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Middle East Issues





Update: Proponents of Israel Boycott Attempt to Hijack United Church of Canada


Update: A commission of the General Council of the United Church of Canada has repudiated the background material for three of the resolutions listed below. More information is provided at the bottom of this post.
 
On Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009, the United Church of Canada began its 40th General Council in Kelowna, British Columbia. In addition to struggling with declining attendance and financial difficulties facing their denomination, council delegates are also working to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict by deliberating on four resolutions, two of which call for a boycott of Israeli goods.

According to the Canadian Press (CP), the delegates will debate and vote on the resolutions on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. The council will end on Aug. 15.

One of the resolutions is more balanced than the other three, but taken together, the resolutions offer a remarkably distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The background material accompanying one of the resolutions obliquely accuses Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) of taking bribes to work on behalf of Israel. It also accuses – without substantiation – unnamed Canadian MPs of being “dual citizens with Israel” and of having “sensitive roles” in the Canadian government.

The Boycott Resolutions

The first of the boycott resolutions is titled “Seeking Peace through Justice: Institutional and Academic boycott of Israel.” The resolution, submitted by the World Affairs Committee of the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada, calls on the denomination to “advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions at national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions.”

This resolution also calls on the church to “support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions.”

The background material accompanying this resolution condemns settlements in the West Bank, Israel's recent assault on the Gaza Strip and the construction of the security barrier. The supporting statement reads in part, as follows:

Thirty eight years into Israel's occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights, Israel continues to expand Jewish colonies. Fifty seven years after the state of Israel was built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners, a majority of Palestinians are refugees, most of whom are stateless. Moreover, Israel's entrenched system of racial discrimination against its own Arab-Palestinian citizens remains intact.

In fact, Israel has been attacked numerous times from territory that it has withdrawn from in recent years. It withdrew from cities and towns in the West Bank under the Oslo Accords in the 1990s only to see these areas used as recruiting grounds for suicide attacks during the Second Intifada. It withdrew from a security buffer in Lebanon in 2000 and six years later it was attacked from this country by Hezbollah. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to see the rocket attacks increase from this territory. Despite all this, the resolution portrays Israeli aggression as the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The fact that these subjects are left unmentioned should not come as a surprise because the underlying logic of this resolution is that Israeli concessions, withdrawals and peace offers will bring about an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

By portraying Israel's creation as a function of ethnic cleansing, this resolution ignores UN Resolution 181 which called for the creation of a Jewish and Arab state on land previously governed under the British Mandate, which itself called for the “establishment of the Jewish national home.”

In sum, this resolution and its supporting statement repackages the narrative used to justify Arab violence against Israelis and Jews in the Middle East in an effort to justify a Canadian boycott of Israel, the Jewish state. The proposal's silence on Arab and Muslim misdeeds demonstrates that this resolution is not about promoting peace, but about demonizing Israel as a unique source and cause of suffering in the Middle East.

The second of the boycott resolutions, titled “Working for Peace in Israel/Palestine Using Methods Used for South African Apartheid”, was submitted by the Bathurst Street United Church in Toronto. This resolution labels Israel as an apartheid state and calls on the denomination to

support the international campaign of boycott (not including academic boycott), divestment and sanctions until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's right to inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

This resolution ignores the failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000 during which Israel offered the Palestinian Authority a state on all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat rejected this offer and refused to make a counter off of his own. A few months later, Israeli officials accepted the Clinton Parameters which would have given the Palestinians a state on even more territory than what was offered at Camp David. Again, Arafat said no despite a January 2001 warning from Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan:

“I hope you remember, sir, what I told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime.” (The New Yorker, March 24, 2003. A link to the article can be found here.)

The Israelis have on numerous times acknowledged the Palestinian right to self-determination and have been met with violence and yet the resolution portrays Israel as refusing to “recognize the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.” For example, in 2008 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state on all of the Gaza Strip and 93 percent of the West Bank – which was rejected by the Palestinian Authority. And on June 14, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated his vision for peace was of “two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government.”

The reference material accompanying this resolution includes a long list of companies that would be targeted under the boycott, and proposes a “cultural” boycott of “Israeli film festivals, Israeli public venues, and Israeli institutions.” Also mentioned is a proposal to “end sporting collaboration with Apartheid Israel until it complies with international humanitarian law.” The statement reports that “The boycott movement will aim to take action whenever Israeli teams play outside Israel and pressure sporting bodies to end those links.”

(This strategy has been taken by other “activists” as well. Protesters in Malmo, Sweden threw rocks at police officers and chanted anti-Semitic slogans to obstruct the participation of Israeli tennis players at the Davis Cup in May.)

The accompanying material reports that the boycott is not directed at Jews but rather at

those companies that are supporting the racist occupation of Palestine. We do not discriminate between the supporters of Israel – if a Muslim company is collaborating with Israel we will boycott it just as vigorously as any other company.

If the phrase “collaborating with Israel” did not have such ominous overtones, the passage quoted above would be a laughably transparent effort to change the subject. In a failed attempt to portray themselves as even-handed and willing to boycott anyone – even non-Jews – the proponents of this resolution fail to address the real issue: Why boycott Israel and not, for example, Sudan?

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, approximately 5,000 people have died as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these deaths are a tragedy, this number pales in comparison to the number of deaths that have taken place in Sudan over the past three decades. The regime in Khartoum has engaged in two successive campaigns of genocide against its own citizens – the first in Southern Sudan, the second in Dafur, that in total, have resulted in the deaths of more than 2 million people since the 1980s.

Nevertheless, the denomination has not chosen to boycott Sudan. Rev. Bruce Gregerson, the spokesperson for the church told the National Post that the denomination “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 question remains: Why boycott Israel, and not Sudan? And while the issue of boycotts is being raised, why not boycott oil from Saudi Arabia, which has allowed its oil revenues to be used to foment hostility toward Jews, women, and Westerners in Muslim countries throughout the world, most notably, in Pakistan? Are the victims of Arab expansionism in Sudan and Muslim extremism supported by Saudi Arabia not worthy of a boycott filed on their behalf? Are their lives any less valuable? Are their human rights any less worthy of defense?

The fact that that self-proclaimed human rights activists in the United Church of Canada have chosen Israel – and no other nation – as a target for a boycott raises serious questions about what triggers their activism. Apparently, there is something more offensive about a small number of deaths at the hands of Israelis than huge numbers of deaths caused by Arabs and Muslims.

Why?

What is the calculus here?

Non-Boycott Resolutions

Another resolution before the council (“Implementation of Measures towards Peace in the Middle East”) calls on Israel to withdraw its military forces to its pre-1967 borders and for an end to “all forms of collective violence by the Israeli government and the Palestinian people.” This resolution, submitted by the Montreal Presbytery of the Montreal and Ottawa Conference of the denomination, also calls on Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state within safe and secure borders and to bring an end to the suicide bombings and other violent attacks toward Israeli civilians.

While this resolution is markedly more balanced than the other resolutions, it still attempts to pre-determine the outcome of the negotiated settlement under UN Resolution 242. Still, it does make an explicit call for the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's right to exist as Jewish state and calls for an end to suicide bombings and suicide attacks toward Israelis.

The last resolution, put forth by the World Affairs Committee of the Toronto Conference, calls on the Canadian government to “comply with its contractual legal obligations as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention” and “denounce all policies of all governments that enforce discrimination based on race religion or ethnicity.” This resolution, titled “Pathway to Peace in Israel/Palestine,” is accompanied by background material that makes it clear that it is targeted at Israeli – not Palestinian – policies.

For example, the supporting material denounces Canadian support for Israel by citing questionable positions of Canadian Members of Parliament, stating that

Members of Parliament have accepted sponsored trips to Israel, which might be called bribes, some members of Parliament are affiliated with the State of Israel; [and]
 
Some Members of Parliament are dual-citizens with Israel and have sensitive roles in Canada.

This passage drew criticism from the Ottawa Citizen, which stated the following in a powerful editorial:

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 witchhunting South Asian or Muslim MPs to out those who hold dual citizenship. Only Jews constitute an enemy within.
 
While the resolution put forth by the Montreal Presbytery lacks the anti-Israel animus of evident in the other resolutions, the overall impression given by these documents, taken together, is that so-called peace activists within the United Church of Canada have an unseemly obsession with the misdeeds of the Jewish state and an unhealthy desire to draw attention to themselves by offending the sensibilities of the Jewish community in North America. They are also, for the most part, blind to the manifest sins of Israel's adversaries.

If the proponents of the boycott resolutions were truly interested in promoting peace, they would acknowledge the role Palestinians have played in continuing the violence instead of focusing all of their attention on Israeli policies. Only one of the resolutions put forth on the council agenda makes any reference to the failings of Israel's adversaries but even this resolution falls short by failing to offer any direct reference to the Hamas or Hezbollah, two violent mass movements that foment hostility toward Jews and call for Israel's destruction.

It is a bit presumptuous of delegates to the United Church of Canada's General Council to pass judgment on the state of Israel, but if they must do so, the least they could do is include all the relevant evidence. For some reason, the peace activists within the denomination are not all that interested in putting this evidence into the docket.
 
Update, Aug. 12, 2009
 

The General Council of the United Church of Canada has repudiated the background material associated with three of the Israel-related resolutions before it. This move is remarkable in that the General Council typically limits its votes to the text of the resolutions and not the accompanying background material according to Paul Stott, chairperson of the Atlantic Commission, who moderated the discussion on the proposals.

 

“However, with respect to some of the proposals before us in the background has generated significant controversy and some commissioners are very uncomfortable with that material.”

 

The motion, proffered by Rev. Doug Vary, an overseas missionary for the denomination, stated “The 40th General Council repudiates and regrets language used in the background provided for resolutions Toronto Nine, Toronto 10 and Toronto 13, which is provocative, unbalanced and hurtful.” [The resolutions mentioned in this resolution include the two boycott resolutions, and a third titled "Pathway to Peace in Israel/Palestine."

 

The resolution repudiating the background documents was approved with overwhelming support by a commission (or subcommittee) which deals with a portion of the General Council’s business.
 
Video of the proceedings can be seen here.

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