Peace fellowship supports economic sanctions for Middle East peace

Divestment strategy 'dangerously unhelpful,' Washington bishop says
May 11, 2010

The National Executive Council of Episcopal Peace Fellowship has issued a statement in support of economic sanctions and divestment strategies that it believes "can inspire a more useful dialog and negotiation towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

But Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington, a member of EPF since 1969, told ENS May 12 that such a strategy is "flawed and dangerously unhelpful at this particular time in history" and would "further hurt the critical development of the economy of Palestine and increase the marginalization of the Palestinian people."

As an independent association of Episcopalians committed to nonviolence, EPF's position does not represent the official policy of the Episcopal Church, which supports "corporate engagement" and "positive investment" practices when dealing with companies in which it owns assets and shares.

The Social Responsibility in Investments Committee of the Episcopal Church, in a 2005 report on the subject, wrote, "Companies can and should operate in Israel proper." The report was commended by the Episcopal Church's Executive Council.

Chane told ENS that it is important for people to understand that EPF "does not speak for the Episcopal Church, Executive Council, General Convention, or reflect the position of our presiding bishop."

Linda Gaither, EPF chair, who voted in favor of the statement, explained in a commentary that the council recognizes the existing policy of the Episcopal Church "is the result of long and serious engagement with the issues raised by the Kairos document and the occupation itself."

The EPF statement, Gaither said, is a "faithful response" to a request from the Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian who is director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, for the peace fellowship to "read and study the Kairos document; share it in our church and peace group; respond with prayer and advocacy."

The Kairos Palestine Document, released in December 2009 and signed by several Palestinian Christian leaders, accused Israel of "disregard of international law and international resolutions" and called for an end to occupation of Palestinian territory.

"Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation," the Kairos document says. "We understand this to integrate the logic of peaceful resistance."

The EPF statement supports the principles of the Kairos document and endorses the "application of divestment and an economic and commercial boycott of products linked to oppression of Palestinian people and occupation of their land." The council membership voted eight for and two against the statement, with one abstention.

Although Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani is not one of the signatories to the Kairos document, he is a member of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem who wrote in a December 2009 statement: "We hear the cry of hope that our children have launched in these difficult times."

Meanwhile, Dawani has said that it is imperative that Christian churches support the movement toward peace through the diplomatic process which is emerging through the negotiations currently underway between Israel and Palestine with the assistance of the U.S. government.

Chane told ENS that a divestment strategy would compromise the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and make ongoing negotiations between the U.S., Israel and Palestine far more difficult than they already are.

He also acknowledged that development in Palestine "depends a great deal on an open relationship with Israel and ongoing investment in both economies."

The Social Responsibility in Investments Committee noted in its 2005 report that it was not recommending divestment because "the goal is for selected companies to change behavior resulting in a more hopeful climate for peace. If the church simply divests, nothing positive has happened."

That report, Gaither said, while recommending "positive investment," also acknowledged that "the opportunity for a viable Palestinian state is rapidly diminishing" and "the occupation is devastating to Palestinians and harmful to Israelis and comes at an enormous cost to both sides of the conflict." In 2010, Gaither said, "the crisis has intensified. The Kairos document is a cry from the heart of the suffering with its 'enormous cost to both sides.'"

The Episcopal Church, based on resolutions passed at its previous General Conventions regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, remains committed to a just peace that ends the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, guarantees Israel's security and Palestinian aspirations for a viable sovereign state with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine.

Alexander D. Baumgarten, director of government relations for the Episcopal Church, told ENS: "The present political moment offers much hope to those working for a two-state solution that safeguards the security of Israel and creates a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people. The Episcopal Church's own advocacy witness in this discussion is enhanced and sanctified by interfaith relationships with both Jewish and Muslim partners."

The Episcopal Church is committed to dialogue with the Jewish community through the National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission, as well as the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, which includes other ecumenical partners.

Furthermore, General Convention 2009, through its passing of Resolution A074, endorsed a Theological Statement on Interreligious Relations, which represents the Episcopal Church's official policy on the topic. "We believe that religions must stand together in solidarity with all who are suffering and witness to the dignity of every human being," the statement says. "In these ways, presence in mission becomes a courageous mode of peace-making in a violent world."

The statement notes that, in contemporary local and global contexts, the Episcopal Church "faces crucial opportunities and challenges for developing new creative relationships with people of other religious heritages. Throughout the world, people of different religions can be seen searching for compatible if not common ways toward justice, peace and sustainable life."

Baumgarten told ENS that "the most important thing we can do at the moment is to create broad-based, interfaith political support for the [U.S.] president's leadership in bringing parties to the table for negotiation and holding each responsible for its obligations. Creating peace in the land called holy by Jews, Christians, and Muslims is the responsibility of all of the children of Abraham, and the Episcopal Church is committed to building a two-state solution that honors and respects the connection to the land rightfully held by the people of each great Abrahamic faith tradition."

The EPF council, in its statement, has asked its Israel/Palestine Action Group "to offer resources to our membership and the wider church on effective strategies for boycott, divestment, and sanction, including links to partner groups and educational resources on the history of the cycle of violence and obstacles to peace in Israel/Palestine. We are all the children of Abraham, let us no longer profit at the expense of the safety and security of one another. Instead let us end the violent cycle and build a circle of peace."

Gaither said that EPF's council had considered the concerns of Jewish leaders that a "call for divestment, boycott and economic sanctions are anti-Jewish, extending the arc of the long tradition of Christian anti-Semitism," but that it had decided to "join our voices with those of a growing American Jewish public at large who are expressing opposition to Israel's treatment of Palestinians and questioning unconditional support for Israeli government policy."

Gaither expressed appreciation for a General Convention 1991 resolution (D122) that deplores "all expressions of anti-Jewish prejudice."

Related Topics: