Christian leaders, organizations send message to Congress: NO to anti-BDS bill

Christian leaders, organizations send message to Congress: NO to anti-BDS bill

Activists in Baltimore rally in support of the United Church of Christ’s resolution on Israel’s abuse of Palestinian children in military detention, July 2017. (via Twitter)

20 Christian leaders representing 17 national organizations send open letter to Congress, opposing anti-BDS legislation

A letter published one day before the full page statement from dozens of faith-based organizations published in the Kansas City Star.

November 6, 2017

Dear Members of Congress,

We write as U.S. Christian churches and organizations committed to justice and peace in the Middle East. This commitment stems from our connections to the Biblical and historical places of our faith; our continuing partnership and engagement with churches and other religious institutions there; and our theological understanding of peace with justice, which compels us to support nonviolent means to end the 50-year-old occupation and support equal rights for all people—Israelis and Palestinians alike.

We are deeply concerned by the introduction of the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” in the Senate (S.720) and in the House (H.R.1697). This legislation, if adopted, would put legal obstacles in the way of nonviolent peaceful action meant to bring about social change, and would legislate against the freedom to make choices in the stewardship of our financial resources. The bills also conflate Israel and the settlements, erasing the important distinction between Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. They further imply that opposition to Israel’s practices in the territories is the same as being anti-Israel. We are troubled by the bills’ intent to penalize or criminalize the use of economic measures as a legitimate means of opposing policies that inhibit human rights, in this case, of the Palestinians.

We are concerned by any legislation that suppresses legitimate criticism of public policy, and that restricts freedom of expression and our ability to determine our own witness through investment and selective purchasing practices. While we may not be of one mind about which measures are most effective, we collectively affirm and defend the right of churches and organizations to use economic measures in the specific case of Israel-Palestine. This is consistent with how churches and church-related organizations have employed economic measures as nonviolent tactics in many instances of seeking justice and peace throughout history.

As churches and church-related organizations, we all share a hope and desire for an end to occupation, an end to violence and terrorism, and for equal rights for all people. If our respective denominations and organizations, through debate and reflection, adopt policies that employ economic leverage to advance these policy objectives, as we do with many other policy objectives, we believe it is our right to do so. It is an assertion of our right as stewards of our financial resources to spend and invest according to our theological and moral conviction, expressed in our respective denominational or organizational policies.

In this case, our assertion of this right is an effort to change unjust Israeli policy toward Palestinians, not to delegitimize the State of Israel, nor to marginalize or isolate our Jewish neighbors, or their enterprises. Our choices to purchase and invest responsibly, and to advocate with corporations or governments, are motivated by our firm commitments to justice and peace for all people, without discrimination or exclusion.

As churches and church-related organizations, we reject any efforts by the state to curtail these rights. We urge you to oppose the proposed legislation, and thus support the rights of individuals and institutions to spend and invest in accordance with their faith, values, and policies.

Sincerely,

Joyce Ajlouny
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Eli S. McCarthy, PhD
Director of Justice and Peace
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Brother Larry Schatz, FSC
De La Salle Christian Brothers of the Midwest

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
Co-Executive
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. James Moos
Co-Executive
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Gerry Lee
Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

J Ron Byler Executive
Director
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Ervin Stutzman
Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

Nathan Hosler
Director
Office of Public Witness
Church of the Brethren

Marie Dennis and Bishop Kevin Dowling, CSsR
Co-Presidents
Pax Christi International

Sister Patricia Chappell
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA

J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Donald J. Poest
Interim General Secretary
Reformed Church in America

Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ


Kansas City Star Ad, November 9, 2017

Laws that penalize support for Palestinian human rights violate Americans’ rights

We are members of faith communities in the United States whose congregations or denominations have adopted resolutions to boycott products made in Israeli settlements—built on occupied Palestinian lands in violation of international law and longstanding official U.S. policy—or have implemented a screen to divest from companies that profit from the 50-year-old Israeli military occupation of Palestine. These resolutions affirm our commitment to a just peace for all Palestinians and Israelis.

We are alarmed by legislation recently passed in a number of states penalizing  participation in the nonviolent, grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights and by similar legislation that is proposed in the U.S. Congress. In August, the Kansas State Department of Education used the state’s anti-BDS legislation to bar a member of the Mennonite church, a math teacher and curriculum coach in Wichita, Kansas, from participating in a program to train other math teachers.

This is a dangerous precedent that threatens to extend repression of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule by muzzling the right of Americans to free speech.

Accordingly, the ACLU has filed suit against the Kansas Commissioner of Education in defense of this school teacher and her right to boycott.

Anti-BDS laws that have already been enacted in several states and similar legislation that is proposed in Congress effectively penalize actions taken by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, the Mennonite Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and other denominations; and tens of thousands of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and secular Americans who support boycotts and divestment aimed at ending Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.

As faith leaders, we have long used the nonviolent instruments of boycott and divestment in our work for justice and peace. These economic measures have proven to be powerful tools for social change, from strengthening labor rights for farm workers to ending apartheid in South Africa. As has been warned by the ACLU and other civil liberties groups, anti-BDS legislation is an extremely grave attack on free speech that threatens the use of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions for other peace and human justice causes.

WE CALL ON ALL AMERICANS to join us and the ACLU in defending our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Urge state legislators and members of Congress to reject anti-BDS legislation as an infringement on the rights of American citizens.

SIGNATORIES: DENOMINATIONS
Alliance of Baptists
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
The United Church of Christ

SIGNATORIES: ORGANIZATIONS
American Friends Service Committee
Israel/Palestine Mission Network, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Mennonite Palestine Israel Network
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Quaker Palestine Israel Network
Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East
United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network
United Methodists for Kairos Response

ENDORSEMENTS
American Muslims for Palestine
Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy
Christians Witnessing for Palestine
Christian-Jewish Allies for a Just Peace in Israel-Palestine
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (Catholic)
Delaware Episcopalians for Middle East Peace
Disciples Palestine Israel Network
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network
Freedom2Boycott, Maryland
Friends of Sabeel – Colorado
Friends of Sabeel North America
Indiana Center for Middle East Peace
Interfaith Alliance for Peace in the Holy Land, Tampa Bay, Florida
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council
Kairos USA
Middle East Task Force of the Chicago Presbytery
NorCal Friends of Sabeel
Palestine-Israel Action Group, Ann Arbor Quakers
Palestinian American Christian Advocacy
Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace
UCC Central Atlantic Conference Palestine Israel Network
United Methodists’ Holy Land Task Force, California-Pacific Conference
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace
Western District Task Force on Israel- Palestine, Mennonite Church USA