may now arise—it must arise to every intelligent thinker in Christendom—Can it be possible that American slavery, as defined by its laws and the decisions of its Courts, including all the horrible abuses that the laws recognise and sanction, is considered to be a right and proper institution? Do these Christians merely recognise the relation of slavery in the abstract, as one that, under proper legislation, might be made a good one, or do they justify it as it actually exists in America?

It is a fact that there is a large party at the South who justify not only slavery in the abstract, but slavery just as it exists in America, in whole and in part, and even its worst abuses…


This was before the Methodist Church had separated on the question of slavery, as they subsequently did, into Northern and Southern Conferences. Both Northern and Southern members voted for this resolution.

After this was passed, the conscience of many Northern ministers was aroused, and they called for a reconsideration. The Southern members imperiously demanded that it should remain as a compromise and test of union. The spirit of the discussion may be inferred from one extract.

Mr. Peck, of New York, who moved the reconsideration of the resolution, thus expressed himself:—

That resolution (said he) was introduced under peculiar circumstances, during considerable excitement, and he went for it as a peace-offering to the South, without sufficiently reflecting upon the precise import of its phraseology; but, after a little deliberation, he was sorry; and he had been sorry but once, and that was all the time; he was convinced that, if that resolution remain upon the journal, it would be disastrous to the whole Northern church.

Rev. Dr. A. J. Few, of Georgia, the mover of the original resolution, then rose. The following are extracts from his speech. The italics are my own:—

  Look at it! What do you declare to us, in taking this course? Why, simply, as much as to say, “We cannot sustain you in the condition which you cannot avoid!” We cannot sustain you in thenecessary conditions of slaveholding; one of its necessary conditions being the rejection of negro testimony! If it is not sinful to hold slaves, under all circumstances, it is not sinful to hold them in the only condition, and under the only circumstances, which they can be held. The rejection of negro testimony is one of the necessary circumstances under which slaveholding can exist—indeed, it is utterly impossible for it to exist without it; therefore it is not sinful to hold slaves in the condition and under the circumstances which they are held at the South, inasmuch as they can be held under no other circumstances

.* * * If you believe that slaveholding is necessarily sinful, come out with the abolitionists, and honestly say so. If you believe that slave-holding is necessarily sinful, you believe we are necessarily sinners; and, if so, come out and honestly declare it, and let us leave you

. * * * We want to know distinctly, precisely and honestly, the position which you take. We cannot be tampered with by you any longer. We have had enough of it. We are tired of your sickly sympathies. * * * If you are not opposed to the principles which it involves, unite with us, like honest men, and go home, and boldly meet the consequences. We say again, you are responsible for this state of things; for it is you who have driven us to the alarming point where we find ourselves. * * *

You have made that resolution absolutely necessary to the quiet of the South! But you now revoke that resolution! And you pass the Rubicon! Let me not be misunderstood. I say, youpass the Rubicon! If you revoke, you revoke the principle which that resolution involves, and you array the whole South against you, and we must separate!

* * * If you accord to the principles which it involves, arising from the necessity of the case, stick by it, “though the heavens perish!” But if you persist on reconsideration, I ask in what light will your course be regarded in the South? What will be the conclusion, there, in reference to it? Why, that you cannot sustain us as long as we hold slaves! It will declare, in the face of the sun, “We cannot sustain you, gentlemen, while you retain your slaves!” Your opposition to the resolution is based upon your opposition to slavery; you cannot, therefore, maintain your>consistency unless you come out with the abolitionists, and condemn us at once and for ever, or else refuse to reconsider.

The resolution was, therefore, left in force, with another resolution appended to it, expressing the undiminished regard of the General Conference for the coloured population.

It is quite evident that it was undiminished, for the best of reasons. That the coloured population were not properly impressed with this last act of condescension, appears from the fact that “the official members of the Sharp-street and Ashby Coloured Methodist Church in Baltimore” protested and petitioned against the motion. The following is a passage from their address:—

