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An unusual advocate in call for divestment
November 23, 2011
The United Methodist Portal,
home of the The United Methodist Reporter
By John Wagner, Special Contributor
Jim Beck, a United Methodist layperson and commercial banker from Cincinnati, Ohio, is as unlikely an activist as you could expect to meet. I met Jim in 2009 when his pastor asked him to serve on a West Ohio Conference task force I was helping to chair. Our job was to investigate whether the conference’s stock holdings should be withdrawn from companies like Caterpillar, which manufactures bulldozers sold to the Israeli military.
Thousands of Palestinian homes and farms have been demolished by these weaponized bulldozers to make way for new Israeli-only settlements. Jim agreed to join the task force, but made it clear he had to be convinced on two fronts: as a responsible banker he generally frowns on economic activism of any kind; as a self-described conservative evangelical he did not relish the idea of opposing Israel.
Even so, he chose to test his convictions. In February of 2010 he accompanied 12 leaders from several Christian denominations on an investigative tour of the West Bank.
“Very early into the trip I was perceived to be the most conservative of our group,” Jim says of his visit to the Holy Land, “and I personally agreed with our government’s support of Israel, both its right to exist and the importance of security to that continued existence. Even after the trip, I can still say that I am supportive of Israel and our country’s involvement in assuring its security.”
David Wildman, on staff at the General Board of Global Ministries, was one of the organizers of the trip, and agrees Jim urged the group to view the situation from as many angles as possible. Jim pushed for meeting with an Israeli settler who lives on occupied Palestinian land to get an alternative point of view. This was arranged. He also wanted assurances that church executives had engaged in good faith negotiation with any companies targeted for divestment. Evidence was given of many meetings, letters and shareholder resolutions over the years.
A great turning point came when Jim met Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian Christian whose family has been persecuted, orchards destroyed and buildings demolished even as he and others have tried to bring Israelis and Palestinians together through personal diplomacy.
The Nassars are among 2,500 Palestinian Christians who have signed the Kairos Palestine Document, calling on global churches to take action toward ending the occupation of their land. After meeting other Palestinian Christians, seeing how they live and hearing their testimonies, Jim had this to say to his annual conference in June of 2010:
“I now believe we must draw the line if our support overlooks serious human rights violations. In my opinion, Israel has already crossed that line in the form of home demolitions, illegal settlement activity and inhumane checkpoints throughout the West Bank, all of which we witnessed firsthand, beyond what the average tourist might see.”