In June, three more U.S. churches to consider ending financial support for Israeli occupation

Activism

Faith in the peace process is at an all-time low after the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the extremism of his new government. With even President Obama admitting that the door on negotiations is all but closed, Christian activists are opening new windows to expose Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

“Understanding Netanyahu’s intent and policy is not guess work at all, it is consistent with the historical record for any who bother to look,” said Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe, moderator of the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). “Talk of a two-state solution, even with Netanyahu resurrecting that language after being elected, is a cynical delaying tactic.”

“Netanyahu is going to cost us Palestinians a tremendous amount of suffering, and more atrocities and policies of oppression,” said Bisan Mitri of the West Bank town of Beit Sahour. “But this also means that the mask has been dropped.”

Mitri is one of 3,000 Palestinian Christians, including the heads of 13 churches, who signed the Kairos Palestine document calling for: “boycott and disinvestment as tools of nonviolence for justice, peace and security for all.”

Last year, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and United Methodist Church (UMC) divested from several U.S. companies involved in the occupation. Various Quaker bodies have done the same.

“Negotiations are not productive and other avenues must be tried,” said a statement by the United Methodist Kairos Response, a grassroots group within the UMC.  “The avenues recommended by our own faith community in the Holy Land, the Palestinian Christians, include boycott and divestment as well as sanctions.”

This June, three more U.S. churches—the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA)—will join the growing list of those listening to the Kairos Palestine call and considering resolutions to end financial support for the occupation.

What they do and don’t say

As awareness—and misinformation—about BDS proliferate, these church resolutions have been carefully crafted to articulate their respective strategies.

“The Church must discern its appropriate form of BDS in accordance with its values of nonviolence and commitment to justice and in light of its shared complicity in the ongoing Occupation,” states the introduction to the Episcopal resolution. “For the Episcopal Church, BDS is ultimately a strategy to impose pressure on corporate decision-makers aimed at ending the Occupation.”

To that end, their resolution mandates an annually updated list of corporations that “support the infrastructure of Israel’s Occupation.” A phase of “corporate engagement” including shareholder resolutions would be followed by divestment from companies that refuse to change course. Such companies would then be placed on a “No Buy List” with other companies that support the occupation. It also includes measures to boycott settlement “products and/or businesses which are illegal under international law.”

In the background to its resolution, the UCC Palestine Israel Network (UCCPIN) lists the three demands of the Palestinian civil society BDS call: “End to the occupation; equality for Palestinians now living in Israel; and recognition of Palestinian refugees’ right of return,” emphasizing that, “UCCPIN chooses to focus particularly on the first of these goals believing that an end to the occupation is an essential ingredient for a just peace.”

According to Rev. Diane Dulin of UCCPIN, their resolution includes “boycotting settlement products, divesting from the worst offenders who support the occupation, urging church-wide study of Kairos Palestine, seeking congressional review of possibly illegal U.S. military assistance, and continuing interfaith dialogue.”

The UCCPIN specifically calls for divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, G4S, and Veolia, and mandates “developing and publishing standards by which faith-driven investment, divestment, and re-investment decisions can be made in the future.”

The MCUSA resolution does not directly reference BDS or name specific companies but instead calls for annual review of church investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from corporations known to be profiting from the occupation and/or destruction of life and property in Israel-Palestine.” It further calls for “individuals and congregations to avoid the purchase of products that enable the military occupation to continue, including items produced in Israeli settlements.”

While remaining clear in their criticism of the Israeli government, each of these church resolutions and their supporting documents confess the shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and affirm the need for ongoing dialogue with the Jewish community.

Palestinians hold a Catholic mass as a weekly nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank village of Beit Jala, September 7, 2012. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Palestinians hold a Catholic mass as a weekly nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank village of Beit Jala, September 7, 2012. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Chance of success

“The resolution is founded on our biblical call as followers of Christ to be peacemakers, to care for the well-being of all God’s children, and especially those who are victims of violence, oppression, and injustice,” said Tom Harder of the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN). “Helping delegates come to a more informed understanding of the conflict will be key to the resolution’s passing.”

Because MennoPIN’s resolution was crafted in consultation with a broad cross-section of church leaders and agencies, it enjoys significant institutional support. A series of “Come and See” tours sponsored by MCUSA and its humanitarian agency, Mennonite Central Committee, have given key denominational leaders a firsthand understanding of the occupation.

