United Church Votes to Boycott Israeli Settlement Products
CIJA outraged by decision, which they say deters peace process
The General Council of the United Church of Canada (UCC), the country’s largest Protestant denomination, voted Wednesday to support a motion calling for a boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The vote all but approved the resolution, as the final vote is now scheduled for Friday, when the General Council can choose to accept or reject an overall motion that includes such recommendations.
Members in attendance at the 41st General Council, which took place at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont., debated the proposal for roughly six hours as representatives from both sides of the issue gave their testimonies, according to the Toronto Star.
The proposed boycott was initially put forward by a working group, appointed by the UCC, who spent two years studying ways to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“In choosing this morally reckless path, the United Church has equally dismissed the concerns of the overwhelming majority of the Canadian Jewish community. No mainstream Jewish organization, including Canadian Friends of Peace Now, endorses Boycott. Even the leadership of the American left-wing group J-Street has publicly condemned boycotts as counterproductive,” said David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), in a press release.
“Support for the boycott tactic is limited to a small fringe. Tragically, the UCC chose to join that fringe, rather than listen to the nearly 100,000 families who are members of Jewish Federations across Canada, and on whose behalf the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs speaks. The Church equally ignored some 70 Canadian Rabbis of all streams and from every province, representing tens of thousands of Canadian Jewish families, who made their opposition known in writing.”
The proposal is one of about 130 that commissioners have been discussing this week. The General Council meets every three years to elect a new church moderator and approve new policies, according to the National Post.
In July, nine Canadian senators, all of whom are United Church members and a mix of both Conservatives and Liberals, sent a letter to the UCC condemning the proposed boycott for being too one-sided. The senators indicated that they were concerned their denomination has now lost credibility in its role as a concerned third party in the Middle East conflict.
“It’s baffling that — aside from a passing request that all parties reject violence — the Church’s [proposal] does not mention a single expectation of the Palestinians in its recommendations,” the letter stated. “To put it bluntly, the Church cannot maintain credibility in criticizing Israeli policies while relieving the Palestinian leadership of its own duty to advance peace.”
In response to the letter, Bruce Gregersen, lead staff member of the working group that produced the resolution, wrote back to the senators explaining that while the UCC appreciated the concern shown for the church’s relationship with the Canadian Jewish community, choosing to “remain neutral in respect to the difficult realities of the region is not acceptable after 45 years of continued occupation.”
Following Wednesday’s vote, Gregersen called it a “significant step” towards a full approval of the boycott by the UCC.
“The mind of the council is pretty clear. The main recommendations were approved by a fairly overwhelming vote,” said Gregersen, noting that he does not believe the proposal to be anti-Israel.
“We are solidly behind Israel as a legitimate Jewish state. We don’t want to demonize in any way Israel or Jewish people,” he said. “The problem is the occupation and the settlements.”
But CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel condemned the proposal, calling its near-approval an “outrage” to Canada’s Jewish community.
“The reaction of the Jewish community is one of unbridled outrage. It is beyond comprehension that [the UCC] would choose to so skew a commentary on the conflict and come out with so one-sided an approach,” said Fogel.