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‘Parliamentary Ping-Pong’ on Israel-Palestine

Members of the House of Deputies spent nearly two hours of floor discussion on June 26 in what one deputy called “a game of parliamentary Ping-Pong,” seeking to alter moderating language inserted by the House of Bishops into two resolutions about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Resolutions D013 was passed by the House of Bishops on June 23 after a claim that Israel “pursu[es] an apartheid policy against the Palestinian people” was deleted and replaced with wording that pinned equal blame for the current crisis on Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Jewish civilians.

Resolution D056 was approved by the bishops on June 25 after being amended to remove a reference to the “ongoing genocide by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people.” The bishops also strengthened the criticism of Hamas by referring to the events of October 7 as a terrorist attack, instead of just an attack.

Both resolutions had been extensively debated by the bishops, with several bishops arguing that the terms apartheid and genocide were technically inappropriate to describe the conflict. Retired Northern Indiana bishop Ed Little said on June 23 that if the church used the term apartheid, “our Israeli and Jewish friends would see us as relentlessly hostile to them.”

In an unusual step, General Convention’s Committee on Social Justice and International Policy refused to accept the bishops’ amendments, and restored the original language before sending it to the House of Deputies.

“The bishops have changed the word apartheid,” committee chair Janet Day-Strehlow of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe told the House of Deputies. “We have been trying to find other words than apartheid over the past several General Conventions, and our committee finds that it is now time to name it, because that is what it is.”

“The fact that our church has not still not named Palestine as an apartheid state is unconscionable,” said the Rev. Anna Carmichael, a deputy from the Diocese of San Joaquin. “The State of Israel as it exists is a creation of U.S. engagement in the 1940s, at the same time that South Africa became an apartheid state, and simultaneously, the rise of Nazism in Germany. This is sin. We need to name it.”

“I speak in opposition to this resolution as it is now presented because it places the blame for civilian casualties solely on Israel,” countered lay deputy Tom Jones of Nebraska. “By removing an acknowledgment of Hamas’s role, it refuses to acknowledge the injustices of both combatants.”

Deputy Richard Pryor of Ohio amended the resolution to restore the language approved by the bishops.

“Let us listen to our bishops, who told us in an overwhelming voice a few days ago that they did not wish to pass any resolution that used the word apartheid, just as they wished to hold Hamas accountable. It would be a real shame to let this resolution and a lot of great work die because we want to play a game of parliamentary Ping-Pong,” Pryor said.

Lay Deputy Diana Moreland of Southern Virginia challenged Pryor’s invitation to pragmatism. “The fact is, we are the senior house, not the junior house. And sometimes we have to open up our voice to make things heard even if they do not end up getting passed.”

Pryor’s amendment was defeated, and the resolution, as proposed by the Committee on Social Justice and International Policy, was eventually passed 753-239. Deputies were told that a conference committee would aim to work out the disagreements between the versions of the resolutions passed by the two houses. If a compromise can be reached, a substitute resolution must be approved by both houses.

In presenting the committee’s decision to challenge the bishops’ removal of genocide from Resolution D056, the Rev. Adam Shoemaker, a committee member from South Carolina, appealed to the Department of Justice’s definition of genocide and the recent determination of the International Criminal Court to argue that that genocide was an appropriate descriptor for Israel’s actions toward Palestinians.

Several deputies supported making the bishops look at the resolution again.

“Frankly, if it needs to go back to the House of Bishops and they need to reconvene, then they need to do so; 38,000 people are now dead. If that is not worth spending a little extra time and intentionality in prayer, I don’t know what is,” said the Rev. Grant Mansfield of the Diocese of Newark.

Other deputies offered a floor amendment to accept the bishops’ version as the best outcome that realistically could be achieved. The Rev. Megan Castellan of Central New York said she was making that recommendation reluctantly, because “there is absolutely a genocide being perpetrated against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

But she said the bishops were unlikely to reverse course, and “it would be an awful betrayal of our responsibility as Christians to leave this place and remain silent on what is happening in Gaza, which would happen if we fail to concur or to pass this resolution.

Other deputies were clearly frustrated with the amount of time and seemingly trivial nature of the discussion.

“As far as I know, the governments of Israel and Hamas do not have people here waiting to hear what we have to say about these things,” said the Rev. Everett Lees of the Diocese of Oklahoma.

“Most of the things we commend and encourage do not need action from the House of Deputies. We have substantial issues in front of us about doctrine, evangelism, structure, and canons. We need to move on.”

When it came time to vote, 58 percent of the deputies voted against making the bishops consider the resolution again. Then the underlying resolution passed with 91 percent support.

Deputies also concurred with the House of Bishops in passing an additional resolution about the conflict in Gaza, D007.

Later in their evening session, the House of Deputies concurred with the bishops in passing Resolution A072, a revision of Article X, which defines the Book of Common Prayer.

Responding to a question the committee had been unable to resolve in its earlier deliberations, parliamentarian Christopher Hay ruled that the passage of A116, a first reading for adding gender-neutral marriage rites to the Book of Common Prayer, was in no way dependent on first passing A072.

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