UCC Says No to Occupation, Votes 80% to Divest

by James M. WallUCCvote

The United Church of Christ (UCC) General Synod has voted overwhelmingly in favor of resolutions that require UCC church funds to be divested from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The UCC General Synod vote was 508 in favor of divestment, 124 against, with 38 abstentions.

In this strong action in favor of divestment, the UCC placed additional pressure not only on the state of Israel’s fear of losing favor in world opinion, but also on delegates of the Episcopal Church General Convention, who are expected to vote Wednesday on resolutions similar to those endorsed by the UCC national body.

The divestment action covers businesses in illegally-occupied territories, not, contrary to Israeli propaganda, businesses within the state of Israel.

Since the 2005 start of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) non-violent campaign to  pressure Israel to give up its illegal occupation, U.S. church national bodies have steadily moved from implied support for the occupation, to a series of actions that refuse to allow church funds  to invest in the occupation.

The secular media is taking notice.

Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll, reports:

Last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to sell stock in a few companies whose products are used by Israel in the territories.

The United Church of Christ resolution was broader. Delegates are calling on the denomination’s financial arms to sell off stock in any company profiting from what the church called human rights violations arising from the occupation. The church also voted to boycott Israeli products made in the territories.

Peter Makari, Area Executive for Middle East/Europe in the UCC’s Global Ministries agency, said after the vote that the resolutions “reflect our urgent concern for the worsening effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian people and lives, including the disparity in rights and power.”

Responding to the resolutions,  Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emanuel Nahshon expressed his government’s displeasure over the resolutions.

Nahshon said the UCC’s policies have “reflected the most radical politics for more than a decade and in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position.”

The UCC has struggled, as a national body, on how to respond to this consistent barrage of attacks against any group or individual not endorsing Israel’s action in the occupied territories.

In 2005, the UCC passed a resolution seeking reconciliation, calling for “economic leverage” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ten years later, after three devastating invasions of a civilian Gaza population, after further Israeli settlement growth on Palestinian land, and after increased occupation procedures of routine military attacks on Palestinians, the UCC General Synod has finally said enough is enough.

To which, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Nahshon offered this pious response:

“People of faith ought to be acting to help Israel and the Palestinians to renew efforts to achieve peace, rather than endlessly demonizing one party in the conflict — in our view, the aggrieved party.”

Prominent theologian and Palestinian clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, was a guest preacher at the UCC Synod, which is being held in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Responding to the vote, Dr. Raheb said that “in approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality”.

Pastor Raheb further emphasized the reality of occupation and the validity of the UCC action:

For Palestinians living under occupation or facing systematic discrimination as citizens of Israel, enduring the destruction of their homes and businesses, the theft of their land for settlements, and living under blockade and siege in Gaza, this action sends a strong signal that they are not alone, and that there are churches who still dare to speak truth to power and stand with the oppressed.

The strong vote for divestment came at the culmination of a process that began in 2005, to end the Church’s complicity in Israel’s nearly half-century-old occupation and other abuses of Palestinian human rights.

The 2005 Palestinian civil community’s initial call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, was endorsed by Palestinian Christian leaders who embodied the call in the Kairos Palestine document which seeks Palestinian freedom and rights through peaceful means.

BDS leaders make it clear that the movement was inspired by the US Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid movements.

The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is currently in session in meetings that began June 26. Voting on similar resolutions to the one passed by the UCC General Synod, is expected to come on Wednesday, July 1 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Episcopal Convention proposals were developed by a new group, the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine.

The third national body considering specific action on the issue is the Mennonite Church USA Convention, which is currently in session from June 30 through July 5, in Kansas City, Missouri.

One pro-Palestinian Episcopal delegate was asked if the UCC vote Tuesday would have any  influence on how the Episcopal Convention might vote. The answer was cautious.  Maybe.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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9 Responses to UCC Says No to Occupation, Votes 80% to Divest

  1. Fred says:

    It’s another step, but in my opinion falls far short of what needs to be done. It’s the Israeli government that occupies, demolishes, steals land for apartheid settlements and kills Palestinians with impunity. It is also the Israeli government that has blockaded Gaza for nine years, a collective punishment which is a violation of International Law, and a violation of freedom of the Seas.

    Therefore, ALL Israeli products must be boycotted and all Israeli companies divested from. Merely focusing on the settlement products is not enough. If BDS is to have any real effect, Israel must be boycotted the same way South Africa was under it’s apartheid system. Were the whites in SA any worse than the Israelis? Clearly not.

