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Anti-Israel Activists to Try Divestment Again at Episcopal General Convention

Encouraged by a recent victory in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), anti-Israel activists are seeking to build support for a divestment campaign in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

Deputies to the 78th Episcopal General Convention meeting June 25-July 3 in Salt Lake City, Utah will consider three separate resolutions on Israel and Palestine calling for the church to divest its financial holdings from companies that do business with the Jewish state.


At the last General Convention in 2012, a total of 15 resolutions on Middle East peace were reduced to the final two by the General Convention’s National and International Concerns committee. The convention ultimately adopted language affirming positive investment in the Palestinian Territories rather than divestment from companies doing business with Israel. Activists with the anti-Israel group Friends of Sabeel expressed dissatisfaction with the final resolutions, which were termed “watered down.”


In Salt Lake City, deputies will consider C003 “Work for Justice and Peace in Israel-Palestine,” C012 “Divest/boycott products supporting infrastructure of occupation,” and C018 “Pursue Justice, Peace and Security in the Holy Land.” The resolutions were introduced by the dioceses of Hawaii, California and Washington (DC), respectively.


The Hawaii resolution begins with boilerplate text that the church “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” but wastes little time getting to the heart of the matter. The resolution:


“…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…”


The proposal assigns blame to Israel for the 2014 Gaza conflict, asserting negotiations were “scuttled by the Israeli settler movement and the Likud government’s acquiescence.” There is no mention of Hamas.


The resolution calls for 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.”


The three companies have been singled out by boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) advocates for selling non-lethal equipment to Israel’s military.


The resolution from the San Francisco-based Diocese of California is more succinct, seeking to “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…” The resolution specifically encourages Episcopalians to boycott products manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, singling out kitchen appliance maker Soda Stream by name.


A resolution from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington is more broad, but calls for the General Convention to direct the Social Responsibility in Investment Committee “to present a full and public report to the first meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016 documenting all actions, including corporate dialogues and shareholder resolutions, taken in response to the Executive Committee resolution passed in October of 2005 regarding companies that contribute to the infrastructure of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and companies that have connections to organizations responsible for violence against Israel…”


Episcopalians have a mixed record on engagement with Israel. The denomination was strongly supportive of the Jewish state in the 1950s, later producing critics like former Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning who founded the anti-Israel activist group Friends of Sabeel North America. Sabeel is led internationally by Anglican Priest Naim Ateek, but Episcopal Church officials have largely kept their distance from him.


This year, a new group calling itself the “Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine” has formed. The group announced that their purpose is to “advocate for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land” – but their exclusive target is Israel. The committee seeks to build pressure and force the church to stop investing in companies that do business with Israel.

In 2009, the House of Deputies passed a resolution on Middle East violence that was rejected by the House of Bishops, with Bishop Mark Sisk of New York stating that it was “incorrect” in ascribing all the blame to Israel. According to The Living Church, Sisk was joined by Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana, who protested that the legislation singled out Israel as the aggressor and Palestinians as victims of the conflict.

This article first appeared at Juicy Ecumenism and is reprinted by permission of the author.

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