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Palestinian Christian Nora Carmi (left) and Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa address commissioners during debate on Middle East proposals Tuesday. Photos by Mike Milne

Debate begins on controversial Middle East peace proposals (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009)

By Mike Milne

More than two hours of deliberation Tuesday afternoon brought The United Church of Canada no closer to clarifying its position on a proposed boycott of Israeli educational and cultural institutions. Part of a series of proposals aimed at encouraging peace in the Middle East, the actions were being considered by a decision-making commission of the church’s General Council, meeting this week in Kelowna, B.C.

While a cadre of regional and national media and lobbyists for and against the proposals watched on, a motion to take no action was tabled and further discussions postponed until later in the week. The only decision was the almost-unanimous adoption of a motion distancing the church from contentious background material that came along with the proposals.

Originating with a Toronto Conference committee, the background material and the pro-boycott motions themselves had prompted accusations of anti-Semitism from Canadian Jewish groups in the weeks leading up to the General Council meeting. The motion passed by the commission “repudiates and regrets language used” in the background information, calling it “provocative, unbalanced and hateful.”

Addressing commissioners, Council guest Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa said he could not see “the spirit of co-operation” between the United Church and Canadian Jewish groups “continuing if there is a motion to boycott Israel in any way shape or form.”

A Palestinian guest, Nora Carmi of the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, urged commissioners to adopt the proposals “to ensure a just and comprehensive peace for Palestinians and Israelis.” She added: “The proposals may be harsh but they are necessary and important at this time.”

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