US church votes by landslide to divest from Israeli occupation

Palestinian pastor Mitri Raheb addresses the United Church of Christ General Synod in Cleveland on 29 June. (United Church of Christ/Flickr)

The United Church of Christ (UCC) today overwhelmingly passed a resolution to support boycotts and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The landslide vote – 508 in favor to 124 against, with 38 abstentions – took place at the church’s general synod, or legislative assembly, in Cleveland. An additional resolution which would label Israel’s practices “apartheid” gained a majority, but did not pass by the two-thirds needed for formal adoption.

UCC is a mainline Protestant denomination with more than 5,100 churches and 1.1 million members in the United States.

The United Church of Christ Palestine/Israel Network, which led the campaign, celebrated today’s decisionsas “the culmination of a process that began in 2005, to end the church’s complicity in Israel’s nearly half-century-old occupation and other abuses of Palestinian human rights.”

“It also comes as a response to the Christian Palestinian community’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, as embodied in the Kairos Palestine document, which seeks to achieve Palestinian freedom and rights using peaceful means, inspired by the US Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid movements,” it added.

UCC follows in the footsteps of the Presbyterian Church USA, which passed similar measures last year and the United Methodist Church whose pension board last year divested from prisons and security firm G4S.

Truth to power

“In approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality,” ReverendMitri Raheb, a Palestinian and pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said.

“For Palestinians living under occupation or facing systematic discrimination as citizens of Israel, enduring the destruction of their homes and businesses, the theft of their land for settlements, and living under blockade and siege in Gaza, this action sends a strong signal that they are not alone, and that there are churches who still dare to speak truth to power and stand with the oppressed,” Raheb, who addressed the synod in Cleveland, added.

Occupation profiteers

The resolution now requires the UCC pensions board and other church funds to divest their holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, G4S and Veolia – companies which have all long been protested by Palestine solidarity activists for their complicity in Israel’s occupation.

It also calls on church members and bodies to boycott all products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli foreign ministry said the UCC vote “reflected the most radical politics for more than a decade and in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position.”

“No turning back”

What sets this vote apart is the huge margin of victory, an indication that BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – is gaining momentum despite aggressive efforts by Israel and its lobby groups to fight it.

“There is no turning back now. This is not a one-church movement; this is a national tide marking a new direction for mainstream institutions of all kinds in this country (including universities and celebrities) – that there will be no business as usual with Israeli occupation – that it is only a matter of time before Israel’s ‘South Africa moment’ is here,” the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation said in a statement welcoming the vote.

The US Campaign noted that the United Church of Christ Palestine/Israel Network’s mobilization was supported by members of the Palestinian American community, Muslim and Jewish activists and church social justice groups from several other denominations.

Jewish Voice for Peace, which also backed the effort, congratulated the United Church of Christ for taking “a strong stand for a just peace.”

Today’s vote also comes after a powerful endorsement from South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“It is unconscionable to remain silent, or neutral, in the face of injustice,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate wrote. “Neutrality maintains the status quo and compounds the injustice.”

Today’s vote will buoy members of the Episcopal and Mennonite churches whose national conventions are also due to debate divestment resolutions this week.

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