Mennonites and Episcopalians Say No, for Now, to Israel Divestment – The New York Times
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.
The defeat of the resolution by the Episcopal Church, with 1.8 million members, and the delay on a vote by the Mennonite Church U.S.A., with 95,000 members, were welcomed by Israel supporters. Proponents of the measures said they were at least heartened that they had been debated and vowed to bring them up for votes again.
The actions came two days after a Protestant denomination, the United Church of Christ, with nearly 1 million members, overwhelmingly approved a boycott and divestment resolution that backers called a sign of Israel’s increased isolation over its treatment of Palestinians. Israel supporters denounced that approval, calling it one-sided and destructive to interreligious relations.
American church sentiment toward the pro-Palestinian campaign, known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement, is a closely watched barometer of how the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resonating in the United States, Israel’s most important ally.
The movement, known as B.D.S., has been gaining traction in the United States, alarming Israeli officials and their allies who call it an anti-Semitic attack on Israel’s legitimacy, a description rejected by many of the movement’s supporters as inaccurate and unfair.
Last year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with 1.8 million members, became the largest to approve a divestment resolution.
The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, at the church’s convention in Salt Lake City, rejected a resolution that would have divested its holdings in companies that do not withdraw operations from Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. The resolution also would have obliged church members to boycott products from Israeli settlements in Palestinian lands.
Donna Hicks, a member of the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine, who had campaigned for the resolution, said in a statement that despite the defeat, “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.”
The American Jewish Committee welcomed the defeat. “The action affirms longstanding Episcopal Church positions that rebuff B.D.S. as a tool for further Israeli-Palestinian peace,” the group said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, delegates to the Mennonite Church U.S.A.’s convention in Kansas City, Mo., decided to postpone a vote on a similar resolution until its next convention in 2017.
Sponsors of the resolution said it had become clear during a debate on Wednesday that a number of delegates had questions about the resolution’s scope and intent.
“I think people were speaking out of a variety of fears,” Tom Harder, a pastor from Wichita, Kan., who had helped draft the resolution, said in a telephone interview.
“I think there are folks in the denominations who continue to believe that we need to support Israel at all costs, and so a resolution that is advocating for the Palestinian people specifically and the injustices they are facing — that is a vote against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Mr. Harder said.
He said supporters of the resolution would work over the next two years to amend it in ways “that address some of the concerns that we heard.”