Our Support of Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions in Regard to Israel

You Can’t Say We Didn’t Know:
Some Perspectives on Israel, Palestine, and the Conflict

Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine
Diocese of Olympia
October 2016

The Rev. John-Otto Liljenstolpe

The Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine, Diocese of Olympia, has agreed that the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions — commonly known as “BDS” — in regard to Israel is a moral imperative. We are supporting this method of protest and political pressure because of what we have learned in Israel and in the West Bank from our fellow Episcopalians living there as well as from others, both Palestinians and Israelis. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and their documented discriminatory policies towards their own Arab citizens is harming the lives and well-being of many people in the Holy Land both Arabs and Jews.

For this reason, we are encouraging the members of the Diocese of Olympia as well as others to participate in the current BDS campaign by boycotting the products of Israel, especially those produced in or using the material resources of the West Bank.[1] Furthermore, we are encouraging Church-related organizations to divest from companies that are profiting from products sold to Israel and used there to further and maintain the occupation.[2] Finally, we are working together with other BDS groups for a governmental sanctioning of Israel pending the agreement of the Israeli government to fully obey international law.[3]

While we have no illusion that BDS can cause serious harm to the economy of Israel, we do believe that these tactics, used for various causes in these United States since the time of its establishment,[4] are an effective way of alerting our fellow Church members and fellow citizens to the injustices we Americans are supporting in Israel-Palestine with our tax dollars and free-will contributions.[5] It has become increasingly clear to us, as well as to Israeli governmental authorities and their U.S. counterparts, that currently BDS is the most effective set of strategies available to us as U.S. citizens to put pressure on the government and people of Israel as well as the U.S. government to change their attitudes and policies towards the Palestinian people.

As was the case, when Christians in the United States employed these economic pressure tactics against the government of South Africa, our intent in encouraging their use now against the economy of Israel is not motivated by any wish to harm the well-being of the Israeli people. Indeed, we do so in part because we believe that the occupation of the West Bank and their discriminatory practices against their own Arab citizens do not serve the best interests of the Jewish people of Israel.[6] We are, in fact, convinced that the best way for Israel to secure her future as a country would be for her to use her resources to make of the West Bank not only an independent country for the Palestinian people but a center of economic prosperity that would be the envy of peoples through the Middle East. However, our hoped-for goal in waging this nonviolent campaign against the current Israeli policies of occupation and colonization is simply to pressure the government of Israel to do all within their power to see that the Arab peoples living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as in Israel proper, enjoy all the basic human rights that the Jewish citizens of Israel and her West Bank settlers now enjoy.

Regrettably, rather than engaging with us to discuss how we might work together to encourage the government of the United States to support those groups in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza who even now are working for a peaceful and just solution, supporters of the current Israeli policy, both Jews and Christians, are attempting to defame the supporters of BDS by labelling us as “anti-Semites.” While there certainly are people in the United States who suffer the affliction of anti-Semitism while speaking positively of BDS, anyone who has taken the time to study or even to get to know the recognized leadership of the BDS movement in both its religious and secular varieties, and the documents related to the campaign, knows that anti-Semitism is not tolerated among us. That not a few of those who lead the BDS movement are themselves Jews, is but one of many testimonies to this fact.

Those who have questions about BDS, its justness, and its compatibility with the mission of the Church, are invited to contact us at the website of the Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine, bishopscommittee.org.

[1] A list of Israeli products whose boycott we encourage can be found at http://bdslist.org/full-list/.
[2] A number of American Churches and Church-related organizations have initiated a divestment process, among them: the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, USA, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Conference of the Major Superiors of Men, the Alliance of Baptists, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
[3] The current occupation and settlement of the West Bank by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), as well as the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, has been held to be a violation of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. These and other aspects of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank have been the subject of numerous UN resolutions.
[4] There are numerous historical instances of the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions by American colonialists, American citizens and the United States Government. Among them are the boycotting of British tea by colonialists, and the boycotting and sanctioning of the products and states of what would become the Confederacy before and during the U.S. Civil War. More recent examples are the sanctioning of South Africa by the United States during the 1980’s. In our days, a number of states and U.S. corporations threatened boycotts and sanctions against the State of North Carolina because of its passing legislation against transgendered individuals.
[5] It is estimated that over $130 billion has been given in weapon credits and donations in support of the current Israeli policies of occupation and settlement over the past 49 years. A good deal of this aid was given to Israel on the condition that it be used to buy weapons from the various components of the American defense industry.
[6] While Israeli peace movements have diminished over the past decade, there are still a good number of young Israelis who actively support Palestinian resistance to their own country’s occupation of the West Bank. And there are Israeli officials such as the former Israeli security (Shin Bet) officers who have publicly opposed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The opposition of American Jews, on the other hand is growing, and there appears to be a discernible shift of opinion in regard to Israeli policy vis-à-vis Palestinians in general and the on-going military occupation of the West Bank in particular. At the center of the Jewish opposition in the United States is the Jewish Voice for Peace organization.