16 August 2012
Canadian Jews, as well as the World Jewish Congress, have strongly condemned a vote by United Church of Canada's General Council which backs for a boycott of Israeli goods produced beyond the 1949 Armistice Line. Shimon Fogel (pictured left), CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Jewish umbrella body in Canada, said: “The reaction of the Jewish community is one of unbridled outrage. It is beyond comprehension that [the church] would choose to so skew a commentary on the conflict and come out with so one-sided an approach.” CIJA Chairman David Koschitzky added: “In choosing this morally reckless path, the United Church has equally dismissed the concerns of the overwhelming majority of the Canadian Jewish community, ...rejected the path of balance, and has chosen to explicitly ally itself with those who formally reject the two-State solution and who deny the historical right of the Jewish people to a homeland."
Evelyn Sommer (pictured below), chairwoman of the North American chapter of the World Jewish Congress, said: "The appalling decision taken by the United Church of Canada is detrimental not only to the people of Israel, but to the Palestinians employed in these communities. Calling for a boycott of Israeli citizens while purporting to seek peace is disingenuous and counterproductive, and it undermines the possibility of bringing the two parties together for direct negotiations, as mandated by United Nations resolutions... The leaders of the UCC have made an unfortunate decision that denies the facts of the Jewish people's historical presence in their homeland and discourages the chances of a genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East. In doing so, they have lost a precious opportunity to help build bridges and promote peaceful co-existence in a troubled region of the world."
The General Council of the United Church of Canada, which has nearly three million members, making it the largest Protestant denomination in the country, on Wednesday voted in favor of the controversial motion which calls for a boycott of goods produced in Israeli communities in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. The vote was preceded by nearly six hours of debate, in which the church’s general council members nitpicked the proposal’s wording and heard testimonies from representatives on both sides of the issue.
The motion was one of several recommended by a report released by a church working group last May. Along with calling on church hierarchy to accept a comprehensive boycott, the report named the ‘Israeli occupation’ of Palestinian territory as a major obstacle to a two-state solution in the Middle East.
In the months since the report was released, Jewish leaders, United Church insiders and a group of nine Canadian Liberal and Conservative senators, all United Church members, have spoken out against the boycott, accusing the United Church of taking sides on the testy topic of Israeli-Palestinian politics. An online survey, commissioned by CIJA and Faithful Witness, an anti-boycott group led by a United Church pastor, found that 78 per cent of church members believe the church should remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Eveyln Sommer added: "This deplorable move also betrays the will of the grass roots members of the UCC who do not support a policy of destructive boycotts. The leaders in this case have made the poor choice to harm relations between the UCC and the Canadian Jewish community, disregarding years of efforts on the part of many members of both faith groups to develop inter-religious harmony and mutual understanding."
Quoted by the ‘Toronto Star’, United Church spokesman Bruce Gregersen called the vote a “significant step” toward the church’s affirmation of the entire proposal. “I think the mind of the council appears to be clear,” he said. “If there was any sense that all the (anti-report) lobbying was going to have an effect, the council made up its own mind, irrespective of the lobby,” he said according to the newspaper.
Voting results were not immediately available but Gregersen said voters were “substantially in favor” of the boycott motion. The 350 delegates sitting on the General Council will vote again Friday on whether to confirm the proposals as official church policy.
The United Church working group also reversed one of its original recommendations that called for Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, instead recommending that Palestinians need not make that recognition until significant peace talks commence.
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