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Major U.S. church backs divestment from Israeli occupation

In a landslide vote, the United Church of Christ passes a divestment and boycott resolution targeting ‘companies profiting from, or complicit in, human rights violations arising from the occupation.’

Text by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

With the Israeli settlement Gilo visible on a nearby hillside, Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah joins Palestinians in a prayer service as a nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, February 8, 2013. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

With the Israeli settlement Gilo visible on a nearby hillside, Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah joins Palestinians in a prayer service as a nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, February 8, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The United Church of Christ voted by an overwhelming margin Tuesday to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. The resolution, which passed by a 508 to 124 vote, also calls for a boycott of settlement products, congressional accountability regarding U.S. foreign military aid to Israel, and ongoing commitment to interfaith dialogue.

According to a UCC news report, the resolution, which had initially been limited to five companies for their involvement in occupation activities (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, G4S and Veolia), was expanded to include, “any direct or substantive indirect holdings in companies profiting from, or complicit in, human rights violations arising from the occupation.”

“In approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality,” said Rev. Mitri Raheb in a press release from the UCC Palestine Israel Network (UCC PIN). Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, had addressed the assembly prior to the vote. “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.”

A separate resolution declaring that Israeli policy meets the international legal definition of apartheid won a 312-295 majority but failed to meet the two-thirds majority needed to pass the general assembly.

The UCC joins the Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church, several Quaker bodies, and Mennonite Central Committee among U.S. churches and organizations that are using various forms of economic leverage to protest Israeli policy and to ensure that their investments are not profiting from harm done to Palestinians.

Reaction from major Jewish organizations was swift and predictable, echoing similar denunciations of the PCUSA vote one year ago. According to a statement by Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee, the measure is “one-sided” and “singles out Israel.” The Israel Action Network (IAN) and Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) issued a joint statement calling it, “deeply skewed,” “divisive,” and supported only by a “sliver of the Jewish community.”

That “sliver” was most vocally represented by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), whose Midwest Regional Organizer Ilana Rossoff urged supporters to thank the UCC: “Our opponents will say that divestment harms interfaith relationships—but we know that’s not true. Supporting each other to align our values and actions is the very heart of what interfaith relationships should be.”

JVP has grown to more than 60 chapters over the past year as the only nationwide Jewish organization supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a means of pressuring Israel.

Other organizations present supporting church-based divestment include: the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, U.S. Palestinian Community Network, Al-Awda Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Bir Zeit Cultural Society, Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA, Friends of Sabeel-North America, United Methodist Kairos Response, Kairos USA, Episcopal Peace Fellowship/Palestine Israel Network, Tree of Life Educational Fund, and Christian Peacemaker Teams.

The Episcopal Church and Mennonite Church USA are also meeting this week, with similar resolutions on their respective agendas. The Episcopal resolutions face more of an uphill battle with direct resistance from outgoing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The Mennonite resolution, however, enjoys broad support from key church leaders and agencies that helped to develop it.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Thank you United Church of Christ – you did the right thing. The home demolitions, administrative detentions, water and land theft and the apartheid-style legal system (since 1967 roughly 800,000 – that’s eight hundred thousand – Palestinians have seen the inside of Israeli jails) all have nothing to do with self defense. There is a perfectly workable solution that can be implemented by Israel alone, according to Blue White Future: http://bluewhitefuture.org/

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…nothing to do with self defense…”*

        *Nadav Weiman on “Why I Broke the Silence”

        30.06.15, Haaretz

        “Seven years have passed since I completed my military service in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to this day, each time I’m asked why I broke my silence, I think of the military code names of the tasks I carried out.

        I remember, for example, one of the tasks I often performed, called “mapping.” When I first participated in mapping, my team and I were sent to a street in the city of Nablus. It was nighttime and we knew what we needed to do. We would wake the sleeping family, photograph each family member, write down their names and occupations, draw a map of the house we had entered, and then move on to the next home to begin the process again.

        When we returned to the base I entered the battalion’s intelligence office to upload the photographs I had taken. The battalion intelligence officer stopped me before I proceeded to do so. He explained to me that the aim of “mapping” is not actually to gather intelligence. He told me to throw away the maps that we had sketched, and to delete the images from the camera. At first I didn’t understand. If the information we collected was not important, why were we sent to wake families in the middle of the night?

        …As my commander explained to me, the aim of this operation, as with many others that I carried out throughout my service, was to create “a sense of persecution” among the Palestinian population…ensure that all residents feel threatened…I began to understand that my job is not to defend Israel, but rather to control the Palestinians….

        Though I still believed it was my duty to do everything I could to protect my nation, the new threat I saw was different. I realized that not saying anything meant that I was helping to reinforce most Israelis’ false perception in regard to the IDF and Israel’s role in the territories. By doing so, I was making sure that we – the Israeli public – carry on making decisions on the basis of false perceptions. And that can’t do any good….”

        Reply to Comment
      • Cowboy

        Bruce, bubeleh, you are going to tell me that none of the 800,000 jailed Palestinians repressesented a security issue? Are you retarded? If that is the case, why are there streets and town squares named after murderers? Even the biggest antisemites would not have the gall to post what you did. Senile old troll.

        Reply to Comment
      • Cowboy

        Bruce, you are a moron to believe that tBDS seeks only to push Israel out of the West Bank, rather than the end of Israel as a Jewish state

        And it is beyond stupid to think that the hyper-liberal leadership of the very liberal United Church of Christ is a major trendsetter. Indeed, even if every aging and shrinking mainline denomination were to declare for BDS, it would hardly constitute Anything as the mainline church leaders have been among Israeli’s harsher critics for the past forty years.

        But one could hardly have hoped—I for one thought the Mennonite Church was sure to pass BDS–the comeuppance would arrive so swiftly.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Cowboy

      This shitty little article needs to be updated.

      Two American Christian church denominations dealt a setback Thursday to a pro-Palestinian economic campaign against Israel, with one defeating a resolution calling for divestment and boycott and the other delaying a vote for two years.

      So sorry, LOL

      Reply to Comment
    3. Cowboy

      “Divestment is not about singling out Israel”

      If it weren’t about singling out Israel, then why haven’t you joined or started any other movement to promote BDS against other countries that day in and day out abuse their citizens. Where is your outcry against those countries that would deny you the right to be an openly gay individual (pretty much every ME country besides Israel).

      So please, let’s face the reality that the BDS movement does in fact specifically single out Israel.

      As an aside, the BDS supporters conveniently ignore and forget to mention that any “positive results” of their campaign negatively affects any Palestinian employed by these boycotted companies.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Meatball

      Another day and another….

      Reply to Comment