US church votes to boycott and divest from companies with ties to Israeli occupation

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The United Church of Christ, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, on Tuesday voted to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and to boycott goods made in Israeli settlements, underscoring the growing momentum of using boycott and divestment as a means against Israeli policy.

The denomination’s top legislative body required 67 percent of the vote to pass the resolution to divest from Israeli settlement products; it passed with a vote of 508-124 with 38 abstentions during its meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, reports Al Jazeera English.

Companies based in Israeli settlements in the West Bank produce goods ranging from textiles to household appliances to food and beverages. Over the last few years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement has garnered significant international support, affecting products manufactured by companies such as Veolia, Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP. 

“The United Church of Christ has identified Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and the human rights abuses it has committed there to be a major source of conflict and has called for an end to settlement activity,” the church said, in a statement. “By approving this resolution with its clear, unequivocal call for specific actions toward ending the occupation of Palestinian territories, the United Church of Christ can offer a sign of hope to the Palestinians and add its weight to a world-wide movement toward a just peace in the region.”

Peter Makari of Global Ministries, an agency that is part of the United Church of Christ, said the resolutions “reflect our urgent concern for the worsening effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian people and lives, including the disparity in rights and power.”

Two other American churches, the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church USA, were also debating Israeli boycott measures this week at their conventions. 

The resolutions are being considered at a time when the BDS movement says its efforts are bearing fruit in Europe and at many US college campuses. Since its creation about a decade ago, the movement has sought to find alternative, non-violent means to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and grant its own Palestinian citizens equal rights.

The Israeli government was quick to criticize the move, terming the church’s policies as distorted and historically biased against the country. While the full economic scope of the United Church of Christ’s divestment is not yet clear, the weight of its impact comes at a time when Israel is taking note of BDS’ victories, reports the International Business Times. 

The BDS Movement — launched in 2005 as an alternative to armed struggle against the Israeli occupation — has faced vehement criticism by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once termed its supporters “anti-Semites in modern garb.”

Supporters of the movement, including a growing number of American Jews, have called such criticism a fearmongering and divisive tactic meant to prevent legitimate debate about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Jewish Voice for Peace, an advocacy group based in Oakland, California has endorsed the BDS movement and welcomed Tuesday’s boycott resolution.

“Progressives are speaking up, and it’s only a matter of time until Israel is held accountable for its human rights abuses and violations of international law,” Lev Hirschhorn, a board member, said in a statement on the group’s website.

Last year, two American churches – the Presbyterian Church USA and United Methodist Church – voted to divest from several local companies found to be profiting from Israel’s occupation, and to boycott settlement goods.