Charles Lewis May 7, 2012 / National Post
Hat Tip and with thanks to Jane
“This report is biased and one-sided and will erode a commitment we made as a church in a [2003 report] to strengthen ties with the Jewish community,” Reverend Andrew Love.
A United Church of Canada minister has started a campaign to get rank-and-file members to reject a proposal from the church’s hierarchy to launch an economic boycott against Israel.
“I really want to believe this is the workings of a very active minority in the church,” said Andrew Love, a pastor at a parish in the town of Arnprior, 55 kilometres west of Ottawa.
“The vast majority of people in the pews are not ready to embrace this kind of extremist and radical agenda from a small minority. There is a real disconnect between the leadership and its people.”
He said the proposal contains “elements of anti-Semitism” by minimizing the importance of the Holocaust.
Last week, a working group of the United Church released a paper that called for a selective boycott of goods coming out of what the authors call illegal Israeli settlements, including East Jerusalem. The authors said that legitimate criticism of Israel is far different than anti-Semitism and that the United Church condemns anything that smacks of anti-Jewish bigotry. The report, two years in the making, will be voted on at the church’s general council in August.
This is the fourth proposal concerning sanctions against Israel in the past six years but none was ever voted on by the general council. However, this is the first proposal requested by the church leadership. Other proposals came from grassroots initiatives.
Rev. Love said he will launch a website in the next few days that will ask for support from co-religionists who are also concerned about calls for a boycott and anti-Israel sentiment in the church.
“This report is biased and one-sided and will erode a commitment we made as a church in a [2003 report] to strengthen ties with the Jewish community,” he said.
In 2009, Rev. Love said he travelled to Israel and spent time on the West Bank speaking to families who were having a tough time under Israeli rule. He said at one point he was pelted by stones by Israeli settlers because he was speaking with Palestinians.
“So it’s not that I’m blinded to the plight of Palestinians,” Rev. Love said. “But where is the sense of balance in this report? Once again we are isolating Israel for all our moral condemnation. Shouldn’t we hold to the same fashion other countries in the Middle East? It’s absurd that Israel is singled out because it’s a democracy.”
He added: “The report is almost completely silent on Israel’s very legitimate concerns to protect itself from terrorism as well as the ever present threat from Iran and the proxy forces that work for Iran in the region.”
He said the authors of the report also did not go far enough to denounce the use of the term “apartheid” when it comes to discussing the situation in Israel today.
Bruce Gregersen, a church minister who assisted those who wrote the report, said the document clearly states that it is not helpful to use the term apartheid now — but given the fluidity of the situation the term could be applicable one day.
“At the current time we did not see the conditions of apartheid applying, but if the settlements are annexed into Israel, which has been threatened, then the term apartheid would apply.”
Church officials acknowledged last week that Israel is the focus for action because there is more chance of reasoning with a democracy than one of the neighbouring authoritarian regimes.
“The [authors] believe that Israel can and should be held to a higher standard than surrounding non-democratic countries or authoritarian regimes. It’s precisely because of Israel’s close identification with democratic ideals that it needs to be challenged on its policies,” the report says.
Rev. Gregersen said that the United Church has had support from Jewish leaders who recognize criticism of the state of Israel does not mean negative feelings about Jews. The report also criticized those who would demonize Jews under the guise of criticism of Israel.
However, he said, some have told the church that the language of the report “does appear to minimize the horrors Holocaust,” which might be construed as anti-Semitism.
“That was never our intention to minimize the Holocaust and we are really concerned that it can be seen like that.”