  2. Sam Khalil says:

    Thank you James Wall and UCC
    for raising the conscience of the world
    against the brutal occupation of Palestine.
    God bless you and protect you.

  3. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thanks for covering the good news, Jim.
    We wholeheartedly thank the United Church of Christ for voting overwhelmingly in favor of divestment. It is a moral victory that we hope other churches will follow suit very soon.
    The head of the snake is “Israeli occupation” and its tyrannical “apartheid state” and dark ideology of uprooting natives of the land and replacing them with terrorist-settlers.
    As Christian Palestinians, we urge other major US denominations to move faster, in order to prevent Israel from gobbling our entire Palestinian Homeland.
    As we approach the 4th of July, US Independence Day, it only deepens our fervor, passion, and determination to have our own independent State of Palestine in the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as our eternal capital. Unlike Israel, for which the question has been one of best timing to grab more territory, for us, this is, and has always been, an absolutely existential question.

  4. Samia Khoury says:

    Thank you James for brightening up our day, with this great piece of news. I have been following some of the deliberations but I missed that final vote. And thank you for including the comment of Mr. Nahshon, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, representing the “aggrieved party!!!” As if more than twenty years of negotiations were not enough over and above the financial and moral support of the USA, and the endless efforts of its churches to bring about reconciliation, peace and justice. Yes indeed “Enough is Enough.” Thank you UCC, and bravo, with the hope that you will inspire the Episcopal Church to follow suit, and get its cue from the indigenous Christian voice in the occupied territories.

  5. J. Martin Bailey says:

    The UCC action came as another testimony in a long line of actions that support Palestinian statehood and justice for the oppressed Palestinian people. It was also forged on a long line of missionaries sent by the United Church of Christ to work with existing churches and church agencies in Israel and the occupied territories. Over at least 40 years the UCC mission agencies and members of UCC churches have heard first hand reports from the trusted voices of individuals who have invested their lives to serve an oppressed people.
    During many of those years many congregations and church organizations have sent study groups to the region to learn first hand the conditions under which Palestinians live. This has led to lasting ties with individuals and indigenous groups like the Christmas Lutheran Church (whose articulate pastor was invited to preach at the General Synod just ended) and the Episcopal-church sponsored ecumenical organization, Sabeel.
    UCC members have also developed friendships with faithful Israeli Jews, many of whom personally oppose the harsh history of subjugation that their country has forced upon Palestinian people and their churches which were living and serving in the region before the State of Israel was founded. So I was not at all surprised that the General Synod acted so decisively.
    The action came, however, after intensive discussions in the committee that sponsored the resolution, and before that in regional bodies known as conferences. Many who voted for the action spoke of their deep friendship with American Jews. One factor that helped resolve a deep anxiety about “voting against our Jewish friends and neighbors” was the presence as visitors at the Synod of a group representing the Jewish Voice for Peace.
    The UCC synod delegates will return to their home towns and churches fully prepared to interpret and support their actions. Many local congregations, as well as the national bodies, will participate in the boycott and divestment.

  6. Jack Graham says:

    I wish Pope Francis had done what Protestant denominations are doing to protest the crimes of the Israeli government, instead of endorsing the quack science of climate change pushed by the Bilderberg Group, Nothing the United States could do would be more appropriate in foreign affairs that to cut loose from Israel, and follow a policy of friendly neutrality between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. — John Remington Graham of the Minnesota Bar (#3664X)

  7. Basim Ismail says:

    Maybe the Pope is next. Maybe Obama will follow.
    Do agree boycott should be against all of ISRAEL.
    The settlements did not create themselves.
    ISRAEL created them!

  8. David says:

    Response to Basim Ismail:

    Agreed. Given Israel’s ongoing belligerent/illegal/brutal occupations of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip (still occupied under international law), Syria’s Golan Heights and Lebanon’s Shebba Farms, sooner or later, the boycott must be extended to Israel, i.e., west of the green line. The current government, which supports these occupations, was elected by Israel’s Jewish citizens. Hence, they are complicit and must be held accountable.

  9. Donna Hicks says:

    The Episcopal Church’s General Convention House of Bishops has sent one resolution to the House of Deputies – it’s on their consent calendar today. Another one was on the consent calendar in the House of Bishops yesterday. The third one referred to above will go to the House of Bishops for debate but the daily calendar for Thursday hasn’t been published yet. Convention ends tomorrow. It has been weakened considerably. Look for D016 under the legislative section of the General Convention website. You can also check EPF Palestine Israel Network Facebook page for updates. Yesterday’s email PINontheGo has a summary of what’s happened so far.

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