  The adoption of such a resolution, by our highest ecclesiastical judicatory—a judicatory composed of the most experienced and wisest brethren in the church, the choice selection of twenty-eight Annual Conferences—has inflicted, we fear, an irreparable injury upon 80,000 souls for whom Christ died—souls, who, by this act of your body, have been stripped of the dignity of Christians, degraded in the scale of humanity, and treated as criminals, for no other reason than the colour of their skin! Your resolution has, in our humble opinion, virtually declared that a mere physical peculiarity, the handiwork of our all-wise and benevolent Creator, is primá facieevidence of incompetency to tell the truth, or is an unerring indication of unworthiness to bear testimony against a fellow-being whose skin is denominated white: * * * Brethren, out of the abundance of the heart we have spoken. Our grievance is before you! If you have any regard for the salvation of the 80,000 immortal souls committed to your care; if you would not thrust beyond the pale of the church twenty-five hundred souls in this city, who have felt determined never to leave the church that has nourished and brought them up; if you regard us as children of one common Father, and can, upon reflection, sympathise with us as members of the body of Christ—if you would not incur the fearful, the tremendous responsibility of offending not only one, but many thousands of his “little ones,” we conjure you to wipe from your journal the odious resolution which is ruining our people.

“A Coloured Baltimorean,” writing to the editor of Zion’s Watchman, says:—

  The address was presented to one of the secretaries, a delegate of the Baltimore Conference, and subsequently given by him to the bishops. How many of the members of the Conference saw it, I know not. One thing is certain, it was not read to the Conference.

‘Magnes Zionist’ calls on Methodists to do the right thing

Apr 30, 2012

Philip Weiss

Jerry Haber appeals to the Methodist general conference to pass divestment. Excerpt:

I have… seen how other members of the Jewish community have become aware of, and then involved with, the struggle for the basic civil and human rights of the Palestinians. That process will continue, as Jewish supporters of Israel free themselves of the indoctrination to which they have been subjected, as they witness first-hand the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and the refugee camps, and as they reach out to people of good will of all faiths to help them help the Israeli government do the right thing.

For that is what this struggle is about. It is not a question of finding a middle way, a compromise, that will make both sides happy/unhappy. There is no symmetry of suffering here. Both sides have caused pain to each other. But only one side controls the life, liberty, land, and resources of the other.

Divestment is a symbolic act. Not a single Israeli will be hurt by it. And while some Palestinians will no doubt suffer economically, much less than did the South African Blacks during that divestment campaign, it will be for a cause and a tactic that all people of good with can rally around – the cause of justice and the tactic of non-violent protest.

The main question is not whether Christians from around the world should show solidarity with Palestinian Christians.  The main question is  whether people of good will  — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others – will show solidarity with each other.

The injustice towards the Palestinian people is first and foremost my problem, as an Israeli Jew. I am not asking you to do the work for me. I am asking you to join hands with those Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and do the right thing.

If you do that, I assure you that members of the Jewish community will help you to explain your decision to the public, and to the Jews who will not understand – yet – your decision.

Vote yes on divestment, and you will be part of a worldwide effort to get Israel to wake-up to its obligations, to show the consequences of its actions. And you will also show the Palestinian people that they have not been forgotten and that there is hope for them – and for the Jewish people of Israel, as well

Ending Israel’s occupation is the only way to truly invest in Palestine

Apr 30, 2012

Hedy Epstein

Editor’s Note: United Methodist Kairos Response sent out a email today saying that the divestment resolution will be considered by the conference plenary tomorrow. You will be able to watch livehere.

In 2004, the end of one of my first journeys to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, I endured a shocking experience at Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. I never imagined that Israeli security forces would abuse a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, but they held me for five hours and strip-searched and cavity-searched every part of my naked body. The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that I could not know their names. The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me. But it had just the opposite effect. It made me more determined to speak out against abuses by the Israeli government and military.

Yet my own experience, unpleasant as it was, is nothing compared to the indignities and abuses heaped on Palestinians day after day, year after year. Israel’s forty-four year occupation of the West Bank is based not on equal rights and fair play, but on what Human Rights Watch has termed a “two-tier” legal system — in other words,apartheid, with one set of laws for Jews and a harsh, oppressive set of laws for Palestinians.

This week the Methodists can make an historic decision to help end the suffering of the Palestinians under this Israeli occupation. The Resolution “Aligning United Methodist Investments with Resolutions on Israel/Palestine” which will be presented in plenary tomorrow as a Minority Report calls on the Church to divest from three companies, Hewlett Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

Gaza is often described as the world’s largest open-air prison. Israel maintains a draconian and brutal blockade of Gaza, and its Navy enforces this humanitarian catastrophe with HP information technology. Caterpillar has long sold specially designed bulldozers to Israel for its on-going demolition of Palestinian homes. Motorola supplies Israel with surveillance equipment for use on illegal, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.

