Bishops Say No to Investment Screens in the Holy Land

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The House of Bishops Wednesday defeated a resolution that would have established “a human rights criteria social investment screen” to guide the church’s investment in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

On a vote of 78-48, the bishops defeated Resolution D019, Ending Church Complicity in Israel and Palestine. The resolution sought to “develop a human rights social criteria investment screen based on the social teachings of this Church and 70 years of Church policy on Israel/Palestine.”

The House of Deputies had passed the resolution on Monday.

Issues relating to Israel and Palestine have been especially contentious in recent years, and after the 2015 General Convention, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings appointed a working group to propose new procedures to facilitate a deeper consideration of the issues by both houses.

The group recommended that at this convention, the House of Deputies receive resolutions regarding Israel and Palestine first during a special order of business to insure the fullest possible deliberation of the issues.

The deputies had their debate, but the bishops, clearly uncomfortable with putting economic pressure on the Israeli government, had the last word.

“This is a divestment resolution,” said retired Bishop Ed Little, who said divestment in the Israeli economy was misguided. “This would remove us from our role as peacemakers” in Israel and Palestine, he said.

Bishop Gayle Harris, suffragan of Massachusetts, disagreed with Little’s description of the church’s role in the Holy Land. “This resolution only asks us to recognize our complicity in empowering apartheid to happen,” she said.

Bishop Scott Barker of Nebraska was one of several bishops who said he favored positive investment in the region and would oppose any resolution that would sanction “Israel alone.”

Opponents of the resolution were promoting a “false equivalency,” said Bishop Marc Andrus of California, who supported the resolution. “There is no equivalency in the number of lives lost by Palestinians and Israelis,” he said, citing figures that Palestinian deaths far outnumbered those of Israelis during the conflict to date.

The working group had recommended that no group “purport to speak” for Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and  the Middle East.

But Bishop Peter Eaton of Southeast Florida told the house that bishops in the Middle East had not asked for a resolution like D016 and feared it would harm their ministries.

After the vote was taken, Harris cautioned the house against attributing positions to bishops in the Middle East when they had refrained from public statements themselves. She said Dawani requires a residency permit to live in Jerusalem and is not free to speak.

Dawani visited General Convention but made no public statements.