Bishops overwhelmingly oppose divestment in Israel, Palestine

By Matthew Davies
Posted Jul 2, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] The House of Bishops sent a strong and clear message July 2 that divestment from companies and corporations engaged in certain business related to the State of Israel is not in the best interests of The Episcopal Church, its partners in the Holy Land, interreligious relations, and the lives of Palestinians on the ground.

The bishops rejected Substitute Resolution D016, which would have called on the Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to develop a list of U.S. and foreign corporations that provide goods and services that support the infrastructure of Israel’s Occupation “to monitor its investments and apply its CSR policy to any possible future investments” in such companies.

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.

“To say that this is a compromise resolution is an extreme. This is a part of a trio of resolutions that we produced on Israel and Palestine,” 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.

“There was a significant difference of passion and opinion in the committee, and it would seem to be divided along two particular lines. One was … that any hint of divestment will hamper the ministry of Archbishop Suheil Dawani and his priests and congregations in Jerusalem and the Middle East. The other side of this, and in respect to Archbishop Suheil Dawani and his priests and congregations, was that we have to engage in socially responsible divestment,” Magness told the bishops. “We were assured by the treasurer that we don’t have any direct investments in the usually named companies,” such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, G4S, and Motorola Solutions.

Dawani was not present at the General Convention, nor was he officially represented by anybody from the Diocese of Jerusalem, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori invited Dawani to be a guest at the convention, but he was unable to attend due to commitments in his diocese.

Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester, chair of the legislative committee, also confirmed that The Episcopal Church currently has no investments in corporations that negatively impact Palestinians on the ground.

Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana said the text of the resolution “clearly and unmistakably advocates boycott and divestment, and we must reject it. … As Anglicans, we have the gift and ability to reach out to people on both sides in the conflict. That is what The Episcopal Church is doing in the Middle East. Our current leadership under the presiding bishop is allowing us to be peacemakers.”

Little also acknowledged Executive Council’s rejection of boycotts, divestment and sanctions through its Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, which affirms “positive investment” and “corporate engagement” to encourage positive change in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

In January, Jefferts Schori led an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land as recommended by Resolution B019 from the 2012 General Convention that called for positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories.

The Rev. Gary Commins, a deputy from Los Angeles and a member of the international policy committee, told ENS he was disappointed by the bishops’ vote, which he described as “operating out of fear, which is never a good thing for people of faith.”

Donna Hicks, convener of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, said: “We’re encouraged by the fact that bishops and deputies understand that this is a pressing issue, and that the discussion at this convention focused not on whether to take action, but rather what action would be most effective … We’re optimistic that today’s vote is just another step in our own process to ensure that we are not profiting from the occupation, and that divestment will pass at a General Convention in the near future.”

General Convention passed two resolutions on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Substitute Resolution B013, proposed by Bishop Nick Knisely of Rhode Island, “reaffirms the vocation of the Church as an agent of reconciliation and restorative justice,” and recognizes that “meaningful reconciliation can help to engender sustainable, long-lasting peace and that such reconciliation must incorporate both political action and locally driven grassroots efforts.”

Knisely said his resolution is part of a process “inviting us all into a larger conversation over the next triennium to talk through” positive investment.

He reminded the bishops that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society invested $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine in 2013 for the purpose of economic development in the Palestinian Territories.

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida said that his experience of embargoes and blocking, in particular the embargo of Cuba, is that “it hurts the same people we think we are helping. Palestinian jobs depend on investment, not on divestment.”

Resolution C018 expresses solidarity with and support for Christians in Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories; affirms the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in healing, education, and pastoral care; and affirms the work of Christians engaged in relationship building, interfaith dialogue, nonviolence training, and advocacy for the rights of Palestinians. The resolution also urges Episcopalians to demonstrate their solidarity by making pilgrimage to Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories and learning from fellow Christians in the region.

As General Convention convened June 25, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the focus of seven resolutions for which the Social Justice and International Policy Committee opened the floor for public testimony at three legislative hearings.

Some 50 people testified on the resolutions related to Israel and Palestine that ranged from calling for deeper investment in Middle East partnerships to calling the church to boycott and divest from companies and corporations engaged in certain business related to the State of Israel.

