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Jeff Walton April 26, 2012
Dalit Baum addresses United Methodist delegates, asking them to end investments in Caterpillar Tractor and two other companies that do business with Israel. (Photo credit: IRD)
Anti-Israel activists sought high visibility as the denomination’s General Conference moved into its first full day. United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) is lobbying the United Methodist Church to divest from three companies in business with the Jewish state.
Central to the group’s claims is that Israel is equivalent to Apartheid-era South Africa due to “systematic violence” brought about by separated Palestinian population centers – a separation that they maintain is only made possible by technologies from western companies. Anti-Israel activists have prescribed actions against Israel paralleling boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts waged against the South African Apartheid regime in the 1980s.
“The infrastructure serves to marginalize and isolate all Palestinian communities from each other,” Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, an activist with UMKR, claimed in an interview with IRD.
UMKR spotlighted a Palestinian Christian and a pro-divestment Jewish activist at a Wednesday luncheon for delegates. Hosted directly across from the Tampa convention center, the free lunch attracted over 200 participants, many of whom were delegates from the church’s African and Filipino central conferences. The time-constrained lunch did not feature a question and answer session, so it was not possible to assess how the delegates responded to the call to divest. While the UMKR activists fervently applauded the presentation, most of the central conference delegates sat politely, departing quickly in order to resume conference sessions.
The lunch came amid an effort to establish a broad footprint for anti-Israel activists at the 10 day long denominational convention in Florida. While pro-divestment activists published an opinion piece in the editorial pages of the Tampa Bay Times, UMKR representatives have donned yellow polo shirts and can regularly be seen about the grounds of the convention center. On Wednesday morning, representatives from the group visited the breakfast of the Reform and Renewal Coalition in order to lodge personal appeals in conversation with evangelical delegates. Following a kickoff press conference on Tuesday, the group plans a delegate reception on Friday and an interfaith vigil late Thursday, in addition to Wednesday’s lunch presentation.
The lunchtime crowd heard an appeal for sympathy from Palestinian Christian Daoud Nassar, who described his family’s struggle with neighboring settlers near Bethlehem. Nassar recounted vindictive settlers, frustrated in their court-deflected efforts to pave a road over his property, who retaliated by cutting down olive trees and brandished guns while allegedly making threats against the family.
The Palestinian fretted that construction of the Israeli security barrier would effectively cut his family’s property off from nearby Bethlehem. The deteriorating situation, Nassar asserted, was forcing people to react with either violence, resignation or immigration.
“Without faith, hope and love, we cannot continue,” Nassar told the gathered delegates.
Nassar was followed by Dalit Baum, an Israeli Jew and divestment activists who resides in San Francisco.
“Three groups have asked me to tell you that there are Israelis who support this [divestment] resolution,” Baum relayed. Unlike Nassar’s appeal for sympathy, Baum more negatively outlined grievances against the three corporations targeted for divestment.
“In order to maintain occupation, Israelis have to support segregation,” Baum charged.
The corporate researcher alleged that Motorola Solutions, primarily a government services company that has separated from the cellular telephone manufacturer, is specifically working to support occupation by deploying “virtual fence” technology. The wireless detectors prevent undetected movement, which Baum alleged kept areas free of Palestinians and “ethnically cleansed.”
The San Francisco-based activist also took aim at Hewlett Packard for providing identification technology used at Israeli checkpoints. The posts, which Baum regarded as an offense against the Palestinian people, were both a hassle as well as a source of degradation. Baum insisted that there were many cases where civilians could not get a card to quickly pass through the biometric system, which she described as part of a “very complex permit system that allows the army to grant or withhold special privileges at their will.”
Baum’s most direct charges were against Caterpillar Tractor, which UMKR has labeled a weapons manufacturer.
“Instead of sending in troops, they send in a bulldozer,” Baum complained of the Israeli Defense Forces. “If they arrest a person for violent resistance, many times the [person’s] house goes down.”
Baum claimed the bulldozers were armored weapons and that United Methodists should cut ties with Caterpillar to “let them know that there is a price to pay for participation in war crimes,”
While Nassar did not recount a specific time when he had encountered the security technologies sold by Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions, he reported that bulldozers were used in the settler road construction that his family successfully thwarted. The Palestinian Christian reported that his family had not experienced any attacks from settlers since 2002, but said Palestinians were unable to use any infrastructure built to serve nearby settlements.
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