The United Church of Canada got into trouble in 2009 when a small number of anti-Israel activists attempted to hijack the denomination (which boasts half a million members) by convincing its General Council to pass four anti-Israel resolutions, two of which called on the church to boycott products made in Israel.
The background material accompanying one of the non-divestment resolutions suggested that Canadian Members of Parliament were selling out their country to Israeli interests because they accepted free trips to Israel or were themselves Israeli citizens.
The accusation of dual loyalty raised the hackles of the Ottawa Citizen which responded with a scathing editorial that read in part, as follows: “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.”
In the face of criticism like this, which prompted the General Council to repudiate the background materials, the boycott resolutions were defeated.
The contretemps didn’t put an end to the denomination’s focus on Israel, however. Despite the controversy, the church’s General Council established a working group charged with reviewing the denomination’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In particular, the working group was charged with “entering into conversations as to how to move [the Israelis and the Palestinians] toward reconciliation (including, but not limited to economic boycott).”
The working group has issued its report, which will be discussed at the next meeting of the church’s General Council, scheduled to take place in Ottawa in August. Predictably, the working group is calling on the United Church of Canada to boycott Israeli goods made in the West Bank.
Such boycotts are all the rage these days. The United Methodist Church passed a similar resolution at its recent General Conference in Tampa, Florida and the Presbyterian Church (USA) is considering approving a similar resolution at its upcoming General Assembly scheduled to take place in Pittsburgh in July.
The United Church of Canada’s working group clearly learned some lessons from the mistakes made by the so-called peace activists at the General Conference in 2009. Their report does not traffic in ugly anti-Semitism. It even acknowledges the existence of the “new anti-Semitism” which demonizes the modern state of Israel and says that criticism of the Jewish state needs to be scrutinized closely.
The working group even goes so far as to affirm Israel as a Jewish state.
Oddly enough, however, the working group would have the United Church of Canada apologize for demanding in previous statements that the Palestinians do the same.
On this score, the report is quite explicit. It calls on the church to “[a]cknowledge with deep regret the past policy of calling on Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.” The working group stated that if the Palestinian Authority were to recognize Israel’s Jewish character, it “could be seen as endorsing discrimination against the Palestinian minority in Israel.”
This passage is one of several instances in which the working group exhibits a fundamental inability to come to grips with the reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The conflict is not caused, as the report states, by the occupation, but by the Arab and Muslim refusal to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Israel’s creation in 1948 is a humiliating violation of the Islamic doctrine demands that Muslims dominate, or eradicate, other religious communities with which it comes into contact.
In light of these beliefs, a Jewish state is an abomination and as a result, Israeli Jews have come to regard the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s Jewish character as a sign that the Palestinians are not all that serious about peace.
One only needs to look at the graffiti in the West Bank to see that this belief is well grounded. For example, one picture near the entrance to the Alrowwad refugee camp in Bethlehem lionizes stone throwers (see photo in top-left corner).
Another mural (see left), this one painted on the security barrier near the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, depicts Lela Khaled in heroic terms. Khaled was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who participated in two hijackings in 1969 and 1970.
This is not the public art of a people who want peace. This is imaging used to keep people in a psychological state of war with Israel. If the working group were interested in promoting reconciliation, they would challenge Palestinian leaders who tolerate and support the use of such propaganda, but the group’s report says nothing about this.
The report’s historical overview glosses over a number of events that underscore the Arab and Muslim refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty and freedom in the land of Israel.
For example, the report makes no mention of the anti-Jewish hostility fomented by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate, and makes no mention of the anti-Jewish massacres that took place in Palestine during the 1920s and 1930s. It makes no mention of the Grand Mufti’s role in spreading Nazi anti-Semitism into the Middle East.
The report lacks any reference to the calls for Israel’s destruction by Arab leaders in the months before the Six Day War in 1967. And its description of the Camp David negotiations does not mention that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made an offer, Arafat rejected before refusing to make a counter offer. Moreover, the report makes no mention of the fact that the Israelis accepted the Clinton Parameters at the end of 2000 and that the Palestinians did not.
In sum, the historical summary fails to take into account a troubling fact: Israel has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the 1990s.
Another section of the report, titled “Working Group Assumptions,” does however, lament the plight of the Palestinians, stating that “while there is disagreement about some of the events that surround [Israel’s] emergence it is indisputable that Palestinians have been progressively been forced into smaller and smaller portions of the land they once lived in. The return of one people has meant the dislocation of another.”
This loss of territory, while lamentable from a Palestinian point of view, is the consequence of the mistakes and misdeeds of Arab and Palestinian leaders – which the report fails to acknowledge in its historical summary. In the moral universe posited by the working group, it is only the Israelis, and not the Palestinians, who must bear the burden of historical consequences.
The working group readily admits that it is imposing a double standard on Israel in a “Questions and Answers” document accompanying its report. “The working group believes that Israel can and should be held to a higher standard than surrounding non-democratic countries or authoritarian regimes. It is precisely because of Israel’s close identification with democratic ideals that it needs to be challenged on its policies around the occupation.”
Without meaning to, the working group tips its hand in favor of Islamism, a totalitarian Jew-hating movement that seeks Israel’s destruction. It does this by focusing nearly all of its moral outrage at Israel and very little of it at the purveyors of hate in the Middle East.
This raises a very important question: Have Christians learned the lessons of the Holocaust? Do they realize that the Holocaust is not merely a story of Jewish suffering, but a story about the failure of Western intellectuals and elites to confront totalitarianism in Europe? Do the people who lead the United Church of Canada and other denominations understand that the Holocaust is not only about the Jews, but also about the people who demonized them and abandoned them to their tormentors and then found themselves in the same breach as the Jews?
In acknowledging the Holocaust and its impact on the Jewish people, the working group reports, “The deepest meaning of the Holocaust was the denial of human dignity to Jews. ‘Never again’ is a call that must continue to echo throughout the world. The implication of this call is not that Israel will be free from accountability for unjust policies, but rather there were will be no question or doubt that Israel and Jewish people throughout the world are deeply respected.”
For the working group, the Holocaust is not about the failure of Western institutions to confront totalitarianism, but a story of Jewish suffering and special pleading that is used to justify a monomaniacal focus on the Jews and their state while paying very little attention to the misdeeds and ideology of those who seek its destruction.
Under any reasonable assessment, Muslim teachings about non-Muslims (and women) represent the great human rights challenge and threat to world peace of our time. But the United Church of Canada ignores all of this and pursues a boycott against the Jewish state that is in Islamism’s crosshairs.
Such catastrophic stupidity is inexcusable.
Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).