A report to the 400 + Episcopalians who supported the Voices of Conscience statement with a Petition to Executive Council.
The Steering Committee of the Palestine Israel Network provides this report of the recent meeting of Executive Council, February 25-27 in Linthicum, Maryland ,to the petitioners who supported the open Voices of Conscience (VOC) letter to Council. This report will cover reception of the documents submitted to E.C. and actions taken by Council with respect to TEC’s policy on Palestine/Israel.
Reception of the Documents Submitted to Executive Council
Submitted to Council in good order were the following documents: VOC statement, petition of support, Resolution from the Diocese of North Carolina, and a letter from The Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Episcopal priest and founder of Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based theological center committed to the nonviolent struggle for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.
We awaited with hope to hear what Executive Council might say to the distinguished signers of the VOC statement, as well as to you, the 400+ petitioners, the diocese of North Carolina and Dr. Ateek.
The response from Council, we are sad to report, is that they declined to respond directly to any of the above documents. There has been no formal acknowledgement of reception at all. There was no public dialogue or discussion of the questions raised by these documents among Council members. All requests for testimony from signers of the VOC statement, as well as from PIN observers who were present at the Council meeting, were denied.
Further, in the resolution adopted by Council on Palestine/Israel, no mention is made of these numerous communications. Nor is there any mention of the chief theme of the VOC statement, the injustice and brutality of the Occupation. Despite this disappointing response, we are grateful to several members of Council who attempted to engage these communications, and we know a good number of the members of Council and know all of those to be strong proponents of justice.
What Council Did
So, then, what did the Council say in its resolution adopted March 27? The full text of A&N 008 is available in the Appendix or on the Episcopal Church’s website. Among other things, Council established a committee to implement General Convention resolution B019, much of which is focused on interfaith activities at the local and national levels and the creation of a bibliography for studying the conflict. Council also announced in the resolution a “positive investment” of $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine.
The Response of the PIN Steering Committee to Council’s Resolution
We would note what we believe are several serious problems for the Council in the resolution they adopted:
1 The Use of U.S. Foreign Aid The resolution by Council appoints a committee to implement only B019 from 2012. It makes short shrift of the other resolution adopted by General Convention in 2012 A015, on the subject of foreign aid, which reaffirmed 1991 A149 “requir(ing) the State of Israel to account to the Government of the United States for all aid to Israel…in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act.” Council named by year and number several previous resolutions without providing any text from those resolutions adopted by General Convention and previous Councils. The conclusion Council drew from that listing is that Israel could not be singled out for accountability of foreign aid as noted in the next paragraph. Yet when the resolutions are read, that is clearly what General Convention and previous Councils intended! We list them citing text along with other omitted resolutions in an appendix, with our commentary.
Council goes on to embrace a 2009 document, “Religious Statement on Foreign Assistance Reform,” that was put together by an ecumenical committee as reflecting the true position of the Church, which was never brought forward earlier for adoption by General Convention. This document was produced to establish guidelines for development aid for poor countries in response to the Millennium Development Goals, which had no bearing on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. From this, Council makes a giant leap to the conclusion that “this policy should be applied through such advocacy toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others.” This document, which is fine as a guide for the purposes it mentions, does not address the $3billion of military aid to Israel made annually. But even if it did, it does not replace prior resolutions of General Convention which clearly single out Israel for special concern over its use of U.S. foreign aid, and clearly call for punitive actions. In taking these decisions, has Council thwarted the will of GC?
2 The Use of Economic Pressure Council affirmed the 2005 policy of corporate engagement which looks at Church investments made in companies that may be perpetuating or supporting the infrastructure of the Occupation, among other things. This was a specific request of the Voices of Conscience statement and the diocese of North Carolina. Council then made another huge leap and declared that “this Church does not support boycott, divestment or economic sanctions against the state of Israel nor any application of the Church’s corporate engagement policies toward such ends.”
This is problematic for several reasons. First, prior resolutions have already called for withholding aid, amounting to a call for sanctions, as cited in Appendix I. Does Council have the authority to ignore or override those resolutions?
Further, the General Convention of 2012 voted not to consider the issue of Boycott, Divestment or Sanctions (BDS) at that time. But nor did it rule out future consideration. A resolution, B010, expressly introduced a resolve at that time which would forbid any future consideration of BDS. The National and International Concerns legislative committee decided not to consider this option and discharged it. The House of Deputies later also rejected a substitute motion proposed by deputies on the floor in favor of BDS. They adopted, instead, a resolution to affirm corporate engagement, which the House of Bishops then tabled. Thus, the General Convention never took a position on BDS one way or the other. Has the Council exceeded its mandate?
