On August 11, 2012, delegates from across Canada gathered at the United Church of Canada’s (UCC) 41st General Council in Ottawa. The General Council is a triennial meeting of the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, a denomination also widely considered the most liberal of the mainline Protestant denominations in the Great White North. Unfortunately, as has been the case in some American churches, the gathering affords an opportunity for a small group of “boycott, divestment, sanctions” activists within the UCC to yet again make their move.
The UCC and the Canadian Jewish community have had a complex and difficult relationship regarding Israel. In 2006, a proposal calling for the support of BDS against Israel was presented to the UCC’s General Council. Through representations by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), the proposal that was eventually accepted by the General Council was more balanced and included among several positive elements the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
In 2009, a number of anti-Israel proposals came before the General Council, including a call for academic and cultural boycotts of Israel. As a result of significant work by the CJC and related agencies, these proposals were rejected by UCC delegates and the General Council went so far as to repudiate the language of the documents. However, the 2009 General Council did encourage individual congregations and local/regional church entities to consider strategies to “move the two peoples toward reconciliation (including but not limited to economic boycott).”
At the 2012 General Council, the Israel/Palestine issue is on the agenda yet again. Delegates will decide whether to adopt the recommendations of the Church’s Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy. (The recommendations are included in a report which can be read in full here.)
The report contains certain praiseworthy elements: an unqualified recognition of Israel’s right to exist; the recognition that criticism of that right to exist manifests a new strain of anti-Semitism; and recognition that Natan Sharansky’s famous “3D Test” is one way of gauging whether criticism of Israel has crossed that line.
However, the majority of the report contains deeply troubling elements that reflect a distorted narrative and a serious misunderstanding of history. Stated briefly, these elements include asserting a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the challenges faