Listen: Episcopal Church votes to refuse profits from Israeli crimes

On this episode of The Electronic Intifada Podcast: The Episcopal Church takes action to support Palestinian rights; Germany implements municipal and national crackdowns on Palestine activism.

The Episcopal Church has formally adopted an investment screen to avoid profiting from human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The church, which has more than 3 million members in the United States, overwhelmingly passed the measure on 13 July at its general convention in Austin, Texas.

According to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship/Palestine-Israel Network, the passage of the resolution followed a week of passionate debate.

The resolution “marks a new direction for the Episcopal Church, which now joins nearly a dozen other Christian denominations … which have all taken economic action to avoid being complicit in human rights violations and injustice in the Holy Land,” says the peace fellowship.

The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The church also adopted resolutions to safeguard the rights of Palestinian children and Palestinians in Gaza, support Palestinian self-determination and to call for continued US aid to Palestinian refugees.

Another resolution demands equal access to Jerusalem and opposes the Trump administration’s move of the US embassy to the city.

“People who have organized within the church for years have seen the sea change,” Dalit Baum, economic action director of the American Friends Service Committee, told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

“We could see how people are stepping up to testify in favor of Palestinian rights when in past meetings, they were against them,” Baum said.

After the vote to approve the investment screen passed, church members were crying with joy and relief, added Jennifer Bing, director of the group’s Palestine-Israel Program.

Bing also works with the AFSC’s No Way to Treat a Child campaign, which presses to end Israel’s military detention and torture of Palestinian children.

When church members heard testimonies about the detention of Palestinian children, the demolitions of Palestinian homes and the unbearable conditions in Gaza, Bing said, “all that sets the stage for [the question]: do you want to be complicit in these actions?”

People of faith and those who have a social justice orientation “see those connections and say no,” Bing told The Electronic Intifada Podcast. “This is not the right thing to do, it shouldn’t be supported by our government with military aid, we shouldn’t play such a negative role in perpetuating these criminal actions.”

During the week of the convention, Bing and Baum joined a mass protest organized by Episcopalians outside the T. Don Hutto detention facility near Austin, where women seeking asylum have been detained by the Trump administration via border and immigration agencies.

Dozens of women inside were recently separated from their children under a US border policy that has become a trademark of the Trump administration.

While the protest took place, a small group of activists walked to get closer to the entrance of the detention center and started to sing, pray and call out “ ‘We see you’ and ‘we are here,’” Bing said.

“In the windows, you could see the hands of the women inside pressed against the window,” she added, “That’s America today, right?”

Bing said that she remembered standing outside the Ofer prison and military court near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian children are held and charged in similar ways.

At the Hutto detention center, not only was the sentiment similar, but “there are the same companies that profit” from both US and Israeli systems, she said.

The action at the Texas detention center “was very, very powerful,” Baum said. “Sometimes I feel like we are not in an ‘intersectional’ struggle – people use that word a lot. It’s not. It’s the exact same struggle.”

Fighting for free speech in Germany

In Germany, human rights activists are fighting parliamentary and municipal crackdowns on Palestine rights activism and restrictions on speech critical of Israel.

In January of this year, the German parliament approved measures intended to combat anti-Semitism. “Yet a closer look at the measures indicates that a key target is the BDS movement,” according to Annette Groth, a former German lawmaker.

Supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in Berlin are challenging a motion that was recently adopted by the city’s government describing the boycott movement as anti-Semitic. The motion also conflates criticism of Israeli state policy with anti-Semitism.

Because of legislated threats, activists, including anti-Zionist Jews, are increasingly afraid to speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights, a Berlin-based researcher told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

In a post on its Facebook page following the passage of the municipal resolution, Jewish Anti-Fascist Action Berlin said that the resolution’s “vague and general language” makes it possible “to attack and discriminate against any Palestinian and many left-wing Jews and Israelis who criticize Israel’s ongoing war crimes or reject for numerous reasons the idea of a religiously or ethnically defined Jewish state.”

Noting the large Palestinian and leftist Jewish populations in Berlin, the group said that this resolution “will affect both of these communities, although Palestinians clearly will, as usual and by no coincidence, pay the highest price.”

In June, Germany’s Ruhrtriennale festival reversed an earlier decision to disinvite the acclaimed Scotland-based group Young Fathers because it had refused to renounce its support for BDS and Palestinian rights.

The group was targeted after withdrawing from last year’s Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin over the festival’s sponsorship by the Israeli embassy.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has called for a boycott of this year’s Pop-Kultur Festival in mid-August in protest of the Israeli embassy’s continued sponsorship.

To date, six international artists have canceled in support of the boycott call.

This week, 40 Jewish groups worldwide released a statement in support of the BDS campaign.

The groups state that the effort by official bodies to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism “undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against anti-Semitism.”

It also “serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law,” the groups add.

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Music: “Boycott Israel” by Immortal Technique, Don Martin, Tumi, Eltipo Este and Tonto Noiza

Theme music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).