Bishops overwhelmingly oppose divestment in Israel, Palestine

July 2, 2015


Editor’s note: The quotes from Bishop James Magness have been changed to clarify the purpose of his message to the House of Bishops.

[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 himself present, nor was he officially represented by anybody from the Diocese of Jerusalem, at the General Convention. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori invited Dawani to be a guest of hers at the convention, but he was unable to attend due to other commitments in his diocese.

Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester, chair of the 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 against 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.

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