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Israel-Palestine Divides the Houses

By Matthew Townsend and Kirk Petersen

By the penultimate day of its deliberations, the 79th General Convention had settled several of the hot button issues anticipated in Austin — churchwide same-sex marriage, a salary for the president of the House of Deputies, and liturgical revision, to name a few. One topic, however, continues to elicit considerable debate: the church’s role in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Between July 9 and July 12, eight resolutions on the matter have collectively consumed nearly three hours of legislative time.

The House of Deputies, which moved first on the resolutions, has seen most of that debate. In both houses, however, arguments have followed the same pattern as debates in the secular world — disagreements about which side is more at fault in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

On July 9, deputies debated, amended, and adopted D019–Ending Church Complicity in the Occupation. The resolution called for developing a “human rights social criteria investment screen based on the social teachings of this Church and 70 years of Church policy on Israel/Palestine by General Convention and Executive Council as the basis for such a screen in the Israeli occupation of Palestine i.e., the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

Deputies approved the resolution 619 to 214, though disagreement — heated, at times — arose about whether the resolution would cause the Episcopal Church to divest from Israel, a fear of those opposed. Deputies speaking in favor of resolution emphasized the human-rights social criteria investment screen as a means to make choices about investment instead of pursuing wholesale divestment.

The vote flipped when D019 proceeded to the House of Bishops.

On July 11, after a discussion that some complained was too brief, the House of Bishops voted 78-48 to reject D019. Overall debate was limited to 10 minutes, and bishops rose to back both sides of the issue. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry extended the time to accommodate two bishops already at the microphone when time expired.

The House of Bishops resolves the vast majority of its resolutions by voice vote, either unanimous or lopsided enough to be obvious. But after both a voice vote and a show of hands left some ambiguity on D019, Curry called for the designated counters to tally the votes table by table.

The tendentious title of the resolution clearly rankled some of the bishops. Ed Little II, the former Bishop of Northern Indiana, said “all this resolution will do is make us advocates on one side of the conflict.”

On July 12, conflict again arose as the House of Deputies spent more than an hour debating seven resolutions related to Israel and Palestine.

The house adopted B016 (Adopt ELCA Action on Israel/Palestine), D039 (Regarding Occupation and Apartheid), C038 (Safeguard the Rights of Palestinian Children), D027 (Pursuing Justice in Gaza), and D038 (Civil Rights and Equality for All in Israel).

Upon committee counsel that B019 (Impact Investing for Palestine) overlapped with B016, It took no action. Resolution D028 (Freedom of Speech and the Right to Boycott) was rejected.

The Rev. Sunny Hallanan of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe spoke in favor of D027. “What I hear again and again in Europe is shock and confusion with the fact that the United States continues to support the horrific actions of Israel in Gaza,” she said. “Yes, Israel has the right to protect itself. But what is happening in Gaza is not self-defense.”

William Murchison of Dallas spoke in opposition of the same resolution, sharing concern that the house was attempting to “beat up on Israel, to beat it to a pulp, and to make excuses for its adversaries and its sworn enemies.” He said the problems of the Gaza Strip do not proceed from Israel.

After nearly an hour of exhaustive debate on several of the resolutions, Alma Bell of Maryland rose right before the vote on D027 to ask for a moment of prayer — offering the first substantial pause in the deliberations.

Since leaving the House of Deputies, these resolutions have gained a little more traction among the bishops.

Later in the afternoon, the bishops supported D027 after the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of San Diego, pointed out that the resolution had been amended to call for “independent, transparent investigations into the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians by the Israel Defense Forces, as well as by Palestinian forces.” D027 was approved by voice vote, with a significant minority voting no.

The bishops postponed a vote on B016-Adopt ELCA Action on Israel/Palestine because it referred to a resolution passed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. General Convention rules forbid voting on a resolution that refers to an outside document unless that document is provided to the bishops and deputies.

The House of Deputies had already passed B016, and the bishops’ parliamentarian said that vote was valid because no objection had been raised in the House of Deputies before the vote. B016 calls for a “human rights investment screen” for investing in companies doing business in Israel and Palestine.


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