Louis D. Brandeis, the great U.S. Supreme Court Justice who took his seat almost exactly 100 years ago, famously wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In another illustration of that wisdom, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel was unable to survive the scrutiny of the United Methodist Church, which voted last week to reject four resolutions aimed at taking punitive action against Israel.
The 12-million-member Church voted on pro-BDS measures at each of its last three quadrennial policy conferences, culminating this year in another defeat for BDS supporters in what one proponent of the resolutions described as an effort that “pretty much went down in flames.”
This is a major victory for Israel, as well as everyone who believes that the BDS movement makes progress toward a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians more difficult.
One member of the Methodist Church in particular may have played a large role in the decision. Just days before the vote was set to take place, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton issued a statement outlining her rationale for rejecting the resolutions.
“We need to make countering BDS a priority…and need to work together — across party lines and with a diverse array of voices — to reverse this trend with information and advocacy, and fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel,” Clinton wrote. “The BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
The bad news is that the Methodist Church failed to reverse a previous decision to remove five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio. Its justification was that Israel is “high-risk” and that the Church’s pension and health benefits fund was “committed to protecting human rights.”
Earlier this year, the American Jewish Congress reached out to the Methodist Church to advocate that it reconsider the decision. We respectfully pointed out that dozens of Methodist hospitals across the United States benefit enormously on a daily basis from the vast number of new drugs, innovations and breakthroughs made possible by Israeli medical technology. Following is a brief excerpt from a letter to Church leadership:
In the 21st century, it is impossible to talk about quality health care without acknowledging the outsized contribution made by dozens of Israeli firms that are at the forefront of medical research and innovation. From the largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world, to products used in every Methodist hospital such as heart stents, treatment for Parkinson’s, various cancers, MS, pill cams that are swallowed and painlessly take photos as they descend through the digestive tract, the reliance on Israeli medical discoveries and inventions are too numerous to list.
The major Israeli banks now on the Methodist Church’s hit list play an important role in helping finance the high tech industry in the so-called Start-Up Nation. For an institution devoted to providing modern health care in America, I can’t imagine the Church intended to do damage to a global center of medical progress that helps Methodist hospitals literally every day.
The Church now is in the curious position of standing firm against the idea of BDS, yet still leaving in place an odious example of how a short-sighted and ill-informed practice can lead to counterproductive results. By singling out Israel banks, the Church no doubt violates its own commitment to ensure that Methodist hospitals do everything possible to provide the most modern and effective life-saving medical care.
I applaud the Church for its long-standing desire to play an active role in the social and political life of the nation, and for seeking to influence public policy on matters that stir the conscience of its followers. A desire to work toward a two state solution in the Middle East that achieves dignity for Palestinians and peace and security for Israel is a goal on which we can all agree.
Unfortunately, the BDS movement does not bring that prospect even one day closer, as the Church has recognized once again. It should bring its policies and practices into alignment by ending the targeting of Israeli banks, and restoring the faith of patients at its hospitals that it will not play political games at their expense. It’s not always easy, but practicing what you preach is another virtue that Justice Brandeis surely supported.