Pray for the United Church
Reports that anti-Semitism is incubating in some corners of the United Church are generating anger toward the church, from both Christians and Jews. But the anger might be misplaced, because the church could end up the principal victim.
Anti-Semitism is a virus that destroys its host organism. In this case, the anti-Semitism seems to be masking itself as “anti-Zionism,” that is, hatred of Israel. Now, it is absolutely true that criticism of Israel does not automatically signal antipathy toward Jews. Many Jews themselves question Israeli government policies. It’s wrong to assume that critics of Israel are by definition anti-Jewish.
But it’s also true that every anti-Semite is most assuredly an anti-Zionist, so there is overlap between the groups. Identifying instances when the campaign to delegitimize Israel is a cover to attack Jews has always been a challenge. One giveaway is the appearance of age-old anti-Semitic tropes.
Which brings us back to the United Church of Canada. Beginning this weekend, the church will hold its General Council in Kelowna, B.C. The church will consider numerous resolutions, among them several that express extreme hostility to Israel.
It’s not just the double standard — singling out Israel, a liberal democracy, as the world’s greatest outlaw state? — that raises old memories of scapegoating the Jews. No, it’s the language in the background materials, available on the United Church’s website, that has shocked so many people.
One document warns that “some Members of Parliament are affiliated with the State of Israel” and “have sensitive roles in Canada.” Is this a coded reference to Jewish MPs, in an attempt to raise the ancient accusation that Jews are duplicitous and have dual loyalties?
It gets worse. The church document accuses the Canadian Parliament of harbouring MPs who are actually citizens of Israel. This is a lie. So far as anyone knows, there are no MPs who hold Israeli citizenship. But what if there were? Parliament is a multicultural and diverse place, like Canadian society generally. It’s conspicuous that the United Church is not witch-hunting South Asian or Muslim MPs to out those who hold dual citizenship. Only Jews constitute an enemy within.
The head of the church, moderator Rev. David Giuliano, acknowledged Tuesday that all of this is causing “pain and hurt to Jewish people in Canada,” yet he refuses to disown the architects of this campaign. Instead, he said that a rabbi will be invited to have “full speaking” privileges at the Kelowna conference. Will the rabbi be expected to answer the charge that Jews — sorry, people “affiliated” with Israel — should not have “sensitive” government jobs? Or that the Canada Revenue Agency should stop allowing tax deductions for respected Jewish charities, another idea that can be found in the materials posted on the church’s website?
Admirers of the United Church are right to be despondent. As one newspaper letter-writer put it, even if the proposals are rejected in Kelowna, “severe and irreparable damage has been done to the credibility of the (church) as a viable and doctrinally sound organization.”
The United Church of Canada isn’t the first organization that hatemongers have tried to convert into a vehicle for attacking Israel. Labour unions, student associations, even a camping store (Mountain Equipment Co-op) have had to fight off similar hijackings, not always successfully.
People with radical or hateful ideas know that by themselves they will remain marginal voices, so they infiltrate respectable institutions in order to give legitimacy to their agenda. The United Church is a great institution, and Canadians should pray that it is able to fight off those who would shame it.