Free speech with regard to boycott, divestment, and sanctions



Resolved, That the 167th Convention of the Diocese of California reiterates the principles of Resolution 7, Promoting Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine, adopted by the 165th Convention, that urged The Episcopal Church to divest from any investments it might have in certain companies whose products and/or actions support the infrastructure of the occupation and urged Episcopalians to boycott products that are manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; 

Resolved, That the Convention considers such peaceful activities to be clearly protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and equivalent provisions of the Constitution of California and other States; 

Resolved, That this Convention condemns the legislative and/or executive actions proposed or adopted in many States that seek to prohibit public agencies and pensions from investing in or doing business with pro-boycott companies and institutions, or which may subject such companies and institutions to costly legal investigations; and

Resolved, That this Convention urges the repeal of recently enacted AB 2844, which is likely to  spur costly and unnecessary civil and criminal investigations against companies and institutions that have adopted BDS policies, and it calls upon the courts to protect the free speech rights of all Californians by enjoining it from ever taking effect.


The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement began in 2005, when representatives of Palestinian Civil Society called upon “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against the government of Israel similar to those applied to apartheid South Africa until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law. And, in their 2009 Kairos Document, the leaders of the Palestinian Christian community urged the international community to “put pressure on Israel and take legal measures in order to oblige its government to end its oppression and disregard for international law.”

In 2014, the people of the Diocese of California responded to these calls by adopting the resolution that “encourage[d] the Church to divest from any investments it might have in Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, whose products and/or actions support the infrastructure of the occupation” and “encourage[d] Episcopalians to boycott products, such as Soda Stream, that are manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” (165th Convention, Resolution 7)

Thanks largely to the economic pressure generated by the BDS movement, G4S has ceased its operations in Israel related to running prisons and checkpoints and Soda Stream has pulled out of the West Bank.

As similar actions have been approved on the national level by the United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists, and others, opponents of BDS have sought state legislation that would label support for such measures anti-Semitic and would penalize supportive companies and organizations with the loss of state contracts and assistance. Several states have passed such legislation, or adopted it by executive order.  

The focus of this resolution calls attention to the fact that the California Legislature has recently passed one such measure, AB 2844.

As far back as the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Supreme Court has consistently considered boycotts protected speech under the First Amendment.  

Boycotts and disinvestment have a long and honorable history of achieving positive action through peaceful means. In addition to Montgomery, there have been the 1965-66 grape boycott in the Central Valley that birthed the UFW, the South Africa boycott which The Episcopal Church supported (Res. 1985-D073) in 1985, and, most recently, the boycott of North Carolina stemming from its anti-LGBT legislation.

The current anti-BDS legislation at the state level is opposed by, among others, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Addressing such legislation on June 28, 2016, the World Council of Churches not only expressed “its concern regarding efforts in legislative bodies throughout the world to silence and penalize calls for non-violent measures to resist illegal occupation, but rather reiterates its support for freedom of expression in all contexts and non-violent means for transforming conflicts.” This Diocese should do no less.  

Submitted by: The Rev. Vicki Gray, Deacon, Christ the Lord, Pinole.

Endorsed by: The Rev. Susan Champion, Rector, Christ the Lord Pinole; Janet Chisholm, Delegate, All Souls, Berkeley; The Rev. David Ota, Rector, St. Ambrose, Foster City; The Rev. Katherine Salinaro, Deacon, School for Deacons, Berkeley; Elsa Stevens, Delegate, Christ the Lord Pinole, The Rev. Margaret Trezevant, Deacon, St. Luke’s, San Francisco; Mary-Jane Wood, St. Giles, Moraga. 



I am in favor of this resolution, to put on record that the Diocese of California is in favor of divesting from businesses that support the occupation and negatively affect the lives of Palestinians at the behest of the State of Israel, and to boycott products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

As one who voted in favor of the 2014 call to the Episcopal Church to divest, I am strongly in favor of this resolution. My three visits to the "Holy" Land in the 2000s and continuing receipt of reports that do not get published in MSM cause me to support this nonviolent method of pursuing justice and peace for all. It should receive all the protections of free speech.

I don't really have a problem with this resolution, though I wonder how we are supposed to know when a product is produced in one of the occupied territories. More importantly, however, since we have already placed ourselves on record with respect to what this resolution calls for, I wonder why we need to do so again. Our position has already been made clear.

As the Resolutions Committee understood it, the central point of this resolution was not to reiterate what had gone before-- though that was necessary as background-- but to oppose governmental moves, in California and elsewhere, to penalize those who favor BDS. It's very much a Free Speech issue.

Good question, Matthew. The need for this resolution arises from the new legislation being pushed by opponents of BDS in state legislatures, including in California, which would muzzle voices of advocacy for BDS and penalize institutions that support it. By reiterating our 2014 support, we are asserting a particular standing in this matter as an institution that might be targeted by this probably unconstitutional legislation.

Moreover, the Church should, in general, be supportive of free speech. By taking this stand, the Diocese of California could encourage other dioceses to take similar actions against a nationwide effortt aimed at criminalizing advocacy of legal, peaceful, non-violent economic pressure.

Finally, by way of follow-up action, I agree that the Diocese could help our people know when a product is produced in one of the occupied territories by disseminating the lists compiled elsewhere. I would be happy to work with diocesan staff in doing so.

The fourth "resolved" of this resolutions continues to be a moveable feast. AB2844 was approved by the Assembly August 30 and sent to the governor for signature. At the moment, it should read:

" That this Convention urges the Governor of California to veto AB 2844, which, if enacted, may spur costly and unnecessary civil and criminal investigations [by the Attorney General] against companies and institutions that have adopted BDS policies, and"

Should the Governor sign AB2844, the fourth resolved would then more properly read:

That this Convention urges the repeal of AB 2844, which may spur costly and unnecessary civil and criminal investigations [by the Attorney General] against companies and institutions that have adopted BDS policies, and "

These changes can be made by the Resolutions Committee, if and when necessary, before the Convention or by friendly amendment at the Convention.

The bottom line is that AB2844 is faulty legislation aimed at stifling debate and intimidating institutions like the Diocese that have advocated boycott and disinvestment. I urge all Episcopalians to call Governor Brown at 916-445-2841 and urge him to veto AB2844.

Should he veto the bill, the fourth resolved could be changed to applaud his action.

Life is complicated, but we are called to deal with its complexities thoughtfully, lovingly, seeking always justice, without which there cannot be true peace.

Who updates the companies and products boycotted?
Soda Stream (cited in resolution 7 of the 165th Convention to be boycotted) closed its West Bank factory in 2015 with 600 Palestinian workers losing their jobs.
The company moved its factory to Israel's Negev Desert.
Are we now to embrace Soda Stream since it has complied with moving its plant out of the occupied territory?

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