What does removing BDS from further consideration really mean? Nearly 3000 Palestinian Christians have embraced this nonviolent strategy as a legitimate form of resistance to the oppression of the Occupation. For most groups, BDS is focused on avoiding economic participation in the Occupation, and is not aimed at infrastructure of the state of Israel itself. The term Boycott, for example, is primarily focused on products made in settlements. Over 500,000 settlers have taken over prime land and displaced Palestinian communities. The international community, including the United Nations, considers these settlements illegal, and their presence as an impediment to ending the Occupation with the long held formula of land for peace, the two state solution. Even Israel’s closest ally, the United States, agrees with this position. Thus, products made in those settlements, by obvious extension, would also be illegal. In fact, Israel places the imprimatur “Made In Israel” on some of those products even when they are clearly made on occupied Palestinian land. Thus, many advocates critical of settlements have chosen to boycott products made there. Even Israeli groups like Peace Now support the idea of boycotting these products. Why is Council foreclosing the Church’s discernment on this issue?
On divestment, is the Church really ready to say that companies in which TEC owns stock can never be considered for removal from its investment portfolio? For example, bulldozers made by the U.S. based Caterpillar company are used to demolish Palestinian homes, water cisterns, orchards and olive groves, and are a major tool of maintaining the Occupation. If the Church’s money managers buy stock in this company, why does the Council foreclose the option of divestment from this stock?
Indeed, why has Executive Council chosen to foreclose all consideration of any form of BDS?
A Final Consideration: In reaffirming TEC’s long held support for the two state solution, Council glossed over the widespread concern held by many experts, including Israelis as well as Palestinians, that this solution is virtually foreclosed by Israel’s unrelenting settlement policy. As already noted Council chose to ignore completely the use of the word Occupation. Why has Council refused to note that Israel is oppressing 4 million Palestinians through the Occupation? A recently issued report by UNICEF documents the arrest and detention of over 800,000 children over the life of the Occupation. Just how many of our tax dollars are implicated in sustaining this systemic brutality?
Your Steering Committee submits this report, as bleak as it is, with a commitment to you that we are doubly determined to continue a witness in our Church for justice to emerge in this intractable conflict. We are grateful that the VOC statement has invited the whole Church, including its bishops, back to a prophetic witness for justice. We invite you to continue to join us in this journey.
APPENDIX 1: Commentary on prior resolutions which Council referred to or overlooked in A&N008 at its meeting on February 25-27, 2013
A010-2006: relates to the Millenium Development Goals, not to Israel or Palestine. General Convention did not adopt any resolution on Palestine/Israel(P/I) that year because time ran out. Instead, the proposed resolution went to Executive Council and was adopted there in November 2006. The penultimate clause in that resolution relating to U.S. foreign aid was “assurance that no U.S. tax dollars are used, directly or indirectly, to finance the building of the barrier and bypass roads that support the settlements.” Why did Council refer to A010 2006 which is not about P/I, and leave out the resolution Council adopted in 2006?
A-103 1994: “requires the United States to condition aid to the newly autonomous Palestinian Authority on its abandonment of violence as a tactic of struggle and that the Palestinian police make every effort within their power to apprehend violators; and … requires the United States to condition aid and loan guarantees to Israel on its abandonment of violence as a tactic of civilian control and on the release of all Palestinian political prisoners and detainees.”
D-065 1994 (overlooked by Council): “the Episcopal Church recognize that Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace, and, therefore, calls upon the United States government: 1.to withhold funds equivalent to those used by Israel for any settlement activity; and 2.to make those funds available to Israeli settlers leaving the occupied territories for resettlement in pre-1967 Israel and equally for Palestinians accepting the principles of compensation for their lands and homes in Israel.”
D-008 1991: “the Episcopal Church urges the President and the Congress of the United States: 1.to require the State of Israel to account to the Government of the United States for all aid in whatever form that the United States grants to the States of Israel and its instrumentalities in compliance with all sections of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as far as all sections of the Act are applied to Arab governments in the region; and 2. to hold in escrow aid to Israel by an amount equal to any expenditures by the Government of Israel to expand, develop or further establish Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and only release the aid from escrow if proof is given that settlements are not being established. “
Executive Council resolution from February 1995: Like A010 from 2006, this resolution does not address the P/I conflict, but rather aid to developing countries as well as many U.S. domestic concerns. The use of prior resolutions intended to address issues other than Palestine/Israel seems scurrilous.
Despite the presence of the cited language above which clearly calls for Israeli compliance of U.S. law or face withdrawal of aid, Council concluded that they could not be applied to any individual country. This argument that Israel cannot be singled out for accountability of its use of foreign aid is an opinion that clearly flies in the face of what General Convention has said several times over during the years of its witness to the conflict.
One explanation offered was that Israel cannot be held to a “higher” standard. But the issue is whether Israel is held to the same standard as other nations, including Palestine. Specifically, it has recently received poor marks from the United Nations Human Rights Commission as well as our own State Department’s annual Human Rights Report. U.S. law calls for halting aid if countries violate human rights. So asking Congress or the State Department or the White House to hold Israel accountable is hardly a higher standard.
There is another argument used by Council staff in ignoring prior resolutions. This argument says older resolutions can become outdated or not be helpful in the present context. That would be true in the first instance if the Occupation had ended. But the evidence on the ground is that it gets steadily worse and past policies are needed more than ever. As to resolutions no longer being helpful, this argument often includes ongoing behind the scenes efforts to promote peacemaking and delicate sensitivities that require confidentiality. Yet no evidence is cited that progress is being made to end the conflict or the Occupation. Secrecy is not a very ethical tactic to use as a reason to ignore policies developed through the Church’s legislative process.
Appendix to PIN/report-to-the-400-supporting-voc
Resolution A&N #008: Towards a Just Peace for Israelis and Palestinians
Resolved, that the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, meeting February 25-27, 2013 in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, affirms the prophetic witness of the 77th General Convention in calling for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians through Resolution B019, which, building upon 30 years of resolutions, declares “this Church’s support for a negotiated two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people, with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both,” and establishes strategies for the pursuit of that witness; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council affirms and celebrates this month’s recommendation of the Executive Council Economic Justice Loan Committee to invest $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine in response to the recommendation of Resolution B019 of the 77th General Convention, the first such positive investment made by this Church in the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and urges dioceses and other entities of this Church prayerfully to consider similar investments; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council affirms that it is the policy of this Church to engage in the constructive corporate engagement policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict adopted by the Executive Council in October 2005 and implemented by the Executive Council Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility in the intervening years; and further affirms that this Church does not support boycott, divestment, and economic sanctions against the state of Israel nor any application of the Church’s corporate engagement policies toward such ends; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council affirms that it is the policy of this Church, derived through General Convention Resolutions A010 (2006), A103 (1994), A149 (1991), and D008 (1991), and the Resolve of Council “Guiding Principles for Governmental Legislation” (February 1995); that all foreign aid given abroad by the United States government – including aid to Israel and the Palestinians, and to all others in the region and elsewhere – should be comprehensively and transparently accounted to the American people and held to the same standards of compliance with all applicable laws, as advocated during the last two triennia through more than a dozen letters to the Congress sent by the Presiding Bishop and other bishops of this Church and the Office of Government Relations, and embodied in the “Religious Statement on Foreign Assistance Reform,” dated February 2, 2009, adopted by an interreligious coalition co-chaired by the Episcopal Church and repeatedly communicated to the President and the Congress in the intervening years; and further affirms that this policy should be applied through such advocacy toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others; and be it further
Resolved, that, in order to assure the effective and thorough implementation of the policies adopted by the 77th General Convention through Resolution B019 and referred to multiple interim bodies, a B019 coordinating committee shall be appointed by March 15, 2013 and shall comprise the following individuals:
(1) The Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies, as Chair and Vice Chair of the Executive Council (or a designee of each), who shall appoint a convener from among the coordinating committee members;
(2) The Chair of the Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission, or one substitute as may be designated by the Committee Chair;
(3) The Chair of the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, or one substitute as may be designated by the Commission Chair;
(4) The Chair of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, or one substitute as may be designated by the Commission Chair;
(5) One member of the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee, or a designee, as appointed by the Presiding Bishop;
(6) Such staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as may be designated by the Presiding Bishop; and be it further
Resolved, that this coordinating committee shall seek to conduct business by teleconference and that any other activities, including the consultation of outside experts whose input is deemed necessary by the group, shall be done at the expense of the interim bodies whose members are constituent of this coordinating committee; and be it further
Resolved, that this coordinating committee shall provide a report on its activities to the Executive Council to be included as part of Council’s triennial Blue Book report for the 78th General Convention.