Dulin also points to positive signs for the UCC resolution: “It is still impossible to know if we will win the two-thirds majority we need, but we do know the resolution has passed handily in each regional conference in which it has been considered.”

After last summer’s attacks on Gaza and Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric, Donna Hicks, convener of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, senses greater concern with Israeli policy among a wider range of Episcopalians. Speaking in a personal capacity, she gave a more guarded assessment: “Whether this will be enough to effect passage of resolutions dealing with divestment is hard to say.”

Based on the PCUSA’s narrow victory last year, IPMN Communications Chair Robert Trawick offered this strategic assessment: “The issue of Jewish/Presbyterian relations in the United States was cited more often than not as the reason for rejecting divestment. The only way I see any significant movement happening from the bulk of the anti-divestment forces would be if large numbers of mainstream Jewish organizations began to speak out more forcefully against Israeli policy and to open up the possibility of divestment as an accepted strategy.”

Moral support

So far, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is the only major Jewish organization actively supporting these efforts, and is sending staff to both the UCC and Episcopal gatherings. The American Friends Service Committee, Friends of Sabeel North America, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, are also actively supporting church divestment efforts.

“The events of the last year,” said JVP’s Naomi Dann, “including Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza, the collapse of the peace process and the increasingly blatant racism in Israel and opposition to a Palestinian state, have prompted growing numbers of progressive Jews to conclude that the status quo is unsustainable and to join Jewish Voice for Peace in our conviction that outside pressure, through tactics like boycott and divestment, is needed in order to make change happen.”

In his endorsement of the Episcopal resolution, Archbishop Desmond Tutu issues an affirmation and challenge that should inspire all such efforts:

You proved with us in South Africa that only economic pressure could force the powerful to the table. May you once again witness to the cause of Christ’s justice to free the oppressed and by so doing to liberate the oppressor so that these two peoples can finally be reconciled and live together in dignity, security and peace.

Netanyahu recently ratched up his anti-BDS rhetoric, declaring

The absurd drama in which the democracy that observes human rights – the state of Israel – and which defends itself from barrages of missiles and terrorist tunnels, and then absorbs automatic condemnations and attempted boycotts, this absurd drama will not be forgiven.

While it’s not hard to say which man’s words are a greater inspiration to church-based activists, both should energize those seeking a just peace in the Holy Land.

About Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Ryan Rodrick Beiler (www.ryanrodrickbeiler.com) is a freelance journalist and member of the Activestills (activestills.org) photography collective. He lived in East Jerusalem and the West Bank from 2010-2014.

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16 Responses

  1. just
    June 5, 2015, 4:18 pm

    Thanks for this report, Ryan. I am quite frankly shocked that it is taking this long for these Churches to jump aboard the train toward peace, justice, and respect for Palestinian lives. I imagined that they would lead instead.

    “The resolution is founded on our biblical call as followers of Christ to be peacemakers, to care for the well-being of all God’s children, and especially those who are victims of violence, oppression, and injustice,” said Tom Harder of the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN). “Helping delegates come to a more informed understanding of the conflict will be key to the resolution’s passing.”

    Here’s something to consider: ‘Israel’ of the Bible is NOT the Israel of today. What would Christ have said? This is the Holy Land, after all. I know that congregations and delegates are only human, but perhaps reinforcing those 10 Commandments might help as well. Then there is the little problem with the written/preached word vs the reality.

    Tutu is correct: “May you once again witness to the cause of Christ’s justice to free the oppressed and by so doing to liberate the oppressor so that these two peoples can finally be reconciled and live together in dignity, security and peace.”

    • Kathleen
      June 8, 2015, 9:09 am

      Taking a long time indeed. Yet better late than never…I guess. More and more willing to act upon their awareness. Finally!

      We know there has been a tremendous amount of pressure over the decades to stay silent and misrepresent the facts on the ground…Lie

  2. Bornajoo
    June 5, 2015, 4:31 pm

    “While remaining clear in their criticism of the Israeli government, each of these church resolutions and their supporting documents confess the shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and affirm the need for ongoing dialogue with the Jewish community.”

