With the clock running down on The United Church of Canada’s 41st General Council, commissioners meeting in Ottawa confirmed a stand adopted earlier in the week that calls for a boycott of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and identifies the occupation as a “major contributor” to injustice in the region.
The final phase of a motion on the denomination’s Israel-Palestine policy, based on the detailed report of a church working group, stopped short of adopting the whole report as a basis for church policy. Instead, it recommended that church members study it, pray about it and consider taking personal action.
An attempt to force reconsideration of decisions reached earlier in the meeting — including approval of the controversial call for a boycott — was voted down and about two hours of often-vigorous debate gave commissioners another chance to air positions for and against the church actions opposing the 45-year Israeli occupation.
Past moderator Very Rev. Bill Phipps spoke against a boycott, calling on the church instead “to support . . . those people on the ground in Israel and Palestine who every day put their lives on the line to work together.” For others, though, it was time for action instead of talk.
“I think in a time when diplomacy and politics have failed to find a just peace, it is incumbent upon the Christian church to . . . take a side,” said Rev. Ralph Carl Wushke, adding that the report was a response to a call for support from Palestinians. Rev. Curtis Marwood reminded commissioners that “Jesus was not one who always sought balance. He spoke in favour of justice and peace. . . . We need to stand with those who are suffering.”
Even though the working group’s report, which affirms support for Israel as a Jewish state and condemns violence committed by both sides of the conflict, will not be translated directly into church policy, the group’s chairperson, former moderator Very Rev. David Giuliano, said it’s already achieving one of its goals by generating wider discussion of the Israeli occupation.
“I think there’s a greater awareness among Canadians about the situation,” said Giuliano. “I think a lot of people have not been aware of the very oppressive and difficult and unjust situations faced by Palestinians as the illegal settlements grow.”
Commissioners were faced with a high-pressure anti-boycott campaign led by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada, which warned of a breach in Christian-Jewish relations. But final adoption of the actions and report brought supportive messages from Jewish pro-peace groups such as Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and Canadian Friends of Peace Now.
“Jews don’t speak with one voice on the subject” of the occupation, settlements or boycott action, said IJV spokesperson Sid Shniad.
As for further action, senior General Council mission officer Rev. Bruce Gergersen said it’s up to individual United Church people.
“We’re not a church that tells people what to believe. But we are a church that takes stands. And those stands are the role of General Council.”
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