A recent high-level United Church of Canada report recommends that the United Church should confirm its hostility to Israel. Written by three prominent United Church officials, the Report of the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy endorses Palestinian “resistance” to Israeli occupation.
The church officials do specify that such resistance should be non-violent, but as with much in their report, the call for non-violence means less than it might.
I’ve never worried that United Church ministers might strap on suicide vests and blow up busses in Jerusalem. But while officially condemning such violence on the part of Palestinians, the United Church also vigorously promotes the Palestinian Kairos Document. Written by Palestinian Christians, the Kairos Document explicitly okays terrorism, calling it “legal resistance.” (More on the Kairos Document here.)
Do ordinary members of the United Church share the anti-Israel obsession of the clique at the top? Not at all. And I think they’d be appalled if they noticed what their leaders were up to.
In the most offensive paragraphs, the report compares the Palestinians to Holocaust victims. Usually, such comparisons come from obvious antisemites. In this case, I think the church officials are simply so self-absorbed, so wrapped up in anti-Israel politics, so shuttered from reality that they’re unaware of their offensiveness, like a four-year-old who’s overheard the word ‘nigger’ and admires his own cleverness as he runs about shouting it.
On the plus side, the report does notice that the BDS movement – the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel – “sometimes” crosses the line to “delegitimize Israel’s existence,” which the church rejects.
Unfortunately, this again means less than it might. Because in truth, the only point of the BDS movement is to delegitimize Israel.
The BDS movement is purely a propaganda offensive. It has no economic effect and never will. Yet the report recommends joining the BDS movement through a boycott of Israel, specifically of “all products produced in the settlements.”
Does this mean that the United Church will boycott Agrexco, which exports agricultural products from the West Bank? The British BDS movement does – even though the Palestinians are 100 per cent dependent on Agrexco and similar Israeli companies to export their olives and other agricultural products.
While acting in a way that would crush Palestinian farmers if their efforts were successful, the boycotters get to tell themselves they’re fighting the evil Israelis. And this is what the United Church wants to be part of.
The report claims to take “seriously questions about why Israel is the only country in the world being challenged by a global BDS movement.”
Seriously? The report’s rationalizations are laughably thin. It notes that the Israeli occupation has lasted a long time. Well, yes, ever since 1967 when Jordan invaded Israel and Israel occupied the West Bank in its counter-attack.
Israel has a claim to this territory, which Israelis know as Judea and Samaria, but rather than unilaterally exercising its claim, Israel has maintained a perfectly legal defensive occupation while waiting for the Arabs to negotiate.
In 1994, Jordan finally signed a peace treaty with Israel. But Jordan had previously renounced its claim to the West Bank in favour of the Palestinians, who haven’t been so reasonable.
With the exception of United Church officials who remain willfully ignorant, everyone familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knows that Israel has offered several comprehensive peace plans, but that the Palestinians have refused them all and made no counter offers.
The United Church’s report calls for an end to the occupation. Fine. But talk to the Palestinians. They won’t even discuss peace. And the United Church report doesn’t suggest they ought to.
By way of rationalizing its singling out of Israel, the report also argues that Israel is a democracy, and therefore, should be held to a higher standard than the autocracies that surround it. To me, this seems rather hard on the downtrodden people of the region.
Syrians are being slaughtered in the thousands by their despotic ruler. But the United Church’s stance is that Syria isn’t a democracy, so too bad for the Syrians.
Or what about the Palestinians of Gaza? Ruled by the despotic fanatics of Hamas, Gazans have no free speech or free press and face arrest for crimes such as dressing immodestly.
Does the United Church find this problematic? Apparently not.
The territory is ruled by a terrorist group that’s not just dedicated to destroying Israel, but openly proclaims its goal is genocide against the Jews.
Will the United Church boycott Gaza? Not a chance.
Instead, the United Church proposes boycotting Israel – because it’s a democracy. Well, so is Canada! Also, like Israel, Canada has a long-standing dispute over land claims: Israel with the Palestinians, ours with First Nations. Also, like Israel, Canada is trying to negotiate a settlement.
Seems to me that these similarities make Canada a perfect target for a United Church boycott. Unless of course the United Church really is boycotting Israel just because it’s a Jewish state.
P.S. At least one United Church minister, Rev. Andrew Love, is trying to counter his church’s anti-Israel stance. (See here.)
This piece was previously published in the Jewish Tribune. And on Harry's Place blog in Britain.
And here are the comments from Harry's Place, preserved here, because at HP, they get deleted after a week:
And here are the comments from Harry's Place, preserved here, because at HP, they get deleted after a week:
|26 May 2012, 3:57 pm|
In 1994, Jordan finally signed a peace treaty with Israel. But Jordan also renounced its claim to the West Bank in favour of the Palestinians, who haven’t been so reasonable.