Several people spoke to the need to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land through economic pressure, saying that the church’s current policy of positive investment has proved inadequate. Others underscored the Christian imperative for engagement and dialogue, citing concerns for any action that might cause further widespread hardship for the Palestinian people and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (41)

  1. Ted Denlinger says:

    It’s a shame that the Episcopal Church will not clearly stand up for justice in occupied Palestine. Grateful to the UCC and hopeful for MCUSA to take a stand. Disappointed by my own church.

  2. Gretchen Crawford says:

    Sad, very sad.

  3. Will Mebane says:

    Disappointing! Hope it won’t take GC 40 years [the way it did to finally advance towards marriage equality] before it listens to the Palestinian people who say BDS will not hurt them any worse than the oppression under which they are now forced to live. Not one person speaking and voting against BDS would tolerate those conditions for one day if they had to live in the apartheid I have witnessed with my own eyes. The struggle must continue!

  4. Nicholas Bisaccia says:

    Perhaps more of our bishops need to visit the Holy land and see what Israeli apartheid looks like. Also maybe a retreat led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu will enlighten our brothers and sisters.
    May God have mercy on us.

  5. Harry Gunkel says:

    Matt, another great job of reporting. Your objectivity and fine writing have been a great asset. Thank you. To those you cited who “underscored the Christian imperative for engagement and dialogue…”, I would like to say that many of us have heard other imperatives from Christ: to do justice, to speak truth to power, to not stand by simply talking when so many are being hurt in the name of power. Let us remember those imperatives, as well.

    1. John Simpson says:

      Harry, good to see your name out here on the forums, and speaking out of your long experience on these issues.

  6. David John says:

    I am grateful and relieved that the Episcopal Church has chosen to stand with the one country in all the Middle East that truly represents liberty and justice.

    The destruction of Israel is in the Hamas charter, and is commanded in mosques and terrorist videos throughout the Dar al-Islam, the House of Submission. Israel, and all of Christendom, reside in the Dar al-Harb. the House of War. No, really, look it up.

    I beg those of you calling for divestment to look at what is happening to Christians, including Orthodox and Coptic, in the Middle East and Africa. Israel is our only friend there. Other nations regard us as their enemy and as a gullible mark in their food and weapons scams.

    I only wish that after opposing divestment, a measure affirming our active support for Israel had passed just as overwhelmingly.

    After the same sex marriage vote, voting against BDS is the only reason I am still a Episcopalian.

    If Christianity has any hope for survival, it must actively defend its friends and its Scriptures.

  7. david bacon says:

    It would be wise to study the history of this region as well as how the surrounding nations treated the Palestinians. Look at Transjordan. The British Mandate. Also look into the Bible.

    Today’s media demonizes Israel. And for what? Or why? It was the Palestinians that went on a plane hijacking blitz so many years ago. And who can forget the Achille Lauro? Or the man in a wheel chair ceremoniously pushed over the side of the ship to drown?

    Boycot Israel? I say the Palestinians need to abandon their terroristic way of protesting the so-called occupation. As a matter of fact, we ‘Americans’ are ourselves occupiers. And we pushed the surviving Native Americans onto reservations, where there are no jobs, plenty of poor health. And don’t even bring up Indian run casinos. Think about it before condemning another group of people and call them occupiers. Did not G-d lead them to the land?

  8. Neil Berro says:

    My strong thanks to the Church. In a region of chaos Israel is the best hope for all humanity. And that is the view of very many non Jews in the region as well.

  9. John D. Andrews says:

    Unlike some, I am not sad at the bishops’ decision; I am angry. There comes a time when a stand must be taken, especially when that stand is against a government that has committed atrocity after atrocity. Israel has shown they are not a democracy, as they claim, and that they routinely break international law. Their actions have also clearly shown to anyone paying attention that they are not serious about negotiating a two-state solution. What they have shown is their willingness to erase the Palestinians from the face of this earth. Engagement has failed because Israel simply doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks. However, they do care about the negative effect of the BDS Movement on their economy. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be working to get other countries to pass laws against BDS. The Episcopal bishops have chosen to stand with the oppressors, instead of with the oppressed. They have turned their backs on justice in favor of allowing injustice to continue. They should be ashamed!

