Backgrounder: The United Church of Canada and Israel

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On May 1, 2012 the United Church of Canada (UCC) released the Report of the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy. The 26-page report was created at the request of the 2009 General Council, and will be presented to the 41st General Council at its triennial meeting in August of 2012.

The UCC and the Jewish community have had a complex and difficult relationship in matters relating to Israel.

In 2006, a proposal calling for the support of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel was presented to the UCC’s General Council and was heavily amended as a result of representations by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). The proposal that was accepted by the General Council was more balanced, including among several positive elements the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

In 2009, a number of anti-Israel proposals came before the General Council, including a call for academic and cultural boycotts of Israel. Of particular concern were background documents accompanying these proposals, which contained assertions that were antisemitic. As a result of significant work by CJC and other members of the CIJA family of agencies, these proposals were rejected by UCC delegates. The General Council went so far as to repudiate the language of the documents. While the 2009 General Council did not endorse these proposals, they did encourage individual congregations and local/regional church entities to consider strategies to “move the two peoples toward reconciliation (including but not limited to economic boycott).”

While the newly released report of the Working Group does not become UCC policy until it is considered by the General Council, there are a number of elements that are very troubling. Among various historical distortions, omissions, and offensive statements, the report contains three points which we flag as being of particular concern:

· A call for the United Church to give “high priority” to a church-wide campaign to boycott Israeli products from settlement communities (p. 22-23). The report states that this is premised on the belief that settlements are the foremost obstacle to negotiations between the two parties. This assumption has been proven false by Israel’s record of withdrawing from settlements in the Sinai (1982) and Gaza (2005), and Israel’s repeated offers (2000 and 2008) to withdraw from 95% of the West Bank in exchange for peace – proposals that were rejected by the Palestinian leadership without counter-offer.

· A lengthy digression that directly calls into question and undermines Israel’s status as a Jewish state (p. 13-16). This concludes with a call for the UCC to “acknowledge with deep regret the past policy of calling on Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state” (p. 22), referring to this precondition to negotiations as “unacceptable”. This implies that Israel’s establishment as a Jewish state is a mere matter of opinion or debate. In point of fact, it is based on a solid legal foundation rooted in nearly a century of recognition from the international community (stemming from the Balfour Declaration of 1917).

· A side-by-side comparison of the Holocaust to the situation faced by the Palestinians, both of which are characterized by the denial/loss of human dignity (which the report obscenely states was “the deepest meaning of the Holocaust”) – an odious example of moral equivalence. The report insinuates that Israel was created because of the Holocaust (p. 4) – a total inversion of history that ignores the on-the-ground effort to build a Jewish state from the 1880’s onward (supported by the League of Nations decades before the Holocaust). Added to this is the statement that “Never Again” does not mean that “Israel will be free from accountability for unjust policies” (p. 1) – as though to imply that Israel abuses Holocaust remembrance to perpetuate injustice.

Despite this deeply disappointing report, we recall that the General Council has, in the past, discharged its responsibilities in an honest fashion and has steered a course away from proposals that are unfair, unbalanced, and unhelpful. It is our hope that that the delegates who will comprise the 41st General Council will, with all the facts at their disposal, do the same.

We believe that the majority of the membership of the United Church of Canada, like the majority of Canadians, supports the right of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace within secure national borders, and recognize that this will require painful compromises from both sides. In contrast, distorted historic accounts and the singling out of one party for condemnation only serves to obstruct peace. Coercive economic measures targeting Israel alone are not merely counter-productive. They suggest a hostile stance toward Israel that threatens to undermine the goodwill and strong relations Canada’s Jewish community has built and seeks to enhance with the United Church of Canada.

Between now and August 2012, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and its Local Partners across Canada will make an impassioned case against this report to both the general membership of the UCC and, at General Council, to the delegates.

Between now and August, 2012, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – along with its Local Partner Councils across Canada – will undertake a comprehensive campaign to shine light on the deficiencies of the report and secure the support of the general membership of the UCC to convince the delegates to the General Council to reject the report in its current form, and repudiate the skewed and unconstructive perspective it seeks to advance.

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