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.