Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Church For Others

December 7, 2016

Media Contacts:
Ashleigh Zimmerman, Friends of Sabeel North America, (347) 564-8276, ashleigh@fosna.org
Dave Grishaw-Jones, Peace United Church of Christ, (831) 426-2010, dgj@peaceunited.org


Santa Cruz, CA -- Last night the congregation of Peace United Church of Christ voted to refrain from buying Hewlett-Packard (HP) products including printers, computers, and ink cartridges until HP companies cease to profit from Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. “We believe the church is called to stand with the vulnerable and take direction from the poor,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. David Grishaw-Jones.  “Tonight, we have done our best, in that spirit, to stand with the suffering and oppressed in Palestine and to take direction from their aspirations and dreams.”  In taking action, Peace United joins the Presbyterian Church, Unitarian Universalists, Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation, the Alliance of Baptists, and the church’s own denomination (the United Church of Christ), all of which have divested from HP companies at the denominational level. These organizations represent over 15,000 U.S. congregations and the potential for millions of dollars in buying power.

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) initiated the campaign, HP-Free Churches, in coordination with the Global Week of Action Against HP that saw over 150 actions take place in dozens of countries across six continents. “Many individual congregations are unaware that their denominations have divested from companies that profit off the Israeli occupation or that their purchases contradict their denominations’ divestments. We aim to fix that,” said Rochelle Gause, FOSNA’s national organizer.

HP companies supply Israel with the Biometric ID Card System used to restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement; provide servers for Israeli prisons where Palestinian children and political prisoners are held and torture is widespread; and manage the communications centers, information security, and user support of the Israeli navy as it collectively punishes the civilian population of Gaza through blockade. Similar to the way Polaroid was boycotted for providing the technology for the apartheid South Africa’s racist passbooks, HP companies were selected for their integral role in Israel’s notorious checkpoints and segregated ID system. After immense pressure, Polaroid ended its involvement with the South African regime in 1977. 

Peace United's action comes days after the U.S. Senate passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.  Lawyers with the civil rights group Palestine Legal were quick to challenge the new act's intent.  "This broad and vague definition of anti-Semitism would allow virtually any criticism of Israel to be labeled as anti-Semitic, including any speech deemed to 'demonize,' apply 'double standards' to, or 'delegitimize' Israel."  In an editorial on December 6, 2016, the Los Angeles Times noted that the act is "fraught with 1st Amendment problems."  The Times' board went on to ask: "[I]s it necessarily anti-Semitic to harshly criticize the Jewish state or to argue that it should be replaced by something else, such as a secular, binational nation?"

Grishaw-Jones insisted that Peace United's action Tuesday is aimed at developing and securing a sustainable peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.  "We reject the idea that the HP boycott is anti-Semitic," he said.  "It is, instead, a nonviolent effort to pressure the Israeli government to negotiate in good faith toward Palestinian sovereignty and statehood.  Thus far, they've not done that."

Grishaw-Jones hopes that other churches will take similar action, and that this nonviolent movement will turn the tide for justice and peace, for Palestinians and Israelis alike.  “As we did with allies in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa and the Grape Boycott in California,” said Grishaw-Jones, “we act now to show that churches and synagogues can and do make a difference, when we step out of our safe routines and onto the path of courage and justice.  That’s where we belong, on that path.”  Already, leaders in other denominations are moving in this direction.  "Thanks to FOSNA, we have a campaign that is easy for United Methodists to support locally at their churches and in their conferences. Participating in the HP-Free Churches campaign provides another way to help us educate church members about the horrific human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians as we take concrete action to help curb those abuses," says Lisa Bender, chair of the Boycott & Divestment Committee for United Methodists for Kairos Response.

“Many of my colleagues are intimidated and have been told that once they take a step toward Palestinian liberation through ending our own complicity with boycotts like this, they can no longer be a strong and protective presence in their own community regarding anti-Semitism. I think that’s wrong. We can do both, and we have to do both,” said Grishaw-Jones on Monday night. The widespread success of the Global Week of Action Against HP is a testament to the fact that many local communities are responding to the Palestinian call to join the nonviolent Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement.

Grishaw-Jones noted that churches have a spiritual and moral responsibility to act in concert with oppressed communities and to learn from them:  “Tonight, with this pledge, we say a prayer for Palestinians and Israelis who struggle every day for peace, who pay a price for their courage, who demonstrate the power of nonviolence in the way they live their lives.   These are our heroes.  We do this for them.” 

For information on how to help your church make the HP-FREE CHURCH pledge, connect with FOSNA here: http://www.fosna.org/free-your-church-hp

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) is a community of faith in action, called to build for our children a future in which violence is not an everyday concept. The Sabeel movement, of which FOSNA is a part, was initiated by Palestinian Christians and promotes theological, moral, and legal principles for peace in the Holy Land as outlined in the Kairos Palestine document. FOSNA challenges distortions of the Bible and theologies that lead to violence and racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and condemns all acts of violence, whether committed by states, individuals, or groups.

Peace United Church of Christ is an open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, committed to a lively witness of peacemaking and service in the local community and beyond.