Its like evicting a squatter and the squatter says that they give up the right to squat in your house in favour of their mates, when they had illegally squatted in the first place.
|26 May 2012, 6:21 pm|
This is a great, well written and well argued piece. The only bit that gave me pause — maybe only because I don’t know enough about the United Church — was:
“Do ordinary members of the United Church share the anti-Israel obsession of the clique at the top? Not at all. And I think they’d be appalled if they noticed what their leaders were up to.”
To me this seems like it’s infantilizing the church’s members. Shouldn’t we show them the respect of allowing them agency? As Commentary101 says, where’s the action by churchgoers to put a stop to this? Disinterest and apathy are common human traits, but they’re a poor excuse for allowing evil to be done in your name.
|26 May 2012, 6:39 pm|
To me this seems like it’s infantilizing the church’s members. Shouldn’t we show them the respect of allowing them agency?
One could ask the same of union members, elected politicians and stockholders. As for the United Church, its ministers are not elected but ordained. The laity will have little influence over what is taught in theological schools and may have little influence over what their representatives say. And I very much doubt that elections to conferences have either high turnouts or that the congregations know much, or anything, about the candidates that stand in them. There certainly does need to be more action from churchgoers, but that should be done in a way that understands how the United Church works rather than just blaming them for their lack of interest.
|27 May 2012, 12:12 am|
I was very pleased to read this article. As a Jew married to a member of the United Church, I have the opportunity to read the United Church’s monthly magazine, “The United Church Observer”. There is rarely an issue that doesn’t have at least one anti-Israel article or letter. Not once has The Observer had an article condemning Syria or the Egyptian treatment of the Coptic Christians. It makes one wonder if the United Church is merely anti-Israel or actually anti-semitic.
|27 May 2012, 2:30 am|
I don’t blame ordinary church members. For the large majority, the church is just where they go to be married or buried. And I don’t see why the (small) number of regular congregants should have to pay attention to an insignificant conflict on the other side of the globe.
On the other hand, ministers are professional, paid members of the church; they really ought to notice what’s done in their name. But for the most part, they seem to be apathetic or they agree with the leadership's hostility to Israel.
However, they don’t all agree, and they’re not all keeping quiet:
|27 May 2012, 9:15 am|
Factual error: Jordan gave up it’s claim to the West Bank in 1989 (although there wasn’t a peace treaty for a few more years).
|27 May 2012, 2:10 pm|
By way of rationalizing its singling out of Israel, the report also argues that Israel is a democracy, and therefore, should be held to a higher standard than the autocracies that surround it.
Of course, many of those those who single out Israel for criticism will, when it suits them, claim piously that the Palestinian territories are also democratic (“Like them or not, Hamas have a popular mandate and are the legitimate government, etc…”), as are those paragons Iran, Egypt, Tunisia etc etc.
In fact the democratic legitimacy of Hamas is an article of faith with most ‘anti-zionists’. So the ‘we hold democracies to a higher standard’ is a feeble excuse, and demonstrate a nonsensical attitude anyway. We should hold all countries to the same basic standards re human rights, just as in individual countries we hold all citizens equal before the law and don’t give a pass to the badly behaved on the grounds that we shouldn’t expect better from them.
|27 May 2012, 2:25 pm|
‘By way of rationalizing its singling out of Israel, the report also argues that Israel is a democracy, and therefore, should be held to a higher standard than the autocracies that surround it.’
Isn’t that a circular argument, tantamount to ‘Israel behaves better, so should be held to a higher account/more penalized for it?’
In a conflict, holding one party to a higher standard than the others is tantamount to taking sides in that conflict +against+ that party and +with her enemies+.
All else is moral idiocy, at best.
|27 May 2012, 2:26 pm|
I mean, THINKING all else etc.
|27 May 2012, 2:30 pm|
‘Israel is a democracy etc’
What does that argument actually mean, anyway?
Israeli Jews are more sophisticated, educated, western and so privileged? So that they should be more generous to their enemies?
Or Israeli Jews behave better and so, en effait, should be held to a higher account? -a circular argument, it seems to me.
In this case, Israel’s being a democracy is almost treated as though Israeli Jews have more wealth than is just, and so should share it with their enemies, who have less, and so suffer injustice.
|27 May 2012, 2:34 pm|
Democracy is +just+ a state in which a people comprise themselves. It may make them more vulnerable to criticism, and certainly means that citizens should have more rights than in tyrannies. But what on earth does it mean for those who would destroy their state, why does it mean that state should be held to higher account?
Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian nationalists have been hostile to a large scale Jewish presence since the late 19th century. Why does Israel’s being a democracy mean it should be held to higher account than they?
What surprises me still is that the congregants don’t stop it. When will we see some action, on the part of honest, well-meaning, pious church-goers?