The Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ is meeting this weekend in Pendleton, Oregon. One of the resolutions under debate will offer the question as to whether or not the United Church of Christ should divest from certain companies in Israel. I will vote no.
We should all approach the Israel / Palestine conflict with a measure of humility. Without question, I recognize that this resolution is brought forward to push forward a human rights agenda. As J Street and other Jewish groups have noted, the current Israeli government has offered an agenda that will bring peace to no one. Israel must stop their settlement expansions, re-commit to a two-state solution, protect the human rights of the Palestinian people, and conform to international norms of human rights.
Human Rights Watch has noted that in the most recent conflict, as in others, Israel may have committed war crimes. The same charge has been brought by HRW against Hamas. The international community should investigate all such possible crimes.
Divestment of UCC resources will have no practical impact. It will not force Israel to the peace table. In fact, the opposite is true. Interfaith relations will be damaged. Dialogue, which is so needed right now in the interfaith world, will stop.
This issue has been debated within the national setting of the UCC for years. A resolution to consider divestment was set aside in favor of a resolution calling for further study on the issue. That step never really occurred and very few churches in the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ can claim any direct knowledge of the complex issues involved with this issue – though some of our members have been to the region and have legitimate concerns about the suffering of the Palestinian people. I applaud bringing these concerns forward.
Regardless, I would urge the United Church of Christ to find just peace steps that continue to press for human rights while keeping the UCC involved and active in interfaith debates. Investing in businesses in Gaza, which our investment board has already done, is one good example. We should more actively send delegations from the UCC to Israel / Palestine to learn from those there and to press all sides to address human rights. At the same time, we must continue advocacy efforts that press the United States to put further pressure on Israel.
Symbolic actions can sometimes offer a powerful prophetic witness. In this case, voting “yes” may make us feel like good human rights advocates but the impact of this largely symbolic vote will only make interfaith peace making a more difficult task.