These companies are actively enabling and benefiting from Israel’s dispossession, control,and imprisonment of Palestinian civilians.

Some Methodists assert that divestment is punitive and the answer is investment in the besieged Palestinian economy. This is false. Divestment is a nonviolent action to urge these companies to quit selling technology and equipment that facilitate illegal policies and criminal actions against the Palestinian people.

Palestinians are not asking for charity or money. They are demanding freedom to be able to live and work in dignity and feed and provide for their children. Ending Israel’s occupation is the only way to truly invest in Palestine. Methodist divestment is a strong, humane and prophetic response to the injustice daily faced by the Palestinians.

Romney beats Obama– to the eulogy anyway

Apr 30, 2012

Philip Weiss

Today, Mitt Romney released the following statement on the death of Benzion Netanyahu:

I extend my sincere condolences to the family of Benzion Netanyahu. Not only was he the father of my friend Benjamin, the Prime Minister of Israel, and the father of Israel’s hero of the Entebbe raid, Yonatan Netanyahu, he was also a distinguished historian and leader in his own right. This is a loss for all of Israel and for all who care about Israel.

Nothing up at the White House website yet.

An account of the Guardian’s racist endorsement of the Balfour Declaration

Apr 30, 2012

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid

jaffa mandate
Jaffa, 1898-1914. (Photo: Matson Collection)

‘The settler owes the fact of his very existence, that is to say his property, to the colonial system.’
-Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

Imagine if China, for one reason or another suddenly replaced or supplanted the United States as Israel’s main diplomatic, financial and military supporter. That the Chinese then provided Israel with all it required to continue the occupation and usurpation of Palestine and to further consolidate its illegal undertakings…What would we then make of  American journalists or writers who then incessantly never fail to remind us of the culpable Chinese support for Israeli criminality while simultaneously totally ignoring, possibly even whitewashing the 40 years when the United States was Israel’s main supporter?

Between 1917 and 1948 Great Britain more than any other nation helped to lay the diplomatic, governmental, military and economic foundations for Israel yet if one were to peruse British writing on Palestine, especially the writings of the supposed pro-Palestinians, one would naturally presume that the Palestinian predicament only began on the 15th May 1948 when the British Mandate officially ended and the State of Israel was declared.

As it is known, the defining document or declaration which paved the way, indeed legitimised the Jewish colonisation of Palestine was issued by Imperial Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour. The “Balfour Declaration” announced that the British government would,

‘…view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…’

What is rarely known, is the imperial jubilance which greeted the publication of the Declaration in the British media. In the vanguard of this euphoria was the liberal Guardian or the Manchester Guardianas it was more accurately known then under the editorship of Charles P. Scott. Cutting through the diplomatic verbiage and any possible obfuscation about the intention behind the declaration, it editorialised in November 1917 that some may speak of Palestine “as a country, but it is not a country…But it will be a country; it will be the country of the Jews. That is the meaning of…” the Balfour Declaration. The fact that in 1917 the population of Palestine was 80,000 Jewish and 700,000 Arab Palestinian literally meant nothing to the Guardian editor.

It further stated that the British government’s deliberate policy will be then “to encourage in every way in our power Jewish immigration…with a view to the ultimate establishment of a Jewish State.”

The urge to colonise Palestine with Jewish immigration was largely motivated by its proximity to Egypt. As the Guardian stated, “Palestine has a special importance for Great Britain because in the hands of a hostile Power, it can be made…a secure base which a land attack on Egypt can be organised…” Therefore, it is in Britain’s interest that “no Power should be seated in Palestine” that “is likely to be hostile” to British Imperialism.

The left-wing New Statesman too came out all guns blazing in support of the Balfour Declaration but was more specific about the nature of Palestine’s proximity to the Empire’s interests. It informed its readers that the “special interest of the British Empire in Palestine is due to the proximity of the Suez Canal.” The only obvious conclusion is then to imperatively “effect a Zionist restoration under British auspices.”

After all, the New Statesman added, the then position of Jews as “unassimilated sojourners in every land but their own can never become satisfactory…It is far better…to make a nation of them” in the interests of Empire.

The more populist Daily Express concurred with the above interpretation of the Balfour Declaration in that it is an “announcement of a Jewish State” and also added that Jews from all over the world will be included in what it perceived to be the “colonisation scheme.” The London Times declared “Palestine for the Jews” and reprinted a part of the cabinet approved declaration.