  10. Jack & Sue Smock says:

    We recommend that Bishop Knisely and Archbishop Dawani and their fellow travelers go to their computers and read “A Letter From Birmingham Jail”. Enough is enough! This is NOT the church of 1960’s and 1

    1. John D. Andrews says:

      “This is NOT the church of 1960’s and 1970’s!!!”

      Very true! Christians marched and protested for civil rights. They walked alongside those being oppressed. They stood against injustice while this vote by the bishops has the Episcopal Church walking alongside the oppressor.

  11. richard toll says:

    I am ashamed at the house of bishops on their vote regarding DO16. why was not this vote taken first in the house of deputies? as it is supposed to be since it was initiated by members in the house of deputies. I am ashamed at the reasoning for the vote and the lack of moral authority of the house of bishops and the Archbishop of Jerusalem. To be afraid of losing money for the church and to be intimidated by the threats of the State of Israel regarding criticism of the military occupation of over four million people by the state of Israel is a painful reminder of our inability to be a church leader on justice issues…

  12. Jean-Pierre Seguin says:

    I strongly disagree with this decision. Members of the HoB recognize that Israel occupies these territories and cites the fact that it controls the movement of people and resources in the area as a reason not to divest. This sounds like trying to to placate an oppressive power.
    How are Episcopalians supposed to support some sort of dialogue while one party in the conflict controls most everything? After the bombings of Gaza last year on top of all the rest of the persecution perpetrated by the Israeli state (which does not represent all Jews) the idea of positive investment and corporate responsibility seem weak at best. Why not speak truth to power and force the Israeli state to honor the rights and dignity of Palestinians? Is it not apparent that corporations are driven by profit, not the pursuit of justice?
    Also, why weren’t a number of Palestinian perspectives considered before the HoB decided what was best?

  13. Vicki Gray says:

    I spent a week in Salt Lake City and the last six years of my life striving to honor the plea of a child in Balata refugee camp – “Don’t forget Palestine” – and to get the Episcopal Church to see his face and ease his pain.
    The reaction of the Church or, more properly, the powers-that-be represented by the bishops was steely eyed coldness from representatives of the Presiding Bishop and the Church Pension Fund who made it clear that they prefer to put the Church’s money in that place where moths consume and rust destroys rather than in the service of justice.
    And, again and again, we were told by the blue suits, the green eyeshades, and the purple shirts that we had to look away from the manifest injustice of the current situation in the Holy Land, because Jerusalem’s Archbishop Dawani insists that any action will complicate his life. Never were we told how or why. But those of us who have visited Israel/Palestine know that the life of the Archbishop and his family will not be complicated by any action of ours, but rather by the reaction of the neo-fascist Netanyahu Government which holds over his head the threat that it will rescind his Jerusalem residency permit. He has been told to shut up or get out. And we have seen just this week how, in the case of Greek Orthodox Bishop Hanna, Israel deals with bishops who stand tall and speak out for their people. They are silenced by arrest.
    And, speaking of jail, it would be well this week of church burnings in Galilee and our own South for our bishops, who cling to their via media of inaction and advise discretion over valor, to re-read “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.” If not now, when?
    And, in the halls of Episcopal power, policy vis-à-vis Israel/Palestine continues to be dictated by fear – fear of conflict, fear of being called anti-Semites, and, under threat, fear that our dialogue of the deaf with the Jewish Establishment will be ended.

    Yet, I have found that our strongest allies in this struggle have been the growing number or rabbis and young Jews, from, for example, Jewish Voice for Peace, who agree that criticism of the recalcitrant Netanyahu government is in no way anti-Semitic. And, with them, the dialogue with Jews who believe in the universal justice-seeking ideals of the prophets flourishes.
    I left Salt Lake City yesterday, ashamed of a Church whose moral fire has grown cold; angered by the orchestrated obstruction of the Presiding Bishop and her staff; searching my soul for direction; and, literally, in tears.

    In my sadness, I re-read Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry’s 2012 convention sermon “Crazy Christians.” In it, he alluded to Mary Magdala. And that reminded me of a poem by the late Jane Kenyon – “Woman, Why Are You Weeping?” In a boat on the Ganges, as she watches the bodies of dead babies floating by, she’s asked that question. She replies “I have lost my Lord and I don’t know how to find him.”

