US Church Votes to Boycott, Divest from Companies Benefiting from Israeli Occupation

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2015 (WAFA) – The United Church of Christ has voted to divest from companies that benefit from the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

During the Church’s 30th General Synod on Tuesday, which took place in Cleveland, Ohio, the church passed Resolution number four, calling for boycott and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinians.

Needing two-thirds percent approval, Synod delegates gave the resolution considerable support with 508 votes of the 632 cast (80.0 per cent) in favor. A total of 124 voted against it, while 38 abstained.

Rev. Bernard Wilson of the church said following the vote, ‘Never underestimate the power of words.”

This church became the latest to call for divestment and boycott of companies that are complicit in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 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.

In a news story published on the Church’s website, Peter Makari, executive for the Middle East and Europe said that the vote ‘allows us to sustain and strengthen our voice against the occupation. It bolsters and supports the work were [sic] are doing there, and affirms the authentic voice of our partners, particularly Palestinian Christians in the Kairos Palestine document.”

Rev. John Deckenback, Conference Minister of the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC, which submitted the resolution to the synod, noted that the United Church of Christ has passed this resolution, “in that spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a desire to support Palestinians in their nonviolent struggle for freedom.”

Meanwhile, Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, who travelled to Cleveland for the synod, commended the church’s decision, saying that the vote spoke volumes and that, “In approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality.”

‘For Palestinians living under occupation or facing systematic discrimination as citizens of Israel… 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,’ Raheb said.

The resolution means that church is to engage in specific, nonviolent actions to help end the ongoing conflict and establish justice and peace.

In addition to boycott and divestment, the resolution also calls for study of the Kairos Palestine document, advocating for the Congressional accountability of US aid to the Israeli government and continuing to engage in interfaith dialogue among Jewish and Muslim communities.

The church noted, “The Just Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict resolution is aimed at ending the decades-long violence in Israel-Palestine between the two peoples, and asks the church and its entities to be involved in boycott and divestment.”

The call for divestment, which was previously limited to five companies (Caterpillar, HP, Motorola, G4S and Veolia Environment, and any of their subsidiaries), was expanded to include ‘any direct or substantive indirect holdings in companies profiting from, or complicit in, human rights violations arising from the occupation.’

Rev. Richard Edens, chair of the committee that recommended the resolution for passage noted, ‘We are calling and urging all UCC-related entities to stop bringing wood to the fire of this conflict of human rights.”

The UCC is one of three denominations this week to consider resolutions that, in part, call for an end of the financial support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church are considering similar actions.

In 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church divested from a handful of US companies involved in the occupation, while various Quaker bodies have done the same.

Rev. John Deckenback, conference minister of the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC pointed out, ‘Passing this resolution is not a cure or an end. It is a beginning.”

Meanwhile, Joanne Marchetto of the Penn-Northeast Conference of the UCC said she was ‘uncomfortable with how this resolution is presented… This is a great injustice to the land, and I think we need to hear both sides of the argument.’

However, Rev. Ryan Baum, a delegate from the Iowa Conference reluctantly came forward to support the resolution.

He said, ‘I come from a family of Holocaust survivors… It is imperative not only to hear the two sides, but the many sides of the story. The words of the Rev, Desmond Tutu ring in my head. ‘If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.’’

‘It is clear who the elephant and mouse are in this situation,’ Baum said.

Later in the day, another resolution focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict failed to gain enough votes. That resolution would have made the UCC the first denomination to recognize the actions of the Israeli government in the occupied territories as apartheid.

Of the 607 votes cast, 312 were in favor (51.4 percent) of the resolution, short of the necessary two-thirds majority.