Old Lyme church takes stance for Palestine

Old Lyme - After combing through its endowment to ensure it wasn't investing in "companies profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian Territories by the state of Israel," the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme is advocating for others to follow suit.

The local church initiated a resolution, adopted by the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ last week, to encourage churches to divest from companies which it characterizes as profiting in that manner.

The church also pushes for members to boycott goods "produced by Israeli companies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" and to urge Congress to investigate whether U.S. military aid given to Israel is in violation of American laws.

By approving the resolution at its annual meeting last Friday, the Connecticut Conference becomes the fifth conference of the United Church of Christ nationwide to adopt a resolution calling for divestments, said Rev. Steven Jungkeit of the First Congregational Church. The United Church of Christ's General Synod is slated to consider the resolution this summer.

Jungkeit said the church's focus on Palestine emerged from discussions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Church members believed there was a need for more interfaith conversations and outreach to Jewish and Muslim neighbors. During these discussions, he said, "it became clear that the issue everyone was skirting around, but nobody wanted to talk about, was Palestine," he said.

He said members of the congregation traveling to the West Bank witnessed people "suffering from the effects of an illegal occupation," conditions which he called "heartbreaking, devastating and appalling."

"We've been working for a long time to raise consciousness about that," he said.

Jungkeit said the resolution does not stand in opposition to Israel or Israeli companies, but represents a specific proposal to divest from companies attempting to "profit from the occupation," including Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard Development Co. LP, G4S and Veolia Environment. The product boycott includes Ahava skin care products, SodaStream products and Hadiklaim dates.

Jungkeit said the First Congregational Church, as well as the Connecticut Conference, has analyzed its endowments for such investments, but he could not speak for all other Congregational churches.

Conference Minister Kent Siladi said about 155 of the conference's 240 churches attended the annual meeting last Friday in Cheshire, where a resolution to "end mass incarceration for non-violent offenses" also passed. After deliberations on Friday and four prior meetings to discuss proposed resolutions, an estimated two-thirds of the 430 delegates approved the resolution proposed by the Old Lyme church.

"There was ample discussion time," he said, which included various opinions. He added that the resolution does not represent "unanimity of support" from the conference's members.

The resolution prompted The Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut to issue a press release Tuesday that expressed its disappointment.

"This is a completely one-sided resolution that places the onus for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entirely on Israel," Gary Jones, the Anti-Defamation League's Connecticut regional director, said in the news release. "While it will have no impact on the Israeli economy, the language in the resolution demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

"In addition, boycotts and other efforts that seek to blame one party exclusively do not encourage positive discussion among the parties involved in the conflict, nor are they conducive to promoting the peace and reconciliation that most UCC members would like to see. Rather, they tend to inhibit any sort of purposeful progress or dialogue," Jones said in the statement. "For many years, that particular church has devoted enormous energy and resources to propagating hostile and skewed perspectives on Israel..."

"There will always be folks out there who are resistant to this kind of action," Jungkeit said in response to ADL's criticism of the resolution. "We are not against Israel, we are not against Israelis, but we do want to see an end to the occupation."

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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