Prominent, radically anti-Israel Episcopalians are urging their denomination to adopt a more aggressive stance towards Israel, including divestment. The Episcopal Church largely has stood back from some of the more stridently negative policies towards Israel adopted by other old-line Protestant denominations. It has avoided serious consideration of anti-Israel divestment. And its officials did not endorse an ecumenical plea with other denominations last October asking the U.S. Congress to reconsider U.S. military aid to Israel, a plea prompting major Jewish groups to cancel scheduled interfaith dialogue with those denominations.
As reported by Episcopal News Service, the anti-Israel “Episcopal Voices of Conscience” drafted a letter dated on Martin Luther King’s birthday as a self-proclaimed “Prophetic Challenge” to their denomination’s executive council. “Just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of Apartheid, so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa,” their plea began. They lavishly quoted from Martin Luther King to justify their “call for justice on the land where Jesus lived his earthly ministry,” ignoring that King himself strongly supported Israel. Interestingly, the “Voices of Conscience” themselves evidently had not yet publicized their letter. So seemingly the Episcopal Church leadership chose to preempt it with their own response.
The letter urges that the Episcopal Church “immediately move forward with our church’s corporate engagement policy so that our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation.” Signers include former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, Washington, D.C. National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall, and Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first openly homosexual bishop who in retirement is now a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. Although not Episcopalian, retired South Africa Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a renowned critic of Israel, is also a signer.
Besides “corporate engagement,” these anti-Israel Episcopal prophets want their denomination, after having been “woefully missing,” to join the Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist and United Church of Christ officials who asked Congress in October to reconsider U.S. military aid to Israel. “The _truth_ that is so readily seen worldwide, except among our nation’s leaders, is that Israel imposes a matrix of control over the occupied Palestinian territories, locating Jewish settlements on prime Palestinian land, building segregated roads forbidden to Palestinians to connect the settlers to Israel proper, erecting a wall that causes havoc in the daily lives of Palestinians and serves as another pretext to occupy yet more land,” the distressed Episcopalians, plus Tutu, explained. “We see check points that are used to control the movements of people on their own land where tactics of bullying, intimidation, and detention are practiced; and where the demolition of homes and the uprooting of olive tree orchards are commonplace causing further humiliation and insult, along with the destruction of livelihoods.” They also complained that “once Palestinian East Jerusalem [is] being subsumed through Israel’s settlement policy,” while the “teeming population of Gaza [is] held under confinement on land, in the air, and at sea.” Nowhere do they admit that Israel is surrounded by adversaries, many of whom openly call for its destruction. Nor do they fault any Palestinians for inflexibility towards Israel.
For this crowd of dissident Episcopalians, it is all quite simple, as “Israel is the oppressor, and the Palestinians the oppressed.” They fault the U.S. for “irrational bias” towards Israel in “its blind support of an immense injustice perpetrated every day on the Palestinian people.” Oh, they do reject violence from “either side.” And they affirm Israel’s right to live in peace, but only through the “prism of justice as we believe Dr. King would insist.” They also affirm Palestinian “non-violent resistance to the occupation just as African Americans resisted the inhumanity of Jim Crow and segregation.” After all, just like Martin Luther King, Palestinians “have a dream” too, they surmise. Except that unlike King, who dreamed that black and white children would someday hold hands, many Palestinians and their supporters throughout the Middle East and beyond dream that Israeli children will either be incinerated or driven into the sea.
In response to the anti-Israel plea, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori told Episcopal News Service: “We cannot build a lasting peace by directing or imposing strategies on others.” Evidently this comment was her polite Episcopal way of dismissing the anti-Israel plea. She publicly opposed divestment last year before the church’s governing General Convention, which, as the Episcopal News Service cited, “rejected boycott, divestment, and sanctions by an overwhelming margin.” Another Episcopal Church official is quoted noting that the church’s House of Bishops rejected a “trajectory toward supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.” Also cited is a 2005 Episcopal Church report that rejected comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa.
So good for the Episcopal Church leadership that is resisting the harsh demands of radical anti-Israel activists. Those activists claimed that pro-Israel America is living in a “bubble of unreality.” But they are themselves inside a surreal bubble, where amid all the turmoil and repression of the Middle East, only democratic Israel is the villain.
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