In January 2016, the pension board of the United Methodist Church decided to divest from Israeli banks and a real estate company due to their financing of settlement construction in Palestinian territory.4 In 2015, the United Church of Christ overwhelmingly approved a resolution divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands along with, a boycott of products from Israeli settlements.5 In 2014 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted at its general assembly to divest from three companies that profit from the occupation and in 2012 they implemented a boycott of Israeli settlement products. 6 Friends Fiduciary Corporation, the socially responsible investment firm serving over 300 Quaker meetings, as well as the American Friends Service Committee, also divested from companies benefitting from the occupation.7
Israeli governmental policy proponents, fearing the growing BDS movement, have launched a well-funded campaign 8 to suppress BDS. During the last two years, “anti-BDS” bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress and several state legislatures.9 Legislation introduced in New York, California, Florida, Iowa and other states would prohibit investing in or contracting with organizations that boycott Israel and “its territories.” These laws may threaten public funding for social services such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters provided by churches that have passed BDS resolutions.
These bills attack a non-violent, time-tested, and constitutionally protected approach to achieving peace. The First Amendment protects more than “speech”: the Supreme Court has long recognized that it also protects expressive conduct. In NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., the Supreme Court found that “the boycott clearly involved constitutionally protected activity” through which the NAACP “sought to bring about political, social, and economic change.”10
We people of faith, representing various Christian traditions, are deeply concerned about this wave of state and national legislation: It threatens our constitutional right to engage in economic advocacy to end the Israeli occupation and uphold fundamental Palestinian rights. We urge our representatives to exercise their considerable political power to halt these misguided legislative efforts and to uphold the First Amendment rights of their constituencies.11
1. Historically, faith communities have used boycotts and divestment to change policies that are morally wrong or in violation of universally accepted human rights standards.
a. Gandhi employed a boycott of British-made goods during the nonviolent struggle for Indian independence.
b. The U.S. civil rights movement made heavy use of boycotts, including the Montgomery bus boycott and boycotts of segregated stores during the 1963 Birmingham campaign, which played a major role in the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Churches and other faith communities played a key role in these efforts.
c. During the Vietnam War, faith communities took part in a boycott of products, such as Dow Chemical’s Saran Wrap, made by napalm producers.
d. Churches played a key role in the grape boycott organized by the United Farm Workers of America under the leadership of Cesar Chavez.
e. Many faith groups continue their participation in the boycott of Nestle products due to the company’s questionable marketing of baby formula in developing countries.
f. Faith communities participated in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions to end apartheid in South Africa.
g. Several churches have resolved to divest from companies doing business in Sudan and Burma/Myanmar.
h. Faith communities, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, the United Church ofChrist, the Disciples of Christ, the American Friends Service Committee, the National Council of Churches, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, supported the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in its successful boycott of Taco Bell to win a wage increase for tomato pickers in South Florida.
i. Many faith communities embrace boycotts to oppose oppressive or violent labor practices, such as sweat shops, and to promote fair trade products as ethical alternatives. http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2702#sthash.LJMFcoaq.dpuf
2. “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS.” The BDS National Committee. http://bdsmovement.net/call
3. “Kairos Document.” Kairos Palestine. http://www.kairospalestine.ps/content/kairos-document
4. “United Methodist Kairos Response Welcomes Pension Fund Exclusion and Divestment of Israeli Banks.” https://www.kairosresponse.org/pr_umc_divests_israeli_banks_jan2016.html
5. “UCC votes for divestment, boycott of companies that profit from occupation of Palestinian territories.” http://www.ucc.org/news_general_synod_israel_palestine_resolution_06302015
6. “221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Votes to Endorse Selective Divestment from Israeli Occupation.” http://www.israelpalestinemissionnetwork.org/main/component/content/article/18/278-divestment-vote-press-release
7. “Quakers Divest from Hewlett Packard and Veolia Environment” http://quakerpiag.blogspot.com/2012/09/quakers-divest-from-hewlett-packard-and.html
9. “Lawmakers take aim at your #Right2BDS” http://palestinelegal.org/news/2016/2/17/lawmakers-take-aim-right2bds
10. 458 U.S. 886 (1982)
11. “Boycott and Divestment, Frequently Asked Legal Questions” http://static1.squarespace.com/static/548748b1e4b083fc03ebf70e/t/55a006a3e4b01f5eb3cfd32e/1436550819443/Legal+FAQ+BDS+March+2015.pdf