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Executive Council Denounces ‘Potential Genocide’ in Gaza

In a preview of what is likely to be a contentious debate at the June General Convention, Executive Council labeled Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians in the Gaza Strip, as a “potential genocide.”

The April 20 resolution followed a searing online presentation the previous day by a Palestinian priest from the West Bank, who told a committee that “Israel is trying to make Gaza uninhabitable, so that even after the war ends, the people of Gaza find no place to go to.”

The Rev. Fadi Diab

The Rev. Fadi Diab serves two congregations in the West Bank: St. Andrew’s in Ramallah and St. Peter’s in Birzeit. “We all feel betrayed by the international church in general,” he said via Zoom. “The Palestinian people continue to be a sacrifice for much more complicated, regional and international politics.”

“We continue to believe that the Palestinian community matters to God,” he said. Noting that he is 50 years old, he said, “I say to you that if this conflict continues, the Christian community will not continue for another 50 years.”

Between the committee hearing and the plenary session, the resolution generated nearly two hours of discussion — but not because anyone was speaking on behalf of Israel.

“The horrific actions Hamas committed on October 7th in no way justify the massive deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli military,” the resolution said.

Matthew Taylor of the Diocese of Washington told the council he generally agreed with the resolution, but proposed deleting the portion that refers to potential genocide. Based on past conversations with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, “my understanding is that sometimes it is better for us to describe what is going on than use certain terms that can anger the Israeli government,” such as apartheid or genocide, he said. His amendment was overwhelmingly defeated.

Sandra Montes of the Diocese of Texas, on the other hand, wanted to omit the word “potential,” although she did not call for a vote on it. “I’m surprised and disappointed we are having this discussion,” she said.

There was discussion about whether it would make sense to leave the issue up to the June General Convention, given that legislative hearings already are under way on a dozen resolutions related to Israel and Palestine.

“We can either be mired in process, or we can open our hearts,” said Diane Audrick Smith of the Diocese of Ohio, forcefully advocating for taking a stand, using the term potential genocide.

This was the last scheduled Executive Council meeting before the 81st General Convention in late June, and the agenda was fairly light. Members of the senior class said their goodbyes after six years of service together.

It also was Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry’s last Executive Council meeting, as his successor will be elected in June. As previously reported, it also was his first in-person appearance at Executive Council in more than a year, because of a variety of health issues. President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris, who had chaired council meetings in Curry’s absence, said “I really like being the vice chair.”

Transitions

Executive Council elected five of its members to a Transitional Executive Committee — an obscure but potentially (briefly) influential body, the existence of which provides an opportunity to geek out about Episcopal governance. Buckle up.

The governing body of the Episcopal Church is the General Convention, which meets every three years. Because decisions need to be made between triennial meetings, the canons provide for an entity formally known as the Executive Council of the General Convention. The 40-member council meets three times a year, and serves staggered, six-year terms, with half of the council rotating off at each General Convention.

That still leaves a need for interim decision-making, which is why there is an Executive Committee of the Executive Council of the General Convention. There’s one unexplained reference to the Executive Committee in the canons, but for a description of the nine-member group, you have to go to the bylaws of the Executive Council. The committee meets at least once between the meetings of the council, and can meet more often at the call of the chair. Committee decisions are subject to ratification at the next council meeting.

We’re almost done here. At the closing gavel of General Convention in June, five members of the current Executive Committee will cease to be members of the Executive Council, which would leave the committee without a quorum. So at the final meeting of each triennium — which concluded April 20 in Raleigh, North Carolina — the council elects a Transitional Executive Committee of the Executive Council of the General Convention. The transitional committee will serve until the new Executive Council meets in November in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and elects new members to the Executive Committee.

The five continuing council members elected to the transitional body are: Annette Buchanan, Diocese of New Jersey; Timothy Gee, Diocese of El Camino Real; Scott Haight, Diocese of West Tennessee; the Rev. Wilmot Merchant, Diocese of South Carolina; and Diane Audrick Smith, Diocese of Ohio.

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