The United Church of Christ, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, overwhelmingly approved a resolution Tuesday calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation or control of Palestinian territories, and a boycott of products from Israeli settlements.
Palestinians and their supporters welcomed the resolution, describing it as an indication that world opinion is isolating Israel. The Israeli government and its backers sharply criticized the church, describing the resolution as biased, deceptive and damaging.
While the resolution was not expected to have any economic effect on Israel, advocates said it was the moral weight of the measure, addressing one of the world’s most intractable and polarizing conflicts, that was significant.
Approval came at the church’s general synod in Cleveland, where delegates voted 508 to 124 in favor of divestment and boycott, with 38 abstentions. It was one of two resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict debated by the church, which has about one million members and more than 5,000 congregations nationwide.
The second resolution, which called the actions of Israel against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip acts of apartheid, received 51 percent of the vote — 312 for, 295 against and 31 abstentions — failing to gain the two-thirds majority required for passage. Nonetheless, the slim majority was regarded by supporters of Israel as troubling.
Passage of that measure would have made the church the first in the United States to officially describe Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians as apartheid.
The church’s boycott resolution reflects what supporters call the growing momentum of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, which seeks to pressure Israel economically over the long-paralyzed Middle East peace process.
The church said in a statement that it “considers Tuesday’s actions a next step in the U.C.C.’s involvement with peace in the Middle East.”
The Rev. John Deckenback, conference minister of the church’s Central Atlantic Conference, which submitted the boycott resolution, called the outcome a reflection of the church’s “spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Religious activists in the denomination have been among the most outspoken in recent years over what they regard as Israel’s unjustified repression of Palestinians and their aspirations for an independent state. The activists have deplored militant attacks on Israelis and said they supported Israel’s right to exist but disagreed with its policies.
The boycott resolution was the second such measure passed by the church in the past decade but was considerably stronger and more specific than the first resolution. The first resolution, passed in 2005, broadly called for the use of economic leverage, including boycotts and adjustments in foreign aid.
The Israeli government, which has become increasingly concerned by the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, reacted swiftly, describing the church’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as distorted and historically biased against Israel.
“The U.C.C. resolutions on the Middle East conflict have reflected the most radical politics for more than a decade, and in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “People of faith ought to be acting to help Israel and the Palestinians to renew efforts to achieve peace, rather than endlessly demonizing one party in the conflict — in our view, the aggrieved party.”
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