The Guardian‘s stance on the Balfour Declaration found congruence with the Empire’s first Military Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs. He too emphasised, but in biological terms, the importance of Egypt in that it was the “jugular vein of the British Empire” and that the Jewish colonisation of Palestine would bring forth “for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”

A prominent left-wing politician in this period, Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, opted for a geographical analogy to describe British interests in the Arab World. He argued that Palestine was the “Clapham Junction” of the British Empire. As such a “friendly and efficient population” is required to settle there. And because Egyptians do not want the British occupation of their country, Palestine should be settled with “men on whom we can depend, if only because they depend on us…The Jews depend on us.”

For Winston Churchill, the Zionist colonisation of Palestine would mean that Jews “would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.”
However, what distinguished the Guardian‘s unequivocal endorsement of the Balfour Declaration was not only the approval of Zionist colonisation, which would explicitly lead to a “Jewish State,” but also just as equally the contempt it had for the indigenous Arabs of Palestine or in the words of Storrs, the “present aborigines.” In the spirit of colonialism, the Guardian editorial racially degenerated and dehumanised the Arabs of Palestine as “at a low stage of civilisation” and that they contain within “itself none of the elements of progress…” In other words the Arabs of Palestine were in a state of perennial civilisational arrested development.

Racial belittlement as a justification for colonialism was not unique to Palestine. The insistence that natives of a particular land are at low level of civilisation and therefore that land is ripe for colonisation by European colonisers was also utilised in Africa and elsewhere. As Frantz Fanon was to argue, Western bourgeois, “racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimises what it hates.” C.P.Scott was merely confirming and endorsing the fact that “racism is the ideological weapon of imperialistic politics.”

Indeed, a former Guardian writer and Labour politician in this period, H.N. Brailsford claimed that the Arabs were incapable of developing Palestine because they were “degenerate semi-savages” who had no right to “exclude millions” of settlers. For Churchill, the indigenous Arabs of Palestine were tantamount to “dogs in the manger” and only because the dog had been lain there for a long period, the dog has no final right to the manger. Or as he elaborated, “I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia.”

It is quite clear from C.P. Scott’s Guardian and other editorials of November 1917 that the British Empire wanted Palestine colonised for its own interests or as an early settler would argue,

“…the British wanted Palestine – and very much so – for their own interests, and it was not the Zionists who drew them to the country…had there been no Zionists in those days the British would have had to invent them.”

The idea and will to plant Jewish colonisation in Palestine existed independently of the ideology of Zionism. The Empire had its interests, namely Egypt and specifically the Suez Canal. Much of the Empire’s “plunder” or the “treasures in India” was brought back to the imperial metropolis through the Suez Canal.
What distinguished this “colonisation scheme” from previous ones in Africa and Asia is that the British Empire utilised European Jews rather than its own subjects from the metropolis.

Maybe this is the reason why in the final months of the “Zionist Mandate” in 1948, Imperial Britain – the “greatest Empire in history” – watched by while seven hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs were expelled, directly and indirectly from the country and over 400 villages, towns and centres had been ethnically cleansed of their indigenous inhabitants.
The Methodist Church has many options where to invest its resources — the occupation of Palestine shouldn’t be one of them

Apr 30, 2012

Deppen Webber


Hello Rev. Bergquist,

Yesterday as I often do I enjoyed a wonderful mountain bike ride at Annadel State Park. As I was riding home toward my new residence not far from your church I decided to stop in. A kind man was doing some maintenance work there but happily took a minute to chat. He informed me that you were attending the UMC conference in Tampa where a vote will be cast by church delegates to divest from companies profiting from the military occupation of Palestine by Israel.

Of course there are many Palestinians in the Bay Area, and they all have stories of how they and their families have been and continue to be effected by the occupation of their native lands. As I write you I think of my good friend Therese, now a Sonoma County resident. Born a Christian in Jerusalem 1948, her family was driven to Jordan by force – their only crime was not being Jewish. Therese now owns a printing business with her husband in Sebastopol and has a beautiful family.

We cannot change what happened in 1948 to non-Jews in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine. But we can work to change the ethnic cleansing and military occupation. When I talk about the ongoing abuses by Israel I often tell the story of the al-Kurd family in Jerusalem who was evicted from half of their home by settlers and now are left to live beside the very men who stole their home.

