The progressive United Church of Christ is no stranger to controversy when it comes to Israel.

UCC has had close ties (see pp. 44-46 of linked pdf.) to Friends of Sabeel – North America, the U.S. branch of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Jerusalem-based non-governmental organization that leads efforts to alienate Christians from supporting Israel. (See Recent NGO Monitor Report (pdf.)).  We will have more on Sabeel in a later post.

Those ties included a UCC Church in Boston hosting a Sabeel conference in 2007 on finding new paradigms to fit Israel under the definition of Apartheid.

But UCC may be about to elevate its controversial status dramatically, with the 30th General Synod commencing June 24 26 having placed before it three resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, among a total of 16 resolutions. All three of the resolutions carry the following explanation: “The Board of Directors recommends this resolution be sent to a Committee of the General Synod.”

Anti-Israel activists are treating all three as up for consideration, but whether it goes to a general vote is unclear as of this writing. UCC’s promotional material also suggests all three resolutions will come to a vote:

One of the resolutions (#4) is titled A Call for the United Church of Christ to Take Actions Toward a Just Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (pdf). While seemingly innocuous in title, it essentially is a divestment resolution.

After a litany of “Whereas” accusations of Israeli misconduct, many of which are stated as fact but are disputed, the Resolution, among other things:

346 CALLS upon the United Church of Christ Board, the Pension Boards – United Church of
347 Christ, Inc., United Church Funds, conferences, local churches, members, and other
348 related United Church of Christ entities to divest any holdings in the following
349 companies that have been found to profit from the occupation of the Palestinian
350 territories by the state of Israel: Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard
351 Development Company LP or its successors, G4S, and Veolia Environnement plus its
352 subsidiaries;

Resolution #4 is similar to the divestment resolution narrowly passed last year by the Presbyterian Church – USA, and which frequently is attempted (with mixed success) at college student governments. Desmond Tutu has endorsed the resolution. (See here for background on Tutu’s anti-Israel history.)

Resolution 15, which has the same title as Resolution #4, is virtually identical. (See UCC’s explanation here.)

Resolution #12 is unusual, if not unprecedented, for such a large American church group. It is titled Calling on the United Church of Christ to Recognize the Actions of Israel Against the Palestinians as Apartheid (pdf), and provides in operative part:

210 THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Thirtieth General Synod of the United Church of
211 Christ recognizes the Israeli government’s domination system inside the West Bank and on the
212 borders of the Gaza Strip as having met the International Criminal Court’s definition of the crime
213 of apartheid; ….

As with the other resolutions, #12 contains of litany of accusations against Israel which are presented as fact, but are disputed. But more important, Resolution #12 seeks to have the General Synod render what amounts to a legal opinion. The only portion of the Resolutions addressing the actual ICC definition of the Crime of Apartheid provides as follows:

41 The application of the term apartheid has been broadened to situations beyond South Africa. The
42 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, approved at a United Nations–convened
43 conference and ratified in 2002, included as part of a the International Criminal Court’s
44 jurisdiction “crimes against humanity.” Among the crimes against humanity is the crime of
45 apartheid, that is, “inhumane acts . . . committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining

46 domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and
systematically oppressing them.”1
49 “Racial group” must be understood under the broad definition of racial discrimination provided
50 by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which
51 went into effect in 1969. The Convention’s definition includes “any distinction, exclusion,
52 restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the
53 purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal
54 footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or
any other field of public life. ”

In this explanation, the proposers of the Resolution attempt to skirt a very serious legal problem, which is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not between two “racial groups” as used in the Rome Statute. Racial group is distinct in the statute from ethnic and religious groups.

Article 7
Crimes against humanity
1. For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the
following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack
directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

* * *

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political,
racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph
3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under
international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph
or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

* * *

(j) The crime of apartheid;

As can be seen above, apartheid is a separate and distinct crime apart from other types of crimes against other identifiable groups.

The crime of apartheid, as the Resolution correctly states, requires domination of one “racial group” over another, by acts which themselves are crimes. The alleged criminal acts by Israelis are disputed, but in any event, Israelis are not a racial group. Israeli citizens are Jews (including almost half who are refugees from or the descendants of refugees from Arab countries) of many races, and non-Jewish Arabs. The conflict is a religious, and to a lesser extent ethnic, conflict similar to conflicts that take place almost everywhere in the world.

No one calls Muslim domination of non-Muslims, even when it involves ethnic cleansing and brutality, “apartheid,” and with good reason — religions are not “racial groups” and therefore can’t fit the definition of apartheid under the Rome Statute even when they brutalize each other.  There are other crimes under the statute which apply to such conduct (e.g. Genocide).

Only Israel is treated with the expansive and loose definition of “apartheid” which, if applied consistently, would apply to many if not most countries around the world, which are organized along religious and ethnic lines.

To try to get over this problem, the UCC Resolution refers to the definition of “racial discrimination” in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. First, it is a different term defined in a different convention.

More important, the Resolution leaves out the next sentence after the one it quotes, which provides (emphasis added):


Article 1

1. In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

2. This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and non-citizens.

The highlighted language, which was omitted from the Resolution, demonstrates that distinctions based on citizenship cannot fit the definition of “racial discrimination.” So to the extent Israel treats non-citizens differently (e.g., Israeli Jews and Arabs versus non-citizen Arabs), it is not racial discrimination under the Convention. And that alleged disparate treatment of non-citizen Arabs is the crux of what the Resolution is about.  Thus, the UCC proposed Resolution on apartheid looks to a source for the definition of “racial group” which does not support it.

On Friday morning, and again Sunday, I emailed UCC asking to be provided with the materials, including legal analysis, to be provided to General Synod members on this issue. As of this writing, UCC has not responded.

In a broader context, the attempt to smear Israel as an Apartheid State is part of the strategy devised at the 2001 Durban NGO conference that was so anti-Semitic that the U.S. walked out. (See here for all the details.) It is a strategy that has played out over the past decade, with the accusation of Apartheid being thrown about with frequency against Israel not because Israel meets the international law definition, but because it serves to dehumanize and deligitimize the Jewish People’s right to self-determination.

That UCC is putting forth such resolutions seems contrary to the alleged purpose of UCC in addressing the Middle East dispute, which is to advance peace.

As of this writing, UCC has not responded to my request for the executive position on the Apartheid resolution.