How Boycotts Hurt the Cause of Middle East Peace
Next month, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada will convene in Ottawa for a historic joint assembly. Among the issues they will consider is the Middle East muddle.
What should be their focus?
It is no secret that Christians have much to worry about in the Middle East. Start with Syria, where to date, 80,000 people have died in a brutal civil war, with over a million in internal exile. Among the most vulnerable are local Christians and Palestinians, who are trying to dodge the ever-escalating crossfire between Assad-regime loyalists and desperate opposition fighters. In Egypt, 10-million Coptic Christians live under a Muslim Brotherhood-led regime. Iraqi Christians experience religious/ethnic cleansing of their historic communities. Christian leaders are arrested in Iran, harassed in Pakistan and murdered by terrorists in Nigeria.
Recently, another major church, the United Church of Canada (UCC), was confronted by the same dire Middle Eastern landscape. So how did the UCC choose to deploy its moral capital? With a call to boycott SodaStream, a company making seltzer bottles.
In fact, the UCC took aim at three Israeli companies — SodaStream, Ahava and Keter Plastics — which maintain a presence in the West Bank (i.e. land lying east of Israel’s pre-1967 cease-fire line). The UCC resolved that in the near future it “will engage in dialogue with these companies regarding their involvement in the [Jewish West Bank] settlements and request that they cease all production in the settlements.” Failure to comply “will result in economic action against their products.”
The church also promises to contact Canadian retailers carrying products from the manufacturers, “and request that these items no longer be sold in their stores.” The UCC has previously called settlements the “principal obstacle to peace in the region.”
Some Palestinian activists welcome UCC’s anti-Israel gesture. But many West Bank residents will not be so pleased. SodaStream, the manufacturer of environmentally friendly home soda machines, employs a work force that is half Palestinian, including Arab managers supervising Jewish workers. SodaStream’s Palestinian workers earn about three times as much as Palestinian workers elsewhere on the West Bank; and are reported to earn more than the mayor of Ramallah. The highly successful company is expanding, and is building another plant in Israel’s Negev that will employ substantial numbers of Bedouin Arabs.
Boycotts aimed at such successful enterprises dim the only faint glimmer of hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians: economic co-operation. Just days ago, 300 Israeli and Palestinian business leaders, said to account for 30% of the economic productivity of their respective peoples, met in Jordan to breathe life into moribund negotiations. They came with the blessings of the World Economic Forum, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
How will the Anglican/Lutheran conclave weigh in on the Israel/Palestine conflict? There is pressure on them to back “product labeling,” i.e. to make sure that the soda they drink is not aided and abetted by well-paid Palestinian workers. Another resolution will “challenge” the validity of any form of Christian Zionism “which support[s] the Israeli occupation.”
Such resolutions do nothing to incentivize peace in the Holy Land. They merely threaten to roil otherwise positive Christian-Jewish relations. Canadian churches should support joint economic projects between Israelis and Palestinians, just as U.S. Episcopalians and Presbyterians voted to do last year. Such moves would upgrade the road towards peace, instead of paving the way for more (unnecessary) casualties.
This article was originally published by the National Post.