You can see one of many videos documenting this horrific crime above.

Just five days ago members of the Israeli Knesset were photographed sitting on a couch that had just been removed from a Palestinian home.

Stories like these happen every day in the small land of Palestine. Here you can see a video and report of house demolitions late last year. I took this video myself and I can assure you that there are few sadder moments known to man then to stand with a family while they watch military vehicles and soldiers tear down their home.

But what can we do to help?

The governments of the world have done little to take any steps toward real change. Meanwhile the suffering continues. One way to create change is to join the call from Palestinian civil society to divest from companies that profit from the occupation.

The United Methodist Church certainly has many options where to invest its resources. The occupation of Palestine should not be one of them.

Please help to support this call for justice. There is no better choice.

Thank you for listening,

Deppen Webber

Tail has stopped wagging, so dog can stop talking about war with Iran

Apr 30, 2012

Philip Weiss

NYT Magazine cover
The New York Times fed the hysteria 3 months ago with this cover story. Now Israeli leaders have given it permission to staunch the hysteria

The Israel/Iran story is suddenly exploding (as my friend Ilene Cohen puts it). The solid argument for war that Israel and its friends built in the last year is crumbling. What follows is the latest news. And let me highlight a topsy-turvy theme underlying these accounts: the Israeli discourse is driving the American one.

Most importantly, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who authorized the slaughter in Gaza) yesterday joined the chorus of prominent Israeli critics of the rush to war. He attacked Netanyahu in New York, and was booed by Americans for doing so. Ann Barnard in the Times reports on a conference held in Manhattan by the Jerusalem Post:

Drawing boos from a largely American audience in New York, he fired off a wide-ranging broadside against Mr. Netanyahu’s foreign policy, saying that the prime minister was unprepared to offer meaningful compromise to Palestinians, disrespectful to the United States and dismissive of the international community at a time when Israel particularly needs foreign support to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons…

some in the crowd peppered Mr. Olmert with shouts of “Naïve!” and “Neville Chamberlain!” and booed loudly when he called for a less confrontational stance toward President Obama, whose political opponents Mr. Netanyahu has openly courted.

This difference among Israeli leaders is giving American leaders permission to step away from the missiles. James Risen in the Times:

After a winter of alarm over the possibility that a military conflict over the Iranian nuclear program might be imminent, American officials and outside analysts now believe that the chances of war in the near future have significantly decreased.

They cite a series of factors that, for now, argue against a conflict. The threat of tighter economic sanctions has prompted the Iranians to try more flexible tactics in their dealings with the United States and other powers, while the revival of direct negotiations has tempered the most inflammatory talk on all sides. A growing divide in Israel between political leaders and military and intelligence officials over the wisdom of attacking Iran has begun to surface.

Obama surely deserves credit for ratcheting down this craziness; last month he boldly denounced “loose talk” of war. But he did so politely, while deferring to Netanyahu. As Gideon Levy observed at the time, America was the ant, Israel the elephant.

The American conversation on this question of war has been– except for an entertainer, Jimmy Kimmel, calling Netanyahu a yahoo– far more restrained than the Israeli one. “Are Israel’s leaders coming down with mad Jew disease?” Chemi Shalev asks in Haaretz— a question you would not see from an American columnist, it would get him fired.

And what do the three outgoing heads of the revered [Israeli] security services, hitherto the most widely-respected experts on these matters in the international arena, have to say about [our leadership]? That Israel is being run by a couple of morally-lapsed loony-tune leaders who hear voices in their heads while laughing themselves silly mouthing the words “two-state solution” and who pour over the maps of bombing runs over Iran while quoting General “Buck” Turgidson from Dr Strangelove to each other: “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”

Yes and who made the argument for those Strangeloves? Ethan Bronner, on the front page of the New York Times, two months ago, wrote the following slop:

Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration, widespread acts of terrorism and sky-high oil prices.

And of course Jeffrey Goldberg also made the case for war. At the Atlantic, strong Jim Fallows, obviously disturbed by this recent campaign, politely challenges Jeffrey Goldberg to concede that the bomb-Iran threat is receding:

It has been convenient for Benjamin Netanyahu to present the following maxims to America:
– If you care about Israel’s security, you must agree with me;
– If you don’t agree with me (about bombing Iran, settlements, etc), it therefore follows that you must not care about Israel’s security, and further that you probably are callous about the lessons of the Holocaust and the welfare of Jews worldwide.