    Yes okay, even if that statement was completely true, what the hell does it have to do with the way that Israeli zionists treat the Palestinian people?

    They have immediately fallen into the conflation trap right at the very start. They need to de-conflate Jews from Israelis and zionists. Whatever some Christians did to some Jews in some previous moment of history has nothing to do with what Israeli zionists are doing to Palestinians today

    Thanks for your article Ryan.

    • just
      June 5, 2015, 4:35 pm

      Precisely, Bornajoo! They can still dialogue with Jews without contributing to the persecution, oppression, Islamophobia, injustice, and violence toward the Palestinians. It’s not ‘antisemitic’ to work for good.

      (I’m also hoping that the Pope’s actions will finally get the Catholic church fully on board.)

      • Walid
        June 5, 2015, 5:47 pm

        Don’t hold your breath waiting for the largest of the churches to get on board the BDS bus; The Vatican talks a great game in wanting to back the Palestinian cause but when it’s time for it to step up to the plate, it falls apart and runs for shelter from the wrath of the Zionists that are always at the ready with a couple of spitballs, the Christ-killers thing and the false Pius XII Nazi-collusion accusation. The Zionists are still holding back their consent to the long awaited canonization of Pius. 3 years ago under threat of being labeled “antisemitic”by Foxman and the ADL, the Vatican backtracked in its planned double declaration that the Jews were NOT the “chosen” and that the Biblical promise was voided by the advent of Christ and that these 2 elements were being misused by the Jews to continue dispossessing the Palestinians. I’d say Foxman carries a bigger stick than the Vatican; 2 recently canonized Palestinian saints among the already 10,000 Catholic saints are not about to change the fortunes of the Palestinians.

  3. HHM
    June 6, 2015, 12:01 pm

    Uh…excuse me but the Palestinian Civil Society BDS movement calls for more than “recognition” of Palestinian refugees’ right of return. It clearly states, “Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.” I’m curious, who changed it?

    • just
      June 6, 2015, 1:48 pm

      Good point, though I am not sure that anyone changed it at all.

      It appears that UCCPIN took an unfortunate “shortcut”.

    • Boo
      June 6, 2015, 2:23 pm

      Focusing attention on this difference in the language smacks of insisting on the “perfect” at the expense of the “better”. Softening the language strikes me as a pragmatic tactic to disarm opponents of the resolution. After all, the purpose of the resolution is to take practical steps in the areas of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning — that is, to exert economic (and moral) pressure. It isn’t directly aimed at implementing the right of return in any concrete way.

      The resolution has to pass in order for BDS to start being practiced. Practicing BDS is the concrete way to exert the necessary pressure. We need to focus on that as the immediate goal.

  4. DoubleStandard
    June 6, 2015, 3:04 pm

    These are all churches with very small memberships. Desmond Tutu is now a full-time propagandist for the Palestinians. Rarely does any divestment or boycott initiative take place without him issuing his perfunctory endorsement.

    Maybe these churches should worry more about the massive ethnic cleansing campaign of Christians taking place throughout the entire Middle East, and less about how harsh Israel is being on people who have carried out such an ethnic cleansing (take a look at a Palestinian Christian population timeline graph)

    Post-modern christianity is really masochistic. That’s why it’s losing to primeval Islam.

    • Annie Robbins
      June 6, 2015, 3:11 pm

      Desmond Tutu is now a full-time propagandist for the Palestinians.

      no he isn’t, he’s not a propagandists and he’s involved in multiple civic, humanitarian and human rights issues. this is a few days old, read what he has to say about reconcilliation (not a word about israel or palestine):

      http://billmoyers.com/2015/06/02/can-america-heal-ferguson-asked-desmond-tutu-daughter/

    • Kris
      June 6, 2015, 3:35 pm

      @DoubleStandard: “Maybe these churches should worry more about the massive ethnic cleansing campaign of Christians taking place throughout the entire Middle East…”

      Israel’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Christians is especially interesting to many U.S. Christians because they are shocked that the U.S. is enabling Israeli persecution of Christians in what we like to imagine is the “Holy Land.” So we are investigating stuff like this:

      http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/default/files/Palestinian%20Christians%20-%20Ongoing%20forcible%20displacement%20and%20dispossession.pdf

      http://www.minorityrights.org/4923/palestine/christians.html

      http://www.juancole.com/2012/04/top-ten-reasons-israel-tried-to-censor-bob-simons-report-on-palestinian-christians.html

      http://mondoweiss.net/2012/03/the-myth-of-israels-favorable-treatment-of-palestinian-christians

      @DoubleStandard: “These are all churches with very small memberships.”

      Yet a small amount of yeast results in a massive change in the dough.

      • Kris
        June 6, 2015, 4:11 pm

        Of course, DoubleStandard, I understand that from your POV, we aren’t talking about yeast and dough, we’re talking about one rotten apple in a barrel.

    • Froggy
      June 6, 2015, 6:54 pm

      DoubleStandard : “These are all churches with very small memberships.”

      Christians are like Jews in that most of them don’t bother joining and attending services. Most of these non-attendees are still Christians though, if only nominally. So there are more of them than you think.

      DoubleStandard : “Post-modern christianity is really masochistic. That’s why it’s losing to primeval Islam.”

      ‘Losing out’? How so? It’s not like the Methodists and Presbyterians are leaving their churches to convert to Islam.

      Now if you’re referring to Christians in the ME, they are leaving Israel too, and for good reason:

      Not a week has passed without arson or defacement of a church, mosque or Palestinian property in a wave of fanaticism against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

      Israeli officials have turned a blind eye to these attacks, but we hope the Pope’s visit drew the attention of the approximately one billion Catholics around the world.

      Christians [in Israel] suffer from the same discrimination and marginalization facing the rest of the Palestinian community. They are subject to discrimination in employment, unequal municipal funding, physical threats of violence from police, under-funded educational systems, discrimination in housing rights, and political marginalization. Today, Christians are the fastest shrinking segment of Israel’s population, in part due to these discriminatory policies.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nadim-nashif/how-israel-targets-its-pa_b_5396594.html

      Come to think of it… Aren’t diaspora Jews are marrying out at a phenominal rate? Also, I read that in Israel, the Muslim citizens with their high birthrate are outbreeding the Jews.

      Looks like the Muslims are beating you guys too. Your only hope seem to be the Hassidim. -LOL-

  5. Rodneywatts
    June 6, 2015, 4:46 pm

    Thank you Ryan for encouraging report.

    @Just @ Bornajoo @Kris @Annie Robins –spot on comments and Amen!

    @Walid “Don’t hold your breath etc ” re Vatican. You may be right up to a point but things are definitely changing, and I take a much more optimistic view.

    Altogether this year is looking more and more pivotal in the way that organisations (including Churches), governments, and individuals are deconflating Jews and Israel. Thus the zionists’ accusations of of antisemitism wrt Israel are being more and more treated with the contempt they deserve.

    Sadly, of course, the right wing Tobias Ellwood MP, a foreign office minister in our (UK) conservative government has stated his opposition to boycotts because ‘we are trying to get people back to the (negotiating) table. What a naive plonker! Fortunately not all conservatives agree with him.

  6. Marnie
    June 7, 2015, 1:42 pm

    “The absurd drama in which the democracy that observes human rights – the state of Israel – and which defends itself from barrages of missiles and terrorist tunnels, and then absorbs automatic condemnations and attempted boycotts, this absurd drama will not be forgiven.”

    Why do world leaders let him get away with this crap? He’s talking revenge here, but the people who’ve always suffered at the hands of Israeli leaders are the Palestinians. He doesn’t have the guts to go head to head with military equals (I’m not encouraging such a stupid gesture; just so sick of his ever so predictable bluster followed by horrific clusterf&@k on the people of Gaza. And world leaders will only murmur.

  7. Marnie
    June 7, 2015, 1:46 pm

    “The absurd drama in which the democracy that observes human rights – the state of Israel – and which defends itself from barrages of missiles and terrorist tunnels, and then absorbs automatic condemnations and attempted boycotts, this absurd drama will not be forgiven.”

    Why do world leaders let him get away with this shit? He’s talking revenge here, but the people who’ve always suffered at the hands of Israeli leaders are the Palestinians. He doesn’t have the guts to go head to head with military equals (I’m not encouraging such a stupid gesture; just so sick of his ever so predictable bluster followed by horrific clusterf&@k on the people of Gaza. And world leaders will only murmur.

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