A proposal being considered by the United Church of Canada that seeks peace in the Middle East through boycotts of Israeli institutions is an expression of “anti-Semitic behaviour” and an “obscene gesture from a religious group,” major Jewish organizations say.
The resolutions, which will be brought before the Church’s upcoming general council, call for a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions at the national and international levels” and refer to the recent assault on Gaza as a “visible reminder of the ongoing Israeli regime of exclusion, violence and dehumanization directed against Palestinians.”
They also say that Israel was “built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners,” and make reference to the effectiveness of boycotts when dealing with state-sponsored racial discrimination and violence as was the case in South Africa.
“This puts the United Church in some very questionable company,” said Eric Vernon, director of government affairs for the Canadian Jewish Congress. “The use of boycott, divestment and sanction has been a weapon used by Israel’s enemies to destroy it. Those are elements of anti-Semitic behaviour in the contemporary world.”
“I am disgusted with the proposal,” said Frank Dimant, the chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada.
“I think at a time when we are fighting Islamofascism around the world, when Canadian soldiers are fighting Islamofascism [in Afghanistan], the attempt by these resolutions is to hurt in a most profound way one of the countries at the forefront in that battle. This is an obscene gesture by a religious group, and my hope is that Christians will turn their backs on this resolution,” Mr. Dimant said.
The resolutions, one of dozens of proposals on many different issues, will be debated and voted on at the Church’s general council in August. Proposals are brought forward by different regional bodies rather that a central committee of the whole Church, so it is impossible to tell how much support the proposal will have, said Reverend Bruce Gregersen, a United Church spokesman.
In 2006, a proposal to cut financial investments in Israeli companies never made it to a vote because a clear majority of delegates at that time had no interest in the measure, Rev. Gregersen said. Instead, he said, a resolution was passed to invest in Israeli companies that promote peace.
He said the Church has also criticized such countries as Myanmar and the Sudan for human rights abuses but only the former apartheid regime of South Africa was ever subject to a church boycott.
“The Canadian Jewish Congress has consistently argued that language that seeks to undermine the existence of the state of Israel is anti-Semitic. And we would agree with that,” Rev. Gregersen said.
“But these proposals are not meant to undermine the state of Israel but rather calling on them to make moves towards peace.
“In 2003, the Church said that we affirm the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. And that’s a significant commitment. What is means is that we are strongly supportive of the existence of Israel for the sake of the Jewish people in the world.”
The current proposal also makes clear that Palestinians have to stop suicide bombings and other violent attacks directed at Israeli civilians.
Mr. Vernon of the Canadian Jewish Congress said he believes the vast majority of United Church members are decent people and when they are made aware of the facts they will reject the proposal.
“They have a commendable sense of issues dealing with international justice, but they just seem to have a very problematic perspective on the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.”