This argument is bad from America’s perspective, because it presents a glossed-over version of disagreements within Israel. I think it’s not just bad but dangerous from Israel’s perspective, since an Israeli attack would drag the US into a war our own military and political leadership opposes — and which, we now can see, many influential Israelis view in the same way.

To bring this back to my one question for you: Is it right to think that the odds of an Israeli strike are lower than they were a month ago?

Note that Fallows grants Jeffrey Goldberg power. And why: because he has power. Again, my question: Why is the bomb-Iran threat receding in the press? Not because of American realists like Steve Walt and Zbig Brzezinski– or Mike Mullen and David Petraeus–who objected to these war plans from the start. No, because the Israeli consensus is shattering. And that Israeli consensus was, as Fallows implicitly concedes, driving the American discourse.

How did it drive the discourse? Through the offices of the Israel lobby, including the zealots who cried Neville Chamberlain at Olmert yesterday, and including the likes of Goldberg, who mouthpieced hysterical thinking to the American mainstream.

Consider that just three months ago the New York Times Magazine ran an incendiary cover story, Israel Vs Iran, When Will It Erupt? with an image of fire on its cover. The article was written by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman.

Would the Times publish such views now that the Israelis are defecting? Why did it publish those views then?

Here is some of the slop the Times ran in its ad for the story:

“For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged, the conditions for an Israeli assault have been met. With all other options for containment exhausted, will Israel attack Iran. And when?”

Gary Sick wrote, brilliantly:

Will Israel Really Attack Iran? The real answer is no, they will not. But you would never figure that out by reading the New York Times.

The sensationalist article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (Jan. 29) adds to the hysteria surrounding U.S. and Israeli relations with Iran. Ronen Bergman, a columnist with the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, concludes that Israel will probably attack Iran this year.

And the issue, I insist, is why Gary Sick has less influence in the U.S. discourse than a crazed Israeli journalist.

The push for divestment continues as the Methodist General Conference enters its second week

Apr 30, 2012

Anna Baltzer and Sydney Levy

Palestinian Methodist Missionary and Pastor Alex Awad outside the Tampa convention center where the Methodist divestment vote will take place. (Photo: Anna Baltzer)

At this moment, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is holding its General Conference in Tampa, Florida. About one thousand delegates are considering whether to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. We are talking about companies with a solid track record of human rights violations: Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. Caterpillar produces the bulldozers that have been responsible for the demolition of innumerable Palestinian homes and the uprooting of full orchards. Motorola Solutions produces equipment used to maintain surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard provides on-going support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank which deprive Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land and allows the Israeli military occupation to grant or deny special privileges to the civilians under its control.

The UMC holds shares in these three companies valued at $35 million. The church acknowledges that divestment from these companies has no financial implications, meaning that divestment can be achieved without causing any financial loses to the church.

The delegates will cast their vote sometime this week (the exact timing has not been set yet.) To the extent that we will be able to tweet from the convention floor, we will do so under hashtag#churchdivest. The group leading the effort, United Methodist Kairos Response, can be followed at@UMKairosResp. While it is impossible at this moment to predict the result of the vote, we can already start taking stock of what has become clear at the convention this past week. Here are five of them:

NUMBER ONE: Everyone agrees the occupation is wrong and must end.

Whether you are for or against divestment, the consensus in the church is that the Israeli occupation is wrong and must end. In fact, the church has taken a position against Palestinian home demolitions as early as 1988, among dozens of resolutions condemning Israel’s discriminatory policies for more than forty years. The petition to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard does not seek a new policy. Rather, it seeks to align the church’s investments with its long-held resolutions and values. The United Methodist Book of Discipline discourages investment in companies “that directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights.”

NUMBER TWO: Everyone agree that the companies in question have been uncooperative or unresponsive.

The General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC, Jim Winkler, recently stated:

“As someone who has been involved in the discussions by UM agencies and ecumenical partners with Caterpillar for six years, I would like to share critical issues we have repeatedly raised with the company. Regrettably, in all of these meetings, including one last week, Caterpillar has told us it has no intention to change any of its business practices relating to the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Chief Investment Officer of the church’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, David Zellner, testified in committee last week and described efforts to ask CAT to change its behavior as “futile.”

NUMBER THREE: There is disagreement about what to do next.

