Deputies pass more resolutions on Israel-Palestine, but fate is uncertain in House of Bishops

July 12, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] House of Deputies passed five more resolutions July 12 related to the Episcopal Church’s response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but those resolutions faced a mixed reaction in the House of Bishops a day after the bishops soundly rejected an earlier resolution regarding the church’s investments in Israel.

The deputies took up six such resolutions in the morning legislative session, passing all but one. The bishops followed in the afternoon by joining the deputies in approving Resolution D027, which condemns use of lethal force by Israel against unarmed Palestinians – and by Palestinian forces against Israeli civilians.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

Another resolution approved by the deputies, B016, would model Episcopal Church’s policy toward investments in the region after a “human rights investment screen” previously adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

The vote by the bishops on B016 was delayed as they sought a copy of the ELCA measure, for reference. The bishops ended their July 12 session without returning to the resolution but could take it up again July 13 on the final day of the 79th General Convention.

B016, though it doesn’t contain specific language directing the church to pursue divestment from Israel, echoes Resolution D019, which would have set a 2019 deadline for Executive Council to research and develop a plan for ending any financial complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The House of Deputies approved D019 on July 10, with 74 percent voting in favor, but bishops defeated it a day later by a 62 percent margin.

The rest of the resolutions, though somewhat less controversial, still inspired passionate comment on both sides of the issue. C038 highlights abuses in Israeli treatment of Palestinian children in detention. D038 objects to Israeli laws that deprive Palestinians of civil rights. And D039 calls for an end to what the resolution calls a system of apartheid between Israelis and Palestinians.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, left, and Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani walk March 26 through the barren area between an Israel checkpoint and Gaza City. They were going to visit the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Their journey took place five days before violence broke out along the fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Sharon Jones

D039 “was one that took me quite a bit of prayer and deliberation … because apartheid is not a small word,” said Deputy Adam Lees of the Diocese of Alaska. He said he decided to support the resolution after thinking about the access he and his family now have to pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land that are forbidden to Palestinian Christians.

He also spoke of a region in desperate need of groups that can act with moral authority.

“The moral authority is going to come from the people of Israel, from the people of Palestine and, God willing, from the people of the Episcopal Church,” Lees said.

William Murchison, a deputy from the Diocese of Dallas has spoken several times on resolutions related to Israel Palestine, including twice on July 11, providing arguably the most forceful arguments against measures that he described as anti-Israel.

“The mood of the house is to beat up on Israel, to beat it to a pulp, and to make excuses for its adversaries and its sworn enemies,” Murchison said in speaking against D027.

Earlier he opposed D039 using similar language. “The Israelis are under threat from Hamas and Hezbollah, but do we hear anything from the Episcopal Church calling attention to or alarm to (those threats)?” he said.

The Rev. Winnie Varghese responded to Murchison by name while speaking in support of C038.

“It is always delightful to hear Deputy Murchison remind us that the Episcopal Church stands strongly on the side of the state of Israel and has since the founding of the state of Israel in the 1940s. That is a fact. We do. Our nation does as well, to the tune $38 billion in foreign aid awarded in 2016,” she said.

But Varghese went on to raise the issue of proportion, citing statistics from 2018 so far – 158 Palestinians killed in the conflict, including 26 children, while six Israelis were killed in the same period.

“Israel is the state, and like the United States of America when we talk about our war on terror … there are restrictions to what can be done humanely in that effort,” she said.

The only related resolution that the deputies rejected was D028, which would have spoken out against U.S. laws prohibiting corporations from boycotting Israel in protest of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The deputies’ vote against the resolution came after Russell Randle, deputy from Diocese of Virginia, raised concerns about the precedent that would be set by the church going on record in support of corporations’ free speech rights.

Palestinian woman at Israeli checkpoint

A Palestinian woman makes her way June 1 through an Israeli checkpoint to attend Friday prayer of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Photo: Reuters

As the debate on the resolutions moved to the House of Bishops, the sentiment was just as strong, though this time the voices of bishops in favor of action outnumbered those opposed. The bishops openly debated only one of the resolutions, D027, entitled “Pursuing Justice in Gaza,” though direct references to Gaza were dropped by the International Policy Committee.

“Having been to Gaza, I would call it a prison where 2 million people reside,” Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia said. “I think it’s time for this church to stand up for those people.”

Support for the resolution was far from unanimous in the House of Bishops, but it passed in a voice vote.

In addition to D027, the bishops previously approved B021, supporting the resumption of humanitarian aid to Palestinians; B003, regarding the status of Jerusalem as shared Holy City; and D018, reflecting on the deterioration of negations toward a two-state solution.

That leaves four resolutions for the bishops to consider July 13. As for the rest of the more than a dozen Israel-Palestinian resolutions initially submitted to General Convention, legislative committees either recommended no action or incorporated elements of the resolutions into the resolutions that made it to floor votes.

General Convention has voted in support of Middle East peace for decades. This year, nearly 50 people testified at a committee hearing on Middle East resolutions held July 6 in the JW Marriott, part of an expedited process recommended by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president.

Curry’s and Jennings’ recommendations, including the designation of the House of Deputies as the house of initial action, were intended to ensure full, open and productive discussions after complaints about the process for considering Israel-Palestine resolutions at General Convention three years ago.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].

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