In the span just over a month, three Episcopal dioceses from across the continental United States, considered and supported resolutions which recognized the unequal treatment meted out to Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and toward Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The first of the dioceses to address this was Olympia. Bishop Greg Rickel is no stranger to the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, since he also serves as Board Chair of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and established his own Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land (BCJPHL).
As part of their late October Convention, the BCJPHL offered two workshops demonstrating the difficulty of life for Palestinians. The first included a screening of the BAFTA award winning film, The Present, co-written by Hind Shoufani and the director, Farah Nabulsi, available on Netflix. A second workshop included a slide presentation about a school-based water purification project in Gaza sponsored by the Middle East Children’s Alliance.
The BCJPHL introduced two resolutions for consideration. The first, entitled Peace in the Holy Land-Striving for Justice, called on Diocese of Olympia parishes to learn about the ongoing military occupation in the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, and the unequal laws and treatment Palestinians experience in Israel. It also recognized the BCJPHL as a resource congregations could call upon. This first resolution passed by a margin of 217 to 37, and copies of the resolution and its accompanying four-page explanation will be distributed to and used by parishes as part of their education process. Both resolutions and their explanations can be found here.
Olympia’s second resolution, entitled Justice and Peace in the Holy Land-Our Call to Action, begins by affirming of the right of the State of Israel to exist, while simultaneously condemning the continued occupation, segregation and oppression of the Palestinian people. According to BCJPHL member Stacy Andersen, the Committee “felt it was important to begin with an unambiguous statement condemning violence from any source and recognizing the reality and harm of antisemitism.” The action they asked the Diocese to affirm and send to General Convention in 2022 calls on President Biden and the Congress to oppose Israeli laws and practices which result in unequal rights. This resolution passed by a wider margin of 244 to 19.
The Diocese of Vermont was the next to be heard. Two of the three resolutions they considered in early November were memorials of diocesan resolutions previously passed in 2018. (Note: A memorial allows a previously passed resolution to be submitted without change for further consideration.) The first memorial asked the Diocese to send their previous resolution, Supporting Freedom of Speech and the Right to Boycott on to GC next year in Baltimore. This resolution, coming just months after Resolution 2018-D028 On the Topic of Opposing Anti-Boycott Legislation was rejected at GC in Austin, affirms the decision to boycott as part of the freedom of speech. While not limited to a boycott of Israel, the Vermont resolution does cite the attempts by some states and the federal government to outlaw boycott and limit free speech when it comes to Israel. The memorial passed 116 to 4 and will be sent to Baltimore.
The second Vermont memorial was a resubmission of their 2018 resolution Application of the Leahy Laws to Israel. [The “Leahy law” refers to two statutory provisions prohibiting the U.S. Government from financially assisting units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in gross violations of human rights. One provision applies to the State Department, the other to the Defense Department.] The vote to send the memorial to GC for consideration passed by 105 to 11.
Then came the new resolution entitled Recognition of Apartheid in Israel and Palestine. Unlike Olympia, which spoke of unequal treatment, the Vermont resolution specifically named recent legislation such as the Nation State Law, as well as earlier laws and practices in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories as “correspond[ing] to the definition of apartheid.” The resolution further contends that apartheid is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus and to our baptismal vows as Episcopalians. Resolution supporters read statements from EPF PIN co-convener Linda Gaither and Vermont Palestinian Wafic Faour, who was instrumental in pushing Ben and Jerry’s to leave the Israeli settlements, called on the US to withhold military funding from Israel until the apartheid experienced by his family in Israel is eliminated. While several voices opposed the resolution, the strong 89 to 25 vote in favor will send it to the GC for consideration. The resolutions and testimony of the Vermont Convention can be viewed on their YouTube site between the 2:10:00 and 2:46:00 marks here.
The most recent Diocese to discuss these matters was Chicago. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Resolution Confronting Apartheid was addressed. Like Vermont, the resolution calls for The Episcopal Church to recognize that Israeli treatment of Palestinians constitutes apartheid under international law and is contrary to the Gospel and our Baptismal Covenant. A similar resolution was defeated the previous year, with 42% in favor but 58% opposed. This year, however, the resolution was approved by 300 (72%) yes votes (72%) to 114 (28%) nays.
What led to this stunning reversal in Chicago and the strong pluralities in Olympia and Vermont? There were likely multiple factors, including the early 2021 report by the Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem, which became the first organization to publicly name Israel’s system of laws and control over east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as apartheid. Just a few short months later, Human Rights Watch issued its own report, documenting similar abuses and drawing the same conclusion.
The recent action taken by delegates to the United Church of Christ General Synod, which named Israeli apartheid as a sin, may have influenced some delegates. In Chicago, two lay delegates and the Diocesan Peace & Justice Committee sponsored this year’s resolution. Meanwhile, a small group of EPF-PIN members organized a series of talks titled Seeking Peace and Justice in Palestine/Israel that prioritized Palestinian voices and featured a local rabbi who leads a congregation that defines itself as “anti-zionist.” They also presented the resolution at three deanery meetings to assess clergy response, and reached out to lay delegates as they could.
Opposing voices had scuttled last year’s resolution, so the group strategized for the debate they thought would come – “A tricky exercise,” said PIN member Priscilla Read, “in a virtual gathering where raising hands and lining up to testify would be online and impossible to see, much less control.” In the end, a resolution sponsor joined with the Rector of a local parish to set the political and religious stage for reintroducing the resolution while another sponsor brought supportive testimony from the rabbi and a Palestinian-American Christian recounted her family’s experiences of systemic discrimination in Israel and the West Bank.
As it turned out, only one person testified in opposition to the resolution, and his comments were apparently eclipsed by the ardent advocacy of the supportive speakers. More time was spent on debating several motions to amend which passed and appear as the final “resolved” in the text of the resolution. You can see the full text of the resolution as amended here. To view the full debate on YouTube beginning at 5:06:00, go here.
One other diocese is scheduled to discuss our Church’s position on Israel and Palestine when the Diocese of Washington takes up the matter at its late January convention. Your EPF Palestine Israel Network will be there, watching what unfolds and working to support “a more robust Episcopal Church witness for justice and peace for our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters.”
Thanks to Randy Heyn-Lamb, Stacy Andersen, John Heermans and Priscilla Read for pulling this report together.