Zellner opposes divestment. He prefers an alternate approach, namely that the church ask corporations to sign onto a set of principles of ethical business conduct and then consider divestment only for companies that refuse to sign these principles. Since the principles are unenforceable, nothing would stop the companies from signing on the dotted line in order to avoid divestment while doing nothing to change their behavior.

Mr. Winkler supports divestment. He said it best when he said:

“this is first and foremost a moral issue, yet sadly Caterpillar offers only misleading interpretations of the law and irrelevant arguments as a basis for continuing their sales. The question before delegates is whether our church should profit from the sales of equipment which are clearly used in ways that violate human rights.”

NUMBER FOUR: Charity is not a substitute for justice.

Some who oppose divestment within the church talk about the need to invest in the Palestinian economy rather than divesting from companies profiting from the occupation.

While investment is not objectively bad, it cannot overcome the obstacles imposed on the Palestinian economy by the wall, the checkpoints, and the home demolition which damage property and impede the free movement of workers, goods, and services. We have heard this again and again from the Palestinians themselves at the conference, including from Pastor Alex Awad, a United Methodist Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem and crosses the checkpoints daily on his way to Bethlehem Bible College. Speaking to UMC delegates, Awad urged them to stand with Palestinians, to stand for justice, and to recognize that these companies are causing real harm to real people. He spoke eloquently about the need for Palestinians to live with dignity and to be able to provide for themselves, rather than waiting for charity to try to compensate for the unjust system of occupation under which they suffer.

NUMBER FIVE: International delegates get it.

About 40% of the convention delegates come from abroad. There is a large of contingent of delegates from Latin America, Africa, the Philippines, and beyond. The Latin American caucus has endorsed the divestment resolution wholeheartedly. Many African delegates with whom we’ve spoken are in support as well. Some of them have made the connection between the use of Caterpillar bulldozers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they are used in mines to extract minerals from the ground in ways that are harmful to the environment and to the well-being of workers and communities where many of the delegates live. Others come from countries torn by war and violence and they relate to the daily violence that the military occupation imposes on the lives of the Palestinians. Not all of them use the word “occupation,” however. But when we explain what we are talking about, they get it. “Colonialism,” we’ve heard more than once.

Of course, many U.S. delegates get it too. In a few days, we will know where the balance lies. We will then learn whether the United Methodist church has the strength to stand by its values or is prepared to cast them aside in order to avoid controversy.

The church agrees that the occupation is wrong and that the complicit target companies have shown no signs of change. Thus, ultimately, this vote is not about the occupation but about whether to listen to Palestinian voices, the voices of the oppressed, who are calling for divestment. Will delegates assert that they know better than the Palestinians themselves what is needed for Palestinian freedom?

Regardless, the conversations in the corridors, in committee, and on the plenary floor are sure to leave their mark on hundreds of delegates now forced to face their very own financial connections to the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Beinart’s Blindspot: Israel has always been a non-democratic apartheid state

Apr 30, 2012

Matthew Taylor

Like other Mondo contributors, I find Beinart’s new book to be brave, important, and blinkered all at once. The biggest problem is Beinart’s false, idealized image of pre-1967 Israel as a “flawed, but genuine democracy.” This doesn’t work because even within the green line Israel has always been a non-democratic apartheid state.

Reference the international law definition of the crime of apartheid:

inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

Israel’s willful, orchestrated ethnic cleansing of Palestine –– and denial of the right of refugees to return who wish to live peaceably with their neighbors –– negates any legitimate claim Israel had or has to being a “flawed, but genuine democracy.” By any civil rights standard, these refugees and their descendants should have been on Israel’s voter rolls for the past 64 years.

978 0 226 07802 1 frontcover
Martin Buber and Judah Magnes insisted on equality as
the basis for Zionism. Peter Beinart’s book,
The Crisis of Zionism, ignores this important history.

Think of it this way… In the 1960s, if Alabama had driven 80% of its black residents out of the state in a pre-planned campaign of violent terror, would Alabama then have had the right to claim to be a “flawed, but genuine democracy” because it granted the remaining 20% the right to vote? Everyone in the free world would have called such a claim precisely what it would have been: white supremacist propaganda.

Israel has from day one been a Pretend Democracy. It’s a brilliant slight of hand to deny the vote to people who aren’t present on election day because they’ve been expelled. But the facade’s cracks become more visible every day.

The Crisis of Zionism is not a result of the conquest,

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