Committees recommend resolutions on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including ‘apartheid’ language

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 6, 2024
West Bank

Palestinian children play with a kite May 15 by the West Bank barrier wall outside the Aida refugee camp in the city of Bethlehem inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] General Convention’s committees on Social Justice & International Policy recommended a series of resolutions on June 6 responding to various aspects of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including whether to apply the term “apartheid” to Israel’s disparate treatment of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis.

A substitute resolution written primarily by Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor appeared to receive the broadest support from the committees’ bishops and deputies. If adopted by the 81st General Convention, which convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky, Resolution D013 would endorse several policy statements related to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza, which has created a humanitarian crisis in the densely populated Palestinian territory.

D013 also affirms past Episcopal Church positions in favor of a two-state solution as one possible path to peace. “For all the people of Israel and Palestine to enjoy freedom, peace, justice and national self-determination, there must be a Palestinian state, coexisting with the Jewish state of Israel,” the resolution says.

General Convention resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict typically are among the most intensely debated measures at each triennial meeting of The Episcopal Church’s primary governing body. Attention to such measures has been further heightened this year by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, now eight months old.

Taylor said his goal in drafting the substitute resolution was to build on “the peace and justice work” that The Episcopal Church already is supporting in the region and to “offer for the broader Episcopal Church some steps that it can take” to a help achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East. The resolution also briefly mentions “apartheid,” but unlike other resolutions that address that issue directly, D013 says only that the current Israeli government is “pursuing an apartheid policy” by ruling out the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Taylor also has alluded to the fact that General Convention’s deliberations on the Social Justice & International Policy committees’ resolutions will start in the House of Bishops, as the house of initial action. The bishops historically have been more conservative on Middle East policy than the House of Deputies, and any resolution rejected by the bishops will not make it to the floor of the House of Deputies for debate.

“The [resolution’s] language seeks to appeal to a broad audience in both houses, to the extent that we concur that there is a value at this critical time, for our siblings in the region, to The [Episcopal] Church speaking with one voice,” Taylor said. He added that he hoped with D013 to “give both houses as broad a possible palette from which to paint a shared vision of peace and justice for all in the region.”

All the resolutions assigned to the Social Justice & International Policy committees can be found on General Convention’s Virtual Binder website, though their texts may not yet reflect the revisions and substitutes made by the committees.

Jerusalem

A boy wrapped in an Israeli flag attends the annual Jerusalem Day march June 5, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Photo: Reuters

General Convention is a bicameral governing body, and bishops and deputies are assigned to parallel legislative committees on about two dozen topics. The parallel committees, though distinct, typically meet together for hearings and deliberations. Most of the bishops and deputies who spoke at the June 6 meeting on Zoom praised the substituted language for D013, though some still expressed concerns about the use of the word “apartheid.”

Tom Fortner, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Mississippi, said he did not think the term correctly applied to the Israeli government’s unequal treatment of Jewish citizens and non-Jewish citizens. The word most commonly invokes the experience of Black South Africans into the early 1990s under their country’s apartheid government. Fortner argued the issue in Israel is not one of racial discrimination in the same way.

“I really am struggling. I’m struggling with this word ‘apartheid,’” Fortner said. “But I don’t want it to take away from how important I think this resolution is.” He ultimately voted in favor of recommending the resolution, which received the unanimous support of the deputies’ committee.

The only vote against the resolution came from Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Allen Bourlakas, who said he could not support any resolution that contained the word “apartheid.” That is not a term personally endorsed by Archbishop Hosam Naoum, the Anglican leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Bourlakas said, so he thinks The Episcopal Church should avoid using it as well.

Diane Audrick Smith, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Ohio, countered that The Episcopal Church may be better positioned, from a distance, to speak in language that Palestinian Christians do not feel empowered to use. “We have latitude to act as a moral authority and to call things as we see them and as we feel them,” she said.

Separately, the committees were assigned four resolutions directly related to apartheid. They were consolidated into a single Resolution A010. If it is adopted by the 81st General Convention, The Episcopal Church would recognize for the first time that Israel’s laws and treatment of Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens “correspond to the definitions of apartheid” as set by international law.

“Apartheid is antithetical to the Gospel message,” the resolution continues, “and to our Baptismal Covenant to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.'”

The committees recommended Resolution A010 to General Convention, with two people, Fortner and Bourlakas, voting no.

Jon Delano, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said he was not in favor of using the term apartheid but still voted to recommend the resolution, because he thought it was an important question that should be debated by the full houses of bishops and deputies. “I don’t think this is an issue that this committee alone should resolve,” he said.

Other resolutions recommended by the committees included D009, which would call on the United States government to help fund the long-term restoration and rebuilding of Gaza “as part of a process for creating a negotiated and sustainable peace.”

Another resolution, D012, would endorse conditioning future military aid on Israel’s and the Palestinian authorities’ adherence to international human rights standards while opposing arms sales that are “used to perpetuate conflict, violate human rights or contribute to corruption, instability or violence in any country in the world.”

Resolution D007 speaks more specifically about the current Israel-Hamas war. If adopted by General Convention, it would “condemn and lament the Hamas-led attack and atrocities against Israel” and “the scale and scope of the Israeli government’s ensuing military retaliation in Gaza.” The resolution would demand an immediate cease-fire, release of all hostages held by Hamas, release by Israel of all unjustly detained Palestinian prisoners and “comprehensive, substantial humanitarian aid” to Gaza.

The committees also recommended Resolution D005, which would move The Episcopal Church closer to supporting the Palestinian-led movement known as boycott, divestment and sanctions. The movement calls on Western governments and corporations to apply economic pressure on Israel to stop alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

“We haven’t ever passed something that asks us to do any of these things, or at least not the boycott part,” said Anne Brown, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Vermont. “But we do want to recognize the legitimacy of the movement.”

In 2018, the 79th General Convention passed a resolution with a narrower scope that established a “human rights investment screen” for the church’s investment portfolio, which enabled the church’s financial planners to stop investing in companies that were involved with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Tags