Boycott Israel sign.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – The Church by the Sea in Bal Harbour, Florida, which used to belong to the Cleveland, Ohio-based United Church of Christ, recently rejected the organization’s 2015 resolution to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, and quit the Protestant group.
The resolution, passed last summer, called for the UCC and its conferences, members and local churches, including The Church by the Sea, to “divest any direct or substantive indirect holdings in companies profiting from or complicit in human rights violations arising from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state [sic] of Israel;” “boycott goods identified as produced in or using the facilities of illegal settlements located in the occupied Palestinian territories;” and to “join boycotts of such goods in their local communities.”
In an open letter, The Church By The Sea said it “unequivocally repudiates and rejects the [UCC] call to boycott and divest [from Israel]”. In addition the Church “has also withdrawn all of its investment funds (almost $3m.) from the United Church of Christ.”
The decision came after the church was challenged by Village of Bal Harbour councilor Gabriel Groisman. Because of The Church By The Sea’s affiliation with UCC and its BDS resolution, the politician refused to enter into a real estate development agreement enabling the church to sell its picturesque building to the adjoining Bal Harbour Shops and open a new facility. The Church By The Sea then decided to divorce from its parent organization.
“The hateful, anti-Semitic BDS movement has infiltrated academic, religious and commercial institutions around the world,” Groisman said. “It is time that those who have joined this movement be called out and put to the test.
The Church By The Sea and its leadership have now been put to the test, and they have passed.”
“The Church By The Sea is to be applauded for its courage and moral clarity,” he added.
The CEO of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, Roz Rothstein, also applauded the church’s move, saying it “set an important precedent.”
“Individual churches do not need to succumb to pressure to discriminate,” he said. “They can act in good conscience.”
In 2012, The Church By The Sea agreed to sell its 2,500 sq m property for $30 million to the Bal Harbour Shops, owned by the Whitman Family Development, to make way for a $400-million expansion of the upscale mall, according to The Miami Herald.
The church is tucked between the luxury shopping center and its parking lot.
Further complicating the issue, some Church By The Sea members wanted their 70-year-old building on 96th Street to be designated as a historic landmark by Miami-Dade County. That status would have protected the structure from demolition.
But the preservationists failed to save the Village of Bal Harbour’s oldest standing building.
In November 2015, Miami- Dade’s historic preservation board members voted against the granting the church historic designation, reported the Herald. County preservation chief Kathleen Kaufman said the Church By The Sea did not meet the preservation criteria that apply to churches.
The guidelines call for historic designation only if a church has unusual architectural merit.
Kaufmann concluded that the church, initially designed by Russell Pancoast and later significantly expanded by renowned Florida architect Alfred Browning Parker, was a hodgepodge not worth preserving.
Demolition was carried out in December 2015. The Church By The Sea moved to temporary quarters at the nearby St. Regis resort.