Inside Story America

Should US churches divest from Israel?

As two US churches consider resolutions, we examine the BDS movement and ask if it helps or hinders peace efforts.

Two major US churches are considering resolutions to boycott and divest from companies they say are profiting from the Israeli occupation.

These companies include Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are used by the Israeli military to demolish Palestinian homes, and Motorola Solutions, whose surveillance equipment is used in illegal settlements.

I don’t think this particular set of sanctions … that would be directed against Israel would work. I think … it can work if you target an aspect … of the system. But if you target the entire country … if you’re saying no cultural contact, no dealing with universities, no business, no nothing, you’re basically targeting the whole people, you’re basically saying the country shouldn’t exist and that’s never going to succeed ….

– MJ Rosenberg, a former senior fellow at Media Matters Action Network

The resolution being considered by the United Methodist Church, one of the churches considering divestment, states: “The biblical mandate to be peace-makers demands that we express our love of our Palestinian and Israeli neighbours both in word and through nonviolent actions … Divestment is not aimed at Israel itself, but at the occupation of land beyond its internationally recognised borders. As a non-violent moral action, divestment seeks to strengthen the Church’s support for the peoples of Israel and Palestine, whose future can only be secured through a just peace.”

The proposal is part of a wider international movement called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS).

Critics say the initiative is a form of collective punishment against all Israelis, but its supporters, who were inspired by a similar movement against Apartheid South Africa, disagree. They say it is a non-violent means to pressure Israel to abide by international law.

The international BDS campaign is calling for military, diplomatic and economic sanctions against Israel. It has also organised a consumer boycott of Israeli companies and of international companies involved in Israeli policies they say violate Palestinian human rights and international law. There is also an academic boycott calling for an end to collaboration with Israeli institutions and universities and a cultural boycott, which encourages artists, academics and celebrities not to perform in Israel.

Israel is definitely worried … BDS has never been more on the public radar than now. BDS has scored a massive success on an educational and public relations level and that’s what really threatens Israel … and that’s besides the victories it is likely to score with the United Methodist Church.

Max Blumenthal, journalist and author

Jimmy Carter, the former US president and author of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, told Al Jazeera that he thinks the BDS movement has “been effective on a wide-ranging basis, otherwise the Israelis would not be so upset about it” and that it is “gaining in strength”.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has been a long-time critic of Israeli government policies towards Palestinians, but he is also a critic of the BDS movement. He explained why on Democracy Now:

“The trouble with the BDS across the board – the sanctions and boycotts vis-a-vis Israel – is that it demonises Israeli society. It does not say there is an Israeli government which is behaving badly and therefore we need to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government.”

We ask if the BDS campaign is one that helps or harms attempts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Anand Naidoo, discusses with guests: MJ Rosenberg, a former senior fellow at Media Matters Action Network; Max Blumenthal, a journalist and author; and Reverend Walter Davis, a member of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian church – which will also take up a BDS resolution in July.

“We would like to stress that this form of divestment is far from being anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. We support and encourage a resolution for divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. We are convinced that measures such as this do not target Israeli, Jewish or any other individual, but rather companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation, its violations of international law and of human rights.

“We strongly believe that divestment is a positive action that will pressure Israeli and international policy makers to end the occupation, and strengthens those aspiring and working for justice and peace in the region.”

An Israeli supporter of the BDS campaign



  • The BDS movement was created in 2005 by Palestinian civil society members
  • The first ‘BDS’ boycott call came at the World Social Forum in 2005
  • Some critics say the BDS movement is anti-Semitic and delegitimises Israel
  • It seeks to end the occupation of land seized in 1967
  • It advocates three types of boycotts – cultural, academic and economic
  • Some artists have refused to perform in Israel
  • The movement supports Palestinian refugees’ right of return
  • It also seeks divestment from companies that support the occupation
  • The campaign calls for military sanctions against Israel
  • The movement describes Israeli occupation as ‘apartheid’
  • It has wide support among international trade unions
  • It also seeks the dismantling of the Israeli West Bank barrier
  • It is supported by many church groups around the world as well as by some Jewish-American groups