Published by the Guardian
United Church of Christ joins Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign in protest at treatment of Palestinians, with two other denominations due to decide.
The international movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians has received backing from one of the largest Protestant churches in the US, as two other major denominations prepare to vote on whether or not to divest money from the Jewish state.
The United Church of Christ’s general assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of divesting funds at its synod in Cleveland. Further votes by the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church USA were expected on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Inspired by the sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa, the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign, encourages organizations and institutions such as universities and churches to divest from Israel until “the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel” have been recognized.
Anna Baltzer, a Jewish American national organizer with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, was in Cleveland for the UCC vote.
“To me it’s very symbolic to see that this is not one church, this is not two churches, this is churches of the United States moving on this issue,” Baltzer said. “And in some it might take a few more years, it did for all those who have voted so far, it took many years, but they got there and they will get there and the message is clear that things have changed in this country.”
She said that organizations that support divestment show solidarity with Palestinian people. “It sends a message to our US leaders that they should stand on the right side of history because things are changing quickly in this country and we can see it as high up as mainstream US churches,” Baltzer said.
The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with around a million members, unanimously approved a divestment resolution on Sunday night, but it did not become official until the general assembly voted in favor of divestment on Tuesday. The General Synod voted 508-124 in favor of divestment, 38 people abstained from the vote.
Rev James Moos, executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, said that the vote was representative of the church’s commitment to peace in the Middle East.
“The United Church of Christ condemns all forms of violence and antisemitism, and affirms Israel’s right to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders,” Moos said in a statement. “We similarly assert the right of Palestinians to have a sovereign, independent and viable state within secure and recognized borders.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told the AP that the UCC’s vote “in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position”.
“People of faith ought to be acting to help Israel and the Palestinians to renew efforts to achieve peace, rather than endlessly demonizing one party in the conflict – in our view, the aggrieved party,” Nahshon said.
It has been nearly 10 years since the BDS campaign began in July 2005. Some pro-Israel groups have said that the movement is motivated by antisemitism, though movement leaders deny those assertions.
The Episcopal Church, which has around two million members, is likely to vote on divestment resolutions at its general convention in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. The church’s presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in 2012 that the church does not support divestment.
On Wednesday the smaller Mennonite Church USA – which has around 97,000 members – will vote on divestment at its national convention in Kansas City.
In June 2014 the largest Presbyterian group in the US narrowly voted to divest from Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard because the multinational corporations supply Israel with goods.