On Friday, 17 August, the United Church of Canada (UCC) adopted a resolution to boycott products originating from illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank. The UCC represents the country’s largest denomination of Protestant Christians.
Several days before, UCC members voted in support of the boycott resolution in a precursor to the official UCC vote in the General Assembly on Friday afternoon.
In a statement from the group Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, the resolution “passed by a wide margin, reflecting the broad support within the church for Palestinian human rights.”
CJPME representatives at the UCC General Council meeting found the convention delegates to be extremely well-informed. Many of the delegates had visited Israel-Palestine, and had observed first-hand the violations of Palestinian human rights as a result of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory.
The passage of the resolution by the UCC reflects several years of careful study on the part of church leaders. At the previous General Council meeting three years earlier, related resolutions were narrowly defeated, but resulted in the referral of the issue to a church working group. After careful study, consultations, and even a visit to the Middle East, the working group issued a report in May, 2012. The report recommended the boycott of products from illegal Israeli-established colonies as a clear initial step.
The May report also recognized Israel’s 45-year occupation as the primary contributor to the injustice that underlies the violence of the region and called on Israel to dismantle its colonies and its wall. The report also called on the United Church to avoid all settlement products and to divest from companies that profit from or support the occupation. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) applauds the passage of the resolution by church delegates.
“This is a very important first step on the part of the UCC, and reflects a deep understanding of the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict,” stated Thomas Woodley, President of CJPME.
“As a result of the economic pressure placed on Israel through this resolution, Israel should be much more inclined to respect its obligations under international law,” concluded Woodley.
The entire press release can be viewed here.
Canada’s Postmedia news agency reported on Friday that the “exact details of how the United Church of Canada’s boycott will be applied will be determined in the coming weeks and months, officials said.”
The report added that the boycott will “likely only apply to a small number of products initially,” and will not apply to goods produced within Israel itself.
Just as Israel lobby and Zionist organizations in the US attempted to undermine divestment votes in the United Methodist and Presbyterian churces in the US by using intimidation and fear tactics against church members and leaders, Postmedia’s report mentioned that Israel lobby groups have labeled the boycott resolution as “bordering on anti-Semitism,” and that it “singles out Israel.”
Postmedia’s report states:
[The boycott vote] prompted strong opposition from United Church members right up until it was approved on Friday afternoon, and [Bruce Gregersen, a United Church general council officer] acknowledged some members may be deeply upset by it.
It has also been criticized by pro-Israel and Jewish organizations that called it unbalanced and alleged that it borders on anti-semitism.
“It singles out Israel in a way that is so fundamentally unhelpful,” Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CEO Shimon Fogel said earlier this week.
“In undertaking this action, the United Church has absolutely disqualified itself from playing a constructive role in advancing peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”
But there were also many groups that supported it, including Jewish Canadians who have been concerned about Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the UN and most countries recognize as being illegal.
“It’s a positive step toward a resolution in the Middle East,” said Sid Shniad, co-chair of Independent Jewish Voices.
There was no immediate response from the Harper government to the boycott’s approval.
It has previously stripped federal funding from civil society groups that have or were suspected of advocating for a boycott on goods produced in the settlements and divestment from Israeli companies based there. They argue such advocates are seeking to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.
Champions of the boycott disputed that allegation, noting that the resolution also “denounces all questions about Israel’s right exist or that seek to undermine its legitimacy as a state.”