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Three More Churches Pursue Divestment

Three More Churches Pursue Divestment

Three U.S. churches, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) will consider ending financial support for the Israeli occupation.

The three resolutions, drafted by the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine (ECJIP), the UCC Palestine Israel Network (UCCPIN), and the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN), are responding to the Kairos Palestine call, and the BDS call. Kairos Palestine, a Christian movement, released a document in 2009 detailing realities on the ground for Palestinians, and urged the international community to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and engage in nonviolent resistance (specifically mentioning boycotts, divestment, and sanctions).

All three churches are also responding to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) call.  In 2005, Palestinian civil society put out the BDS call asking the international community to use boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as nonviolent tools to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and resist Israeli occupation until three demands are met.  The three demands are an end to the occupation of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall, recognizing and advocating for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees and equal rights for all Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Support for BDS is increasing in the United States especially since the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In light of Netanyahu’s recent promise never to allow an independent Palestinian state, many in the United States are turning away from the already stalling “peace-process” and turning to BDS as a means to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestine.

The introduction to the Episcopal resolution states:

“For the Episcopal Church, BDS is ultimately a strategy to impose pressure on corporate decision-makers aimed at ending the Occupation. The Church has never shied from such initiatives in the past when justice and civil rights were at stake. For us to embrace BDS changes the national debate. It spotlights the degree to which the Occupation, and the oppression of Palestinian Christians and Muslims, is enabled by America.”  

This represents a trend among the churches considering divestment, framing the occupation of Palestine not just as a human rights issue of concern to Christians, but to American taxpayers as well.  The UCCPIN references the 3.1 billion dollars of U.S. foreign aid given to Israel annually, which enables the military occupation.

The three churches are approaching divestment in different ways.  In many instances BDS resolutions target specific companies for boycott or divestment.  The United Church of Christ is the only church that has elected to pursue this strategy.  The UCC resolution calls for divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard Development Company, G4S, and Veolia.  The UCC resolution also calls for a boycott of products produced in the illegal settlements such as Ahava skincare products, SodaStream products, and Hadiklaim dates.

The Episcopal resolution is not targeting specific corporations. Instead, the resolution calls for maintaining a list of corporations that  “provide goods and services that support the infrastructure of Israel’s Occupation,” and calling for divestment from “said companies who have not agreed to terminate their business operations in Occupied Palestine and with whom dialogue has not been fruitful.”  The resolution further calls for a boycott of settlement products.

The Mennonite resolution takes a similar approach to the Episcopal resolution.  It does not target specific corporations, but calls for an annual review of the investments of the Mennonite Church “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.”  The resolution further encourages boycotts of products that enable military occupation such as settlement products.  The Mennonite Church USA condemns all violence in its resolution, and calls on the United States to end military assistance to all countries, including Israel.

Whether these resolutions will pass remains to be seen, however there are positive signs for both the Mennonite and UCC resolutions.  The Mennonite resolution was crafted by many church leaders and agencies, and therefore has a significant degree of institutional support.  Six UCC conferences have approved the resolution and several individual congregations have endorsed it.  While none of this offers a guarantee of passage, the fact that these resolutions are even up for a vote is a step forward for the BDS movement.

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