    As I left Salt Lake City yesterday, I did so with a similar feeling. Oh, my Lord – Jesus – is closer than ever. But I have lost my Church and I don’t know how to find it.

    1. Liz orr says:

      I agree Vicki, I too feel as though I have lost my church. Several decisions made on behalf of all us Episcopalians deeply sadden, disturb my conscience and wound my soul. :'(

  14. Rev. Dr. Kathleen Kircher says:

    What a shock to read that our leaders value self interests more than social justice. I have been to Israel four times beginning in 1979. I have seen injustices and violence toward Palestinians escalate. I have also met growing numbers of people – Jewish, Christian, Muslim- bond and work for justice while plainly addressing the Israeli government’s central role in oppression of the Palestinian people. Supporting church outreach in Israel is laudable but failing to address the systemic roots of oppression is a classic Ed Friedman description of failed leadership.

    1. Rev. Dr. Kathleen Kircher says:

      Fine as stated

  15. Donald Johnson says:

    The idea that the Episcopal Church is making any progress at peacemaking on its current course is delusional. If the Church had voted to divest, it would have been a sign that the occupation is increasingly unacceptable in the U.S. Instead it voted for the continuation of the status quo. This was a victory for Netanyahu and all those who claim that any form of pressure on Israel is motivated by antisemitism.

  16. Fr. Ken Campbell says:

    Forty years ago the large majority of South Africans encouraged us to use BDS as a tool to change the oppressive South African government even though it would temporarily increase hardship for ordinary people. It worked! The same is true of the Palestinian people today as anyone who has spent any time there knows. They need our help to end the oppression. The Israeli government’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians is a betrayal of the principles of Judaism as an increasing number of American Jews now realize. Almost 90% of the violent deaths in the past 15 years have been Palestinians, half of them children. If the House of Bishops lived in the occupied territories disguised as Palestinians they would be radical changed within a few weeks! What a sad note to end wonderful General Convention. I am hopeful that our new PB, as an African American, will understand what is going on i Israel?Palestine and encourage us to stand with the oppressed.

  17. W Gary Johnson says:

    I can’t recall ever before reading anything online where the comments section was more worthwhile than the article itself. Suffice to say, I am deeply saddened by the leadership of my Church, which has chosen to pat itself on the back for their “role as peacemakers” rather than act boldly in the name of peace. The Church has no “direct investments” in companies that profit from occupation? How much does it invest indirectly? I wonder how much of the Church’s “positive investment” in Gaza is still standing after last summer? Five Hundred Thousand Dollars for the Bank of Palestine? Merely the price of a handful of (American made) cruise missiles.
    And for Bishop Frade to compare this resolution to an “embargo” simply defies credulity. It is Gaza that is under embargo, even now boarding and seizing relief ships in international waters.

  18. Lu Bro says:

    Cannot believe the Episcopal Church refuses to divest interests with Israel . If Anyone on that committee has been to Jerusalem they would see what the government does to the Palestinians – taking their lands, precipitating sexual abuse on females (to provoke the males to respond by their throwing rocks, they have no other defense, so that they – the government/military males – could turn on them with guns and shoot them. We saw this from our tour buses, early 90’s. And within the 5 weeks we were there a number of other provocative actions. We have Jews in our extended family and we appreciated the “normal” Jewish people over there, but the military/governing group was and is just awful. Look again, Episcopal House of Bishops – you are allowing, encouraging, supporting, fostering tragic behaviors. Go visit the land, silently and see what they do.

  19. Robert Gallagher says:

    There’s a small faction in our church that wants to ignore the oppression and violence on the Palestinian side and focus on what the Israelis are doing. Thankfully their bias toward Israel lost in the HofB. Conflict is almost always messy. Often both sides engage in behavior that is morally and ethically problematic. That’s certainly true in this case. We need to maintain a stance of seeking a two state solution.

    1. Elaine Jenkins says:

      When dealing with abusive people who claim that the victims are also abusive so they aren’t responsible for the abuse, one must look beyond the conflict. One must look to the source of the power in the situation. One asks? Who is in control? It is clear that Israel is in control. They regulate what and who goes in and out of the occupied territories, as well as vital public services like electricity and water. it is to Israel’s advantage to continue the system. They will not make peace, they have no reason to do so, they are in control and they are getting advantages from that control. Unless this changes, there will never be peace.

