Several hundred delegates of the United Church of Canada, representing congregations from Newfoundland to British Columbia, gathered in Corner Brook, Newfoundland last week at the church’s 42nd General Council, have voted to take steps to strengthen the Church’s support for Palestinian human rights. see more
The United Church of Canada has a reputation for tackling unpopular moral issues. In 2003, the church braved a backlash by making civil rights for gays and lesbians an issue. Some congregations even threatened to leave the institution. Today however, gay rights are not only accepted in the UCC but have been widely (though not universally) accepted by mainstream Canada.
Similarly, when the Church’s “General Council” (a kind of church “parliament”) adopted a resolution three years ago calling to take steps to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank,it was strongly criticized by many. Israel lobby groups claimed the move was motivated by anti-Semitism. Some voices inside the church felt that it was not appropriate for the UCC to “choose sides’. Since then there has been a steady campaign inside the church trying to get the decision reversed. Many were looking to see how this would play out this year at the 42nd General Council.
But the reversal didn’t happen.
Instead, this year’s General Council, held in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, reaffirmed its previous position by adopting three significant motions, the overall effect of which is to strengthen the Church’s support for Palestinian human rights.
The second motion directed the General Secretary “to encourage divestment from and economic sanctions against any corporation or institution benefiting from “the illegal occupation” of Palestinian territory”
Taken together, these resolutions show that instead of retreating, the UCC General Council, made up of hundreds of “commissioners” from congregations across Canada, is remaining solid in its support for Palestinian human rights, and wants to pursue a discussion on those issues with other Canadian organizations..
The stand is significant and even attracted the worried attention of the Israeli press.
Support for BDS?? Not yet
However, the General Council was still unable or unwilling, to come out in favour of the BDS call to boycott Israel.
Patti Talbot, a general council staff member told the Canadian Jewish News that “the church is focused on the occupation, but doesn’t align itself with the goals of the overall boycott, divestment and sanction movement”. (i.e. “BDS” ed. note).
The reluctance to embrace BDS may result from a lack of clarity within the church over two of the main demands of the BDS movement: the right of the Palestinian refugees to return and whether Israel should be defended “as a Jewish state”. In 2012, the Church decided to sidestep both these issues. It did so again this year, preferring to focus only on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory taken over in 1967, leaving aside what happened in 1948.
Anti Semitism card again raised
Not surprisingly, the defenders of Israel are already claiming that the stand shows that the UCC is rife with anti-Semitism.
Reverend Andrew Love, who strongly opposed the motions, told the Canadian Jewish News that this year’s proposals signified an “ominous and discouraging” rise of traditional Christian anti-Semitism inside the church.
But Bernie Farber, a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress had a different opinion. In his own interview with the Canadian Jewish News, Farber said, “it’s important to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism… (…) I wouldn’t wave the anti-Semitism flag [here], because I think when the Jewish community does that all the time, it confuses people and turns them off. It confuses true Jew-hatred from anti-Zionism, and we must see the two as separate battles.”
The arguments over whether the church should take a stand on one of the most difficult moral issues of our times, seems likely to continue. However, the UCC does not seem to be intimidated by threats that it has become anti-Semitic. The trend seems to be toward emphasizing human rights for both Palestinians AND Jews in the holy land.