In a rare move, nine Canadian senators have warned the United Church of Canada that its proposed boycott of goods from Israeli settlements would harm already tense relations with the Jewish community.
The nine senators, all United Church members and representing the Conservative and Liberal parties, wrote in a June 27 letter to UCC Moderator Mardi Tindal that the denomination risks setting back Christian-Jewish relations if it approves a boycott of products from West Bank settlements.
Earlier this year, a working group established by the church issued a report urging a boycott of all goods from Jewish settlements, arguing that the communities are illegal and stand in the way of peace. The move angered many Canadian Jews.
The report, however, rejected a boycott of all Israeli goods.
“Such a distinction will be lost upon Israelis and upon the Jewish community in Canada,” the senators wrote. “What will be made clear to them is that the United Church has chosen sides, declaring Israel guilty and the Palestinians the only injured party.
“To put it bluntly, the Church cannot maintain credibility in criticizing Israeli policies (such as settlements and the security barrier) while relieving the Palestinian leadership of its own duty to advance peace.”
The senators urged the moderator to “speak out against these proposals.”
In a reply on July 3, Tindal said she joined the Church’s Working Group on Israel Palestine Policy but “intentionally withdrew from the process recognizing the need to remain neutral and unattached to its recommendations,” given that she will preside over the voting process.
The church’s highest body, the General Council, will decide in a vote expected Aug. 14 whether to endorse the boycott.
“It would, therefore, be inappropriate for me to comment on the report,” Tindal said.
In his response to the senators, Bruce Gregersen, who staffs the Church’s Working Group on Israel Palestine Policy, wrote that the report “does reflect with great care the complexities of the issue. But it also makes a choice that remaining neutral in respect to the difficult realities of the region is not acceptable after 45 years of continued occupation.”
One of the signatories, Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth, said she fears that Canadian Jews will feel singled out by anti-Israel sentiment.
“I’d say it’s a matter of diplomacy,” she told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “I don’t think it will be helpful for Jewish-Christian relations.”
Canadian senators are unelected and are appointed to the upper chamber of Canada’s Parliament by the prime minister. They rarely speak out on such sensitive issues.
The United Church of Canada is the country’s largest Protestant denomination. It counts 650,000 members, but more than 2.5 million people identify themselves as followers of the church.
Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said boycotting settlements alone is no different than a larger boycott aimed at delegitimizing Israel. In the church’s proposal, “there’s an effort to disguise what the real intent is,” he told the Globe.