  20. John West says:

    Well done to the Bishops Council for taking a stand against the un-democratic BDS movement. These useful idiots do not realise they are playing into the hands of Hamas, PLO and other terrorists out there. The only thing these Arabs want is the total annihilation of the one true democratic country in the Middle East – Israel.

  21. Rev. James D. (Danny) Borkowski says:

    Just a question: since when is the President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East or the Bishop of Jerusalem an “Archbishop?” Wasn’t one when I served there.

  22. Donald Johnson says:

    I would say the useful idiots are the people who only notice human rights violations when committed by the Other. People who support boycotts are supporting a traditional nonviolent tool for social change. They aren’t supporting either Palestinian terrorism or Israeli war crimes, nor are they supporting a boycott that would be anywhere near as draconian as the blockade on Gaza, which would be utterly immoral. That is what is so curious about the bishops’ vote. The U.S. Is supportive of Israel in supplying weapons and in maintaining the blockade and in doing nothing to stop settlement expansion and yet a little more than symbolic gesture of disapproval of Israel’s actions is supposed to undermine our noble efforts as Episcopalians to bring peace. In other words, we will defend Israel’s right to exist as Palestine continues not to exist and talk while settlements continue. Maybe Netanyahu will build an Episcopal retreat center in some future settlement. We ought to get something out of this.

  23. David John says:

    There is no Palestine as functional nation, though Israel has offered statehood time and again.

    There is only Hamas.

    Hamas is a box full of holocaust sitting on Israel’s doorstep. Nowhere in all the lands surrounding Israel is there any nation that does not wish to see her destroyed, but Hamas was created by cynical tyrants to be nothing else.

    They do not desire to exist as an independent nation, pursuing peaceable commerce in the community of nations, raising their children to be doctors, engineers, scientists, priests and scholars. No, they exist to make war, especially on the Jews; it says so in their Charter.

    That charter quotes Mohammed as saying, “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

    And this: “I swear by that who holds in His Hands the Soul of Muhammad! I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”

    The Charter says, “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: ‘Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.'”

    Elsewhere: “The Nazism of the Jews…” Okay, stop right there, back up, and read that again, and think hard, really hard, about trying to reach a settlement with people who think that about you. Let’s start again.

    “The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone. They make war against people’s livelihood, plunder their moneys and threaten their honor. In their horrible actions they mistreat people like the most horrendous war criminals.” And much more in this vein.

    The mothers of Hamas raise their children to be terrorists, in accordance with the Charter.

    The leaders of Hamas have, time and again, shot down Israel’s offers of peaceful coexistence. Why? Because the terms of such offers always include not trying to destroy Israel.

    “Love your enemies,” sayeth Christ. But I cannot believe he meant that we should demand our friends kneel down to be destroyed, as they offer up their children to be slaves.

  24. Isaac Miller says:

    Our failure to support divestment efforts in the Near East is sad. BDS probably represents one of the most hopeful ways toward a just peace in a part of the world rife with brut violence and oppression that feeds into more violence. What would have happened in South Africa if people and institutions of conscience had failed to heed the call for divestment that came out of the struggle of people there. We should and can do better, those who suffer and The One who hears their cries rightly expect more of us.

  25. Tony Mideas says:

    The BDS movement turned anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli and has nothing to do with justice or human rights. If the movement was genuinely interested in humanity it would boycott Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries where people live in extreme poverty and thousands are killed yearly while others disappear without a trace.
    The Palestinians claim that they want their own state but know very well that this will be the end of their life as they know it- Isis already threatened to turn Gaza into a radical Muslim state.
    When the Palestinians stop crying victimhood and stop supporting terror peace will arrive.
    By the way/ more Christians are murdered in Muslim countries than Palestinians in Israel but our religious leaders say nothing about that!
    Shame on you for boycotting the only country in the Middle East where justice rules!

    1. David John says:

      Quite so, particularly the note about who is murdering Christians.

      The BDS movement is nothing but submission to two enemies of the Church and of Christ: Islam and the socialist left. There is no appeasing either one.

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