July 10, 2012

Episcopal Church Avoids Anti-Israel Divestment

Meeting this week in Indianapolis for their triennial General Convention, Episcopalians in the church’s House of Deputies have endorsed two resolutions on Middle East peace. Neither of the resolutions calls for the church to divest itself of holdings with companies that do business with the Israeli military.

By declining to adopt a divestment strategy, the Episcopal Church completes a trifecta of Mainline Protestant churches that have resisted the requests of anti-Israel activists to sell holdings in Hewlett Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar Tractor. Last week the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) narrowly rejected divestment, while in May the United Methodist General Conference turned back divestment legislation by a 2-1 margin. The three churches have billions of dollars in pension assets.

A total of 15 resolutions on Middle East peace were reduced to the final two by the General Convention’s National and International Concerns committee.

According to Deputy Sarah Lawton of the Diocese of California, the resolutions continue corporate engagement and allow individual Episcopalians to make their own decisions.

Resolution B019 “Israel-Palestinian Peace and Support for the Diocese of Jerusalem” called for positive investment in the Palestinian economy. Introduced by Bishop Barry Beisner of Northern California, the legislation seeks to strengthen the Palestinian infrastructure and economy without punishing Israel.

Resolution C060, titled “Peace in Palestinian/Israeli Conflict” was originally drafted by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, an unofficial caucus that lobbies on behalf of liberal political positions in the U.S.-based denomination. Identical resolutions were submitted by 10 different dioceses. Substantially modified by the committee, the final resolution removed study of the “Kairos Palestine” document and “Steadfast Hope” study guide favored by divestment advocates. Both documents refer to a strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in order to oppose Israel’s military presence in the West Bank. “Kairos Palestine” was authored by several Palestinian Christian church officials, while the “Steadfast Hope” study guide was widely used in the PCUSA and adapted for Episcopal Church use. Critics of the documents, including the New York-based Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, argue that “Steadfast Hope” distorts the history of the peace process and the security barrier.

Lawton joined with four other committee members in signing a minority report on C060 that stated disappointment that the General Convention “had not gone far enough in considering measures that would increase awareness and advocacy toward ending the Occupation of Palestine.”

“It seemed disrespectful not to listen to the voices,” Lawton explained to the Institute on Religion and Democracy at a Monday press conference following the vote. “We hear a lot of information in this country, but I don’t think we get those voices from Palestinian Christians.”

Representatives from Friends of Sabeel who staffed an exhibit at General Convention also expressed dissatisfaction with the final resolutions, which were termed “watered down.” Sabeel is a Palestinian ecumenical liberation theology center on the West Bank led by Anglican Priest Naim Ateek that advocates for churches to place pressure on Israel to make concessions in the name of peace.

Divestment advocates argued on the floor of the House of Deputies in favor of an amendment that would restore references to the divestment-favoring documents. Vicki Gray, a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of California, cited the “courage of the prophets” in calling for divestment. The amendment was easily voted down.

Both resolutions now head to the House of Bishops, where they are expected to pass. In 2009, the House of Deputies passed a resolution on Middle East violence that was rejected by the House of Bishops, with Bishop Mark Sisk of New York stating that it was “incorrect” in ascribing all the blame to Israel. According to The Living Church, Sisk was joined by Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana, who protested that the legislation singled out Israel as the aggressor and Palestinians as victims of the conflict.

UPDATE: 7/11/2012 House of Bishops has concurred on B019 “positive investment” resolution, while shelving resolution C060. If the bishops take no further action, C060 will be effectively dropped at conclusion of General Convention.

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