M004 The Right to Boycott on Behalf of Palestinian Human Rights

Proposed by


Whereas, the 88th Convention (2019) of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester urged the President and the Congress of the United States and the legislature and Governor of the State of New York to reconsider legislation that penalizes companies and organizations for their participation in nonviolent boycotts on behalf of Palestinian human rights. The Convention considered such legislation, at both federal and state levels, to be an infringement on our First Amendment rights, based on the Supreme Court's consistent definition of boycotts as protected speech; now therefore be it     

Resolved, that this the 89th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester directs the Secretary of Convention to distribute this resolution via email to the General Convention Office of the Episcopal Church (gcoffice@episcopalchurch.org).


Opponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have sought state and federal legislation that would label support for such measures anti-Semitic and would penalize supportive companies and organizations and, in some instances, individuals with fines and the loss of state contracts and assistance. Twenty-seven states to date have passed such legislation and/or adopted it by executive order.  Recent federal legislation, although not explicitly punitive, condemns BDS and labels it anti-Semitic.

Whatever one's stance on a particular boycott, everyone has a right to express their opinions and act accordingly. Boycotts as nonviolent political actions are an American tradition, with roots extending to the pre-Revolutionary boycott of British tea.  As far back as the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Supreme Court has consistently considered boycotts protected speech under the First Amendment.  Some examples of effective boycotts include the  1965-66 grape boycott in the Central Valley that birthed the United Farm Workers, 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-LGBTQ legislation.

Further, The Episcopal Church affirmed in Res. 1991-D122 that legitimate criticisms of Israeli government policies and actions are not anti-Semitic.  This church differentiates the use of nonviolent tactics, such as economic pressure on behalf of universal human rights, from the current resurgence of hate-speech and actions that demonize entire communities, Jewish, Muslim, African-American, Native American, LBGT or any other group.  This church unequivocally condemns all hate-speech and actions.

The current anti-boycott legislation at the state and federal levels is opposed by, among others, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Anti-Defamation League.  In November, 2017, twelve of The Episcopal Church's ecumenical partner churches and twenty-eight activist organizations released a public letter calling the anti-boycott legislation pending in Congress and in state legislatures “a blatant infringement on First Amendment rights,” and pledged to defend the right of churches and organizations to use economic measures in the specific case of Israel-Palestine.

Excerpts from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Statement on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). [This statement was issued for Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu by Oryx Media, April 2, 2014]

I am writing today to express grave concern about a wave of legislative measures in the United States aimed at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people.

These legislative efforts are in response to a growing international initiative, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, of which I have long been a supporter. The BDS movement emanates from a call for justice put out by the Palestinian people themselves.

I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades- long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli Occupation.

I strongly oppose any piece of legislation meant to punish or deter individuals from pursuing this transformative aspiration. And I remain forever hopeful that, like the nonviolent efforts that have preceded it, the BDS movement will ultimately become a catalyst for honest peace and reconciliation for all our brothers and sisters, both Palestinian and Israeli, in the Holy Land.