This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

First for divestment

The resolution on Israel-Palestine that Mennonite Church Canada delegates passed July 9 stands in sharp contrast to Mennonite Church USA’s failure to approve a similar statement a year ago. The U.S. denomination should get another chance next summer to join a movement that puts economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land.

To catch up with the Canadians, U.S. delegates will need to resist their nation’s unquestioning support of Israel. If they take up this challenge, then both denominations will be able to present a united witness for justice in Israel-Palestine.

It was striking how decisively the Canadians approved an action U.S. delegates tabled. The central question for both was whether to support, in some form, the movement known as boycott, divest, sanction. The Canadian resolution affirms BDS in a specific way: It asks MC Canada entities to “avoid investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces and companies that are profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” It passed with only one dissenting vote.

The U.S. resolution shared the same broad intent: to mandate that church finances not be linked with injustice in Israel-Palestine. In some places it used stronger language, calling Israel’s military occupation of Palestine “sinful,” compared with the Canadians identifying it as a cause for “lament.” Reasons U.S. delegates cited for tabling the resolution included that its tone was too harsh and that it was one-sided because it did not address Palestinian wrongdoing. They replaced it with a shorter statement that sidestepped the BDS question but supported Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and committed to study the matter over the next two years.

Mennonites with experience in Israel-Palestine differ on whether BDS is effective and just. But supporters point to a fact that carries a lot of weight: Many Palestinian Christians are asking Western Christians to put economic pressure on Israel. Canadians viewed the resolution as an act of solidarity in response to a specific request from suffering Christians.

One of the contrasts between the U.S. and Canadian resolutions reflects the two nations’ differing political contexts: The Canadians are asking their government to put pressure on Israel through economic sanctions. It would be futile to suggest this in the U.S., which underwrites the Israeli military with $3.1 billion a year in aid.

The Canadian resolution recognizes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, with fault on multiple sides. This leads some Christians to resist taking a stand. They point out that both Israelis and Palestinians use violence and claim that the others’ violence justifies their own. Therefore, North American Christians who take the side of peace do not join either side exclusively. We support the portion of Palestinians and Israelis who hope to end the occupation without violence. Economic leverage is one tool of influence.

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