By a show of hands, the biennial Assembly of the Mennonite Church Canada meeting in Saskatoon in early July, voted overwhelmingly to call on the Canadian government to apply economic sanctions against Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian territory. Read more.
Mennonite Church Canada has added its name to the list of Canadian churches which are raising their voices in support of human rights for Palestinians.
Canada’s nearly 200,000 Mennonites are divided into several denominations – some more liberal and some more conservative. Mennonite Church Canada, comprising about 30,000 members is one of the more progressive denominations, known for having taken strong positions on a number of social justice issues, including those relating to gender and aboriginal issues.
In what the official website of the group called a “watershed” assembly, the July meeting adopted a number of strong human rights resolutions. One of them was on the Israel/Palestine conflict, calling on its members to learn more about the Israel/Palestine issue, to visit the region on learning tours, and to divest from Israeli companies involved in the occupation. It also called on the Government of Canada to apply economic sanctions against Israel.
We encourage the government of Canada to support measures that put pressure on Israel (including through economic sanctions) to end the occupation and work for a just peace, in accordance with international law.
– Resolution adopted by Mennonite Church Canada, July 2016
The motion was introduced by Byron Rempel-Burkholder, who told delegates he had had been strongly influenced by a period of time spent recently at a Bible College in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The blog written by Remple and his wife Melita during their stay in Palestine circulated widely among church members.
The debate over the resolution, which took a little over a half an hour, was thoughtful and serene. In fact, “debate” is perhaps too strong a word. Over a dozen speakers, many of whom had spent time in the region, contributed their thoughts and experiences. The moderator did read an excerpt from a letter sent to her by a delegation of Jewish Rabbis arguing against the resolution. One delegate expressed “hesitation” about how effective the resolution might be. Another was concerned about what impact it might make on future relations with Jewish Canadians. But overall, there was no strong opposition voiced and the motion was passed handily by the several hundred delegates.
(The discussion on the Israel/Palestine motion starts at the 20 min mark in the video above.)
Almost BDS… but not quite
A couple of news articles, including one in Mondoweiss, reported that the Mennonites had come out in support of BDS, the international movement to bring pressure on Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions against (called the BDS movement).
This is an overstatement. The motion passed was certainly a step towards support of one of the objectives of the BDS movement. It has drawn attention to the injustices of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and called on our government to do something about it
But ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, is only one of the 3 demands of the official Palestinian call for BDS. The official appeal from Palestinian civil society also calls for equality for the Palestinians who live inside Israel, and the right of return for the 5 million refugees.
However, in the words of one of the resolution’s promoters, “we were wanting to keep it focused on the occupation and the hardships of Palestinian people in the territories. If people pick up the call to be more educated, the rights of refugees and Palestinian Israelis will certainly be part of the picture”.