Jewish group condemns United Church of Christ resolution on Israel, Palestinians

The American Jewish Committee took offense to the liberal Protestant denomination, which called the oppression of the Palestinian people a sin.

Palestinians wave national flags in front of the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 21, 2021, as a cease-fire took effect between Hamas and Israel after an 11-day war. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

(RNS) — A Jewish advocacy group has condemned a resolution adopted at a meeting of the United Church of Christ on Sunday (July 18) that calls the continued oppression of the Palestinian people a “sin.”

The American Jewish Committee denounced the UCC resolution, a “Declaration for a Just Peace Between Palestine and Israel,” saying the measure “demonizes Israel, fails to offer a credible path to Israeli-Palestinian peace, and undermines advances in Christian-Jewish relations.”

The condemnation is the latest skirmish between Jewish advocacy groups and liberal Protestant denominations, including the United Church of Christ. Six years ago, the UCC, a denomination of about 800,000 members, drew the ire of Jewish groups and the Israeli government when it approved a resolution calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and a boycott of products from Israeli settlements.

The latest resolution is part of an increasing chorus of criticism aimed at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. On Monday, Ben & Jerry’s said it would stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem, saying the sales in the territories sought by the Palestinians are “inconsistent with our values.”

The West Bank and east Jerusalem were captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two territories.

American Jews have also grown increasingly critical over Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, including its expansive settlement construction. A survey commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that 34% of American Jews agreed “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the United States.” Some 25% agreed “Israel is an apartheid state” and 22% agreed “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.”

The UCC’s most recent resolution, adopted at its General Synod by 83% of its delegates voting online, is more restrained than previous resolutions.

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The Rev. Allie Perry, who chairs the UCC Palestine Israel Network steering committee, said the resolution is a theological response that reaffirms the denomination’s commitment to human rights, equal rights and international law.

People pass a rubble heap beside a building previously destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

People pass a rubble heap beside a building previously destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It was drafted as a response to “A Cry for Hope,” a Palestinian Christian document adopted by a coalition of concerned Christians from different churches.

“It’s a theological document,” said Perry. “It grounds us in our faith with the conviction that all people carry the image of God.”

The resolution, adopted 462-78 with 18 abstentions, reads: “We affirm that the continued oppression of the Palestinian people remains, after more than five decades of oppression of the Palestinian people, a matter of theological urgency and represents a sin in violation of the message of the biblical prophets and the Gospel, and that all efforts to defend or legitimate the oppression of the Palestinian people, whether passive or active, through silence, word, or deed by the Christian community, represent a fundamental denial of the Gospel.”

The AJC has sharply criticized several Protestant denominations, most notably The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for what it calls “anti-Israel resolutions and initiatives.” Presbyterians like other mainline Protestant groups have expressed varying levels of support for the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to mobilize international economic and political pressure on Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians. 

The new UCC resolution, which also refers to Israel’s “apartheid system of laws and legal procedures” and demands an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, was one-sided, according to the AJC.

“It pretends there aren’t two parties to the conflict,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations. “That is not the way to get to peace. Peace is between two parties contending over a piece of land they both claim.”

Marans also said he was concerned by the denomination’s use of the word sin, which he said has not served Jewish-Christian relations well in the past.

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