The Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), led by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, overwhelmingly rejected three resolutions advocating boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) in protest of Israel’s 48-year-long military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Hawaii, California, and a California bishop filed their BDS resolutions for consideration at the 78th general Convention of the ECUSA, beginning on June 25, 2015.
The ECUSA’s action to discard the three BDS resolutions comes on the heels of overwhelming approval by the United Church of Christ (UCC) of its own BDS resolution to boycott and divest from supporting Israel’s unlawful apartheid occupation of Palestine. The UCC, in approving its church-wide BDS resolution, joined a rapidly growing global BDS campaign comprised of religious and secular organizations, including the Presbyterian Church and Methodist Church.
In rejecting all three BDS resolutions for consideration in the church’s just concluded week-long General Convention, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, led by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, reaffirmed the Presiding Bishop’s longstanding public opposition to the use of BDS against Israel.
According to reliable sources, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has maintained a covenant with the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, a Palestinian, who also has publicly voiced opposition to the ECUSA joining the BDS campaign. Archbishop Dawani is opposed to the church adopting BDS against Israel reportedly because he fears reprisal from the Israeli authorities in threatening his travel, residence in Jerusalem and administration of the diocese. Hence rejection by the ECUSA of imposing non-violent BDS protest of Israel’s occupation ostensibly secures status quo for Archbishop Dawani whose archdiocese includes Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and the relatively safe haven of Jordan. This issue was directly addressed in the debate as reported by the Episcopal News Service:
Although the resolution didn’t use the word “divestment,” some bishops expressed concern that it was heading in that direction. Others reminded the house that Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has urged the Episcopal Church not to adopt a policy that would make it more difficult for him to manage his congregations and the more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Those institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities and serve people of all faiths.
“Any hint of divestment will hamper the ministry of Archbishop Suheil Dawani and his priests and congregations in the Middle East,” said Bishop Jay Magness, bishop suffragan for Federal Ministries who served on the Legislative Committee on Social Justice and International Policy that considered the resolutions.
Hawaii’s discarded BDS resolution recounts what Palestinians have endured and continue to endure for the past six decades at the hands of extremist right-wing Israel:
“Resolved, That the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church continues to support the right of Israel to exist, and reaffirms its support of Israel to be able to live in peace, security and harmony with its neighbors, free from fear of attack from those who would threaten its existence; and also deplores and laments that Israel’s Occupation of 4.4 million Palestinians with its stifling policies of restricted movement, arbitrary arrests and detentions, house demolitions, uprooting of agricultural land, the building of illegal Jewish settlements, the construction of a barrier on Palestinian land, and the blockade and control of Gaza undermines Israel’s credibility in the eyes of the international community as Israel denies the civil and human rights of the Palestinian people to live in security and freedom from oppression . .
Resolved, That recognizing our Church’s investments in certain companies may be supporting the infrastructure of the Occupation, we embrace Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s observation that the powerful will only come to the negotiating table if economic pressure is applied, the Convention thereby adopts a policy of selective divestment or a No Buy policy of any holdings in Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions until such time that the conflict is resolved through a just outcome for Palestinians and all Israelis or that these companies take action to disinvest from their involvement in the Occupation. . “
Also rejected, the BDS resolution submitted by the California diocese, stated:
“Resolved, That the 78th General Convention encourage the Church to divest from any investments it might have in Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, whose products and/or actions support the infrastructure of the occupation; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention encourage Episcopalians to boycott products, such as Soda Stream, that are manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The occupation and settlements are considered illegal by the international community and our own government. Nonetheless, in 46 years of occupation, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased by five percent per year and, in the last decade, from 350,000 to 600,000.
These “facts on the ground” have eroded the prospects for a two-state solution and the hopes for peace, and have demonstrated that “corporate engagement” has failed. It is time to try new methods to persuade Israel to do what is in its own best interest.”
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s opposition to employing non-violent BDS was underscored in January 2013, when a group of Episcopal and Anglican senior clergy, calling themselves “Episcopal Voices of Conscience” wrote to the Presiding Bishop’s Executive Council urging the ECUSA to join in the BDS campaign against Israel’s unlawful apartheid occupation. Signatories to the letter included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. The letter urged: “Just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of Apartheid, so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa.” Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori dismissed the letter as “problematic” and “unhelpful”.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s nine-year term in office ends on November 1, 2015, as well as her weighty opposition within the ECUSA over joining the global BDS campaign to end Israel’s unlawful occupation of Palestine. North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry, elected last week at the General Convention, replaces outgoing Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori on November 1. Bishop Curry, the first African American to be elected as Primate of the Episcopal Church, hopefully will soon make his position known on the non-violent BDS campaign in protest to Israel’s 48-year-long unlawful Apartheid occupation of the State of Palestine.
In the meantime, Jerusalem Archbishop Suheil Dawani will continue to enjoy status quo, ostensibly “free of threat from Israel” and the four million Palestinians living in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank will continue to suffer and endure Israel’s brutal apartheid forced military occupation.