Palestine Israel Network

Justice is Love in Action

General Convention and the Apartheid Question: A Commentary from Harry Gunkel

Posted by:
Donna Hicks
July 20, 2022

Last week’s July 14 issue of PINontheGo recapped some of the resolutions that passed the unique, turbulent 80th General Convention (GC) just completed. Resolutions C013, C039, and D024 are important, forceful resolutions and even more remarkable for coming out successfully from a legislative process that was prolonged, at times confusing, and technologically challenging. 

Not to be overlooked from the 80th, however, are resolution C001 and three resolutions addressing the apartheid regime imposed by the state of Israel on the Palestinian people.

Following the six important resolutions passed in 2018, EPF PIN leadership anticipated that there would be attempts to roll those back at the following convention. C001 represented exactly that. This resolution from the Diocese of Maryland asserted that “discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (sic)” is perceived by some as “anti-semitic”, and further sought to remove agency from The Episcopal Church (TEC) concerning events in Palestine and Israel and hand it over to the Archbishop in Jerusalem. PIN mounted robust testimony to refute those resolves and fortunately, members of the Social Justice and International Policy Committee 07 agreed by voting to reject it, or “Take No Further Action” in GC legislative parlance, which meant it would not be forwarded to the House of Bishops for consideration.

We must be slow to celebrate or find too much encouragement in the halted course of C001, however, because it represents a sentiment widespread in our church: that resolutions and policies in TEC concerning Palestine and Israel ought to be cautious, gentle, gradual, unprovocative, or altogether avoided. Even as the committee rejected C001, we saw some members of the committee act on this sentiment in discussing three other resolutions that all named policies of the state of Israel toward Palestinians as policies of Apartheid.

In the end, apartheid resolutions C025, C031, and C042 from the Dioceses of Vermont, Chicago and Washington, D.C., respectively, were deferred by Committee 07 to be considered at the next 81st General Convention. Deferral was an option offered to committees this year in view of the shortened, modified nature of this convention. It is useful to review what happened with those resolutions. 

First of all, it is important to note that “The Episcopal Church” did not refuse to name Israel’s apartheid, an interpretation being offered in some conversations. General Convention is the governing body of TEC, and this convention never considered these resolutions; instead, they were deferred by the responsible legislative committee to be considered at the next convention. That said, the committee’s deliberations offer glimpses into the thoughts of some deputies and bishops on this matter. Many people attended committee deliberations as silent Observers. Each will have their own interpretation of what happened. The following represents the interpretation of this writer. 

Following an array of testimonies by members of the Church, Jewish and Muslim persons, and legal experts affirming apartheid practices by Israel, several deputies on the committee argued to pass and forward an apartheid resolution to the House of Bishops so that there might be open discussion of the issue. Opposing this action were several members of the committee, primarily bishops, who would not support an apartheid resolution. Realizing that the opposing viewpoints deserved fuller and deeper discussion than the shortened convention could accommodate, the committee took the decision to defer these resolutions to the 81st convention. 

Remarkably, considering the decision to defer, no member of the committee refuted the premise that there is apartheid. The opposition was to TEC saying so. It is a curious position for people who claim a branch of the Jesus movement, so the opposing arguments deserve closer attention. They were primarily three: the timing is not right for TEC to take such a position; naming Israel as an apartheid state would harm interfaith efforts and relationships with rabbis; and provocative words are not helpful in the ongoing conversations and dialogues toward peace. These perspectives reveal a deeply disturbing lack of appreciation for the immanent and extreme dangers facing the Palestinian people, as well as a shocking misunderstanding of political and diplomatic realities. 

In the past year, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, the UN Special Rapporteur, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church have all affirmed Israeli apartheid. For Palestinians, wherever they are, literally every day brings at least one of the following: death or injury, loss of home or property, incarceration or administrative detention, unemployment and economic insecurity, prohibition from returning to the ancestral home, separation from family, discrimination in housing and employment, another day of siege and blockade, and absence of freedom and self-determination. In the face of such extreme injustice, the appropriate time for TEC to act is NOW. 

Interfaith dialogue can be an important part of pluralist societies that helps us better understand the people around us. It allows us to amplify the ideals and principles we have in common, not least of these being justice and universal human rights. Of all cities in the world, Jerusalem best embodies the challenges of interfaith harmony. To suppress conversations about justice, human rights, and events in Jerusalem and the Holy Land to protect interfaith “relationships” points to relationships that are neither healthy nor authentic. 

Persistence in believing that dialogue holds the key to just peace in Palestine and Israel is failing to grasp reality. The only diplomacy in the works in the region at this moment is building a military alliance purposed for cataclysmic war against Iran; Palestinian human rights have been brushed aside. When suffering and violence are rampant, speaking truthfully, taking bold action, and issuing forceful responses that address root causes are demanded. Platitudes and piety are not policy. Gentle speech and “mutual understanding” will not assuage militaristic zeal. The premise that making peace with justice in Palestine and Israel relies primarily on bridge-building, interfaith dialogue, and failed performative “negotiations” is sorely outdated, undone by the realpolitik of events and Israeli government ambitions. The mounting violence and inequities demand actions that will yield results, including those laid out by the global BDS movement. 

There are naturally frustration and disappointment in the decision to defer the apartheid resolutions, but church polity is a real thing. The mission of PIN is to the Church, and it commits to abide by that polity. PIN is grateful to have been able to share the discussions and decisions of Committee 07. We look forward to using what we have learned in our preparation for General Convention 2024 by amplifying our voice and actions, helping people of the Church find new ways to understand events in our Holy Land, and offer innovative, effective ways to respond to injustice and wrongdoing. 


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