We highlighted recently resolutions at the United Church of Christ’s 30th Synod in Cleveland seeking (1) divestment from certain named companies (such as Caterpillar), and (2) declaring Israeli guilty of the Crime of Apartheid as defined in the 1998 Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court.
These take place through years-long efforts by anti-Israel Christian groups like Sabeel, which use Jewish Voice for Peace as religious cover for the noxious efforts.
The divestment resolution originally was limited to specified companies, but in committee at the Synod was amended to include sweeping language governing any company that does business, directly or indirectly, in “occupied” territory.
This would include, for example, companies doing business in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, which was illegally captured by Jordan and then enthically cleansed of Jews and Jewish landmarks before Israel liberated it in 1967.
Moreover, given the new, broad language, it would cover almost every Israeli company. So while the resolution was presented as only divesting from “occupation,” in fact the amended wording made it clear that substantively it was a divestment from Israel.
I watched the entire floor debate on livestream. It was other-worldly, and reflective of how UCC has been captured by anti-Israel groups (such as Sabeel).
The night before, Rev Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem, who has a controversial background when it comes to the history of the Jewish people in Israel, was given a keynote speech.
He specifically gave a shout out to the 9 Jewish people [from Jewish Voice for Peace] advocating at the Synod in favor of the resolution.In fact, JVP was everywhere, and was referenced by multiple speakers during debate to justify singling Israel out since some Jews supported divestment.
Richard Edens from North Carolina, Chair of Committee 3 that proposed the resolution unanimously, gave a fiery speech in support of divestment:Rev. John Deckenback of Atlanta spoke in favor of the resolution: In one of the more disturbing floor speeches in favor of the resolution, Rev. Ryan Dowell Baum from Iowa, who said he as a descendant of a Holocaust survivor, complained that Israel supporters misused the memory of the Holocaust to justify Israel’s own bad conduct. This speaker, whose name I didn’t get, called for the Synod to pass divestment in order to stand with Jewish Voice for Peace. Many speakers pointed out that the debate leading up to the resolution was dominated only by supporters of divestment, and that JVP did not represent all of the Jewish community.
This speaker specifically pointed out that only one side was heard:The resolution passed overwhelmingly (2/3 majority was needed): The Apartheid Resolution was particularly noxious.
It sought to declare Israel guilty of the Crime of Apartheid as defined in the International Criminal Court’s enabling statute. As discussed in my prior post, the legal statements in the Apartheid Resolution were false and deliberately misleading, and the factual recitations were completely one-sided (no mention, for example, of Israel’s legal rights and to self-defense against suicide bombers and other terrorists.)
The Apartheid resolution was introduced by, and vigorously advocated by Bill Lyons:Again, the arguments in favor were distressing. This person went on a rant comparing modern day Israelis to the Israelites against whom the prophets warned: There were several people who stood up and opposed the resolution, properly pointing out that the term “Apartheid” did not apply to the reality, and warning that such a resolution would be viewed as a knife in the back by the Jewish community.
As with divestment, Jewish Voice for Peace was supporting the anti-Israel resolution. These two UCC student members spoke to convey JVP’s request that the Synod approve the Apartheid resolution:Here is what was on the screen just as voting started: In the end, the resolution was almost evenly split. (It got a minority of total votes case, since abstentions serve as the equivalent of a No vote, but it needed a 2/3 majority.)
The incoming President of UCC expressed some hesitation about the result:
John Dorhauer, the newly elected UCC general minister and president, expressed his mixed emotions after the vote. “I will be obligated as the officer of this denomination and by mandate of General Synod to speak publicly the action taken here. But I will do so with a deep awareness at the pain that I will cause to people who I care about deeply,” he said. “And I will do so, to be quite frank, wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places.”
That’s all well and good, but it was clear from the UCC Synod website that UCC administratively was supportive of the resolutions.
While it’s true that UCC is a shrinking denomination, that doesn’t mean the divestment isn’t symbolically important. As with faculty associations, smaller groups which more easily are manipulated are the first in a series of ratchets on the way to larger groups.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, which we will address in later posts. Among them is the pernicious role played by Jewish Voice for Peace, and the investment that BDS makes for multiple years in these efforts to make sure the debate and information flow is one sided.
UPDATE: As many of the speakers against divestment during the floor debate predicted, the resolution simply proved to the Israeli government that divestment is a one-sided propaganda campaign:
The Israeli government, which has become increasingly concerned by the B.D.S. movement, reacted swiftly to the United Church of Christ’s boycott resolution, describing the church’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as distorted and historically biased against Israel.
“The U.C.C. resolutions on the Middle East conflict have reflected the most radical politics for more than a decade, and in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Afffairs. “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.”
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