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RANJAN SOLOMON | 22 JULY, 2016

US Churches Advance BDS Initiatives


NEW DELHI: The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), a broad-based coalition in Palestinian civil society, is celebrating its successes in the USA. They have now got churches in North America to join the BDS call through votes that ring of power to the people.

In recent weeks, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, for their respective and powerful votes, in the weeks past, towards advancing solidarity with Palestinian rights under international law within faith communities in the United States.

Majorities of both denominations’ general conferences expressed strong support for nonviolent measures to uphold Palestinian human rights and end Israeli injustices against the Palestinian people.
 


The Presbyterian Church (USA) assembly expanded upon its historic 2014 decision to divest from US corporations profiting from Israel’s occupation and violations of international law, by recommending to the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions to refrain from investments which support violence against both Palestinians and Israelis.

Furthermore, it was decisively voted to prayerfully study the BDS Call, issued by the absolute majority in Palestinian civil society in 2005, and to engage with its authors and sponsors.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) assembly overwhelmingly called on Israel to end its gross mistreatment of Palestinian children and on Re/MAX to follow through on a recent promise to stop profiting from sales of homes in illegal Israeli settlements. It also called on U.S. Congress to hold hearings on the use of U.S. military and police equipment by the Israeli government.

The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly majority (54%) voted to endorse the Unitarian Universalist Association’s recent divestment from companies complicit in Israeli apartheid. While falling short of the 2/3 majority needed to pass the resolution, this majority vote showed clear support for the church’s prior action to divest from companies profiting from Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Other faith communities that have adopted economic measures against Israel’s occupation in the last 2 years include the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Quakers, Mennonite Central Committee, the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the Alliance of Baptists.

The Mennonite Church Canada Assembly last weekend voted with a vast majority of delegates behind a resolution that encourages BDS. Out of the 350 delegates in attendance there was just one person who opposed the resolution.

The Mennonites trace the passage of the resolution to the Kairos Document issued in 2009 by Palestinian Christian leaders. The document urged Christians worldwide to demonstrate their solidarity with them through Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. The Mennonite resolution expressed concern for the violence in Israel and Palestine. It obliges the Mennonite Church to a greater understanding and consciousness about the situation on-the-ground in Israel and Palestine. It also asks the Mennonite Church Canada General Board, along with regional churches, congregations, and members “to avoid investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, and companies that are profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” It also called on the government of Canada “to support measures that put pressure on Israel (including through economic sanctions) to end the occupation and work for a just peace, in accordance with international law.”

The Mennonite argue that their call to BDS is a non-violent option to resist Israel’s occupation and usher in peace to the region.

The BDS Movement celebrated a victory at the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly this weekend in Saskatoon, with an overwhelming majority of delegates supporting a resolution on that encourages BDS. With 350 delegates in attendance only one person opposed the resolution.

This resolution is in part a response to the 2009 Kairos Document that was prepared by Palestinian Christians in Palestine asking their global Christian brothers and sisters to show their solidarity with them through Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. The Mennonite resolution laments the violence in Israel and Palestine and repents its complicity in anti-Semitism and structures of colonialism that oppress Indigenous people in Canada. The resolution commits the Mennonite Church to further education on what is happening in Israel and Palestine, in addition its concluding demands are:

“We ask the Mennonite Church Canada General Board, along with regional churches, congregations, and members—to avoid investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, and companies that are profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories; and

We encourage the government of Canada to support measures that put pressure on Israel (including through economic sanctions) to end the occupation and work for a just peace, in accordance with international law.”

Mennonite Church Canada represents over 225 congregations across Canada with a membership of over 31 000. Influential in developing and supporting the resolution is over 60 years of Mennonite service in Palestine and Israel through Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Mennonites are a historic protestant peace church, firmly rooted in principles of nonviolence. They have often spoken out on social justice issues such as war and poverty.

For Mennonites, their call to BDS is a way to non-violently resist Israel’s occupation. As Ray Friesen, pastor of Emmaus Mennonite Church in Saskatchewan, stated in the preliminary discussion leading up to the vote, that Mennonites have three options in response to the oppression of Palestinians: “Violence, the status quo that will oppress and pour down suffering on our Palestinian brothers and sisters, or active nonviolent ways of making a difference.” Friesen spoke to the assembly stating that BDS is a way Mennonites can help bring peace to the region.

This echoed the words of Henry Funk, “Economic pressure on Israel is a step towards peace. This motion is in the best interest of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the land of Jesus’s birth, his ministry, and his death and resurrection.”. Funk has spent time living in Nazareth and volunteering at Nazareth Village.

Hearing the news of the victory, Palestinian Pastor and Vice President of Bethlehem Bible College Alex Awad responded, “I am delighted to hear of the vote to support BDS against companies that do harm in the West Bank. MC Canada has demonstrated that when delegates are well-informed about the realities of the Israeli occupation, they will vote to support BDS. I hope this vote will encourage churches that are struggling with this issue to follow the example set by MC Canada. All who yearn for peace and justice in the world will welcome MC Canada’s decision to vote on the side of BDS. This is encouraging news for both Palestinian peacemakers and Jewish activists for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.”

Mennonite Church Canada joins a growing movement of churches that have taken up the call to BDS including the US Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Canada, and several Quaker congregations.

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