Church vote to divest from Israel boosts sanctions drive

The international movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians has received backing from one of the largest Protestant churches in the United States, and two other major denominations are preparing to vote on whether to divest from the Jewish state. The United Church of Christ’s (UCC) general assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favour of divesting at its synod in Cleveland.

Inspired by the sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa, the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign encourages organisations and institutions, such as universities and churches, to divest from Israel until “the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel” have been recognised.

Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American national organiser 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 organisations 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 UCC, a Protestant denomination with about a million members, unanimously approved a divestment resolution on Sunday night, but it did not become official until the general assembly voted in favour of divestment on Tuesday.

Reverend James Moos, the executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, said 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 anti-Semitism, and affirms Israel’s right to exist within secure and internationally recognised borders,” he said in a statement. “We similarly assert the right of Palestinians to have a sovereign, independent and viable state within secure and recognised borders.”

The Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson, Emmanuel Nahshon, told the Associated Press that the UCC’s vote “in no way reflects 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 demonising 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 anti-Semitism, though the movement’s leaders deny it.

In June last year, the largest Presbyterian group in the US narrowly passed a vote to divest from Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard because the multinational corporations supply Israel with goods. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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