Officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Center are criticizing a Protestant denomination for passing a resolution opposing Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The Disciples of Christ Church passed the measure Wednesday with backing from about two-thirds of the 3,000 members who attended the church’s general assembly. The church has some 800,000 members in the United States and Canada.
“The resolution is an ongoing effort to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state,” defining Israel “as the apartheid country in the 21st century,” said Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal center, an international organization with offices around the world.
The final resolution, which was slightly toned down from an earlier version, claims that the security fence exacerbates hostility between Israelis and Palestinians. It calls on Israel to stop its construction, tear down what already has been built, and pay reparations to Palestinian property owners.
The resolution comes on the heels of other votes by Protestant denominations criticizing the barrier and weighing divestment from Israel.
Considering that more active means of Israeli defense against Palestinian terrorism — such as incursions, house demolitions or targeted killings — also have been denounced around the world, Israeli officials note that the fence has dramatically reduced the number of attacks by making it much harder for terrorists to enter Israel. That, in turn, has reduced Palestinian suffering by making Israeli counterterrorist raids less necessary.
On Saturday, for example, a Palestinian laden with explosives was sufficiently slowed down by the fence that he could be caught and disarmed before he could carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
Cooper attended the church’s general assembly Wednesday, along with the center’s Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Tzippy Cohen, a survivor of a September 2003 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem cafe. The group had been told that one of them would be able to address delegates for up to three minutes.
“We wanted to put a human face on suicide bombings,” Cooper said.
When they arrived at the conference, however, they were told that only voting members of the church would be allowed to speak, Adlerstein said.
However, when the time for debate ended, the church delegates voted to allow an extra two minutes for Rula Shubeita, a Palestinian woman from Jerusalem and a member of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization that is leading the anti-Israel divestment movement, to speak.
Shubeita condemned suicide bombings and all other forms of violence. She spoke about the hardships the fence has brought to Palestinians and how she now has to drive 14 miles to see her brother on the other side and claimed that it’s now impossible for her to visit Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace.
“The wall increases the frustration of the Palestinians and increases the acts of violence,” she said.
Wanda Bryant Wills, a church official, told JTA that Shubeita was allowed to speak because she is part of the Global Ministries, which is affiliated with the church.
During the debate period, members of the church offered passionate arguments on the issue.
“The wall is devastating to Palestinians,” said Bill McDermott of Chautauqua, N.Y. “We need to be Reaganistic and tear this wall down.”
But Ken Brittian of Montgomery, Ala., said, “Israel has a right to exist and defend itself. For decades Israel offered land for peace — and peace hasn’t happened. If we vote for this, we are telling Israel that we don’t care about you, and we don’t care if you exist.”
Rev. David Brown, the pastor of the Midway Christian Church in Midway, Ky., said he had mixed emotions about the outcome of the vote.
“I agree with the overall intent to speak” to the problems caused by the barrier, Brown said, but added that he was bothered by the lack of attention to the terrorist attacks that made the barrier necessary.
Brown said he had worked to significantly change the resolution or defeat it.
“It’s been a rough few days,” he said.
Contrary to the claims in the resolution, Israel does compensate Palestinian landowners who are affected by the barrier, and they retain ownership of their land, said Omer Caspi, Israel’s deputy consul general in San Francisco.
“This is a temporary measure, for defense, until the terrorism stops,” Caspi said.
Mark Tooley, a United Methodist director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, said mainline churches are issuing a disproportionate number of negative statements on Israel.
There’s a double standard, he said, as churches ignore human-rights violations against Israel while portraying Israel as the source of virtually all problems in the Middle East.
He hopes that “people of faith can take proactive, positive steps to become a bridge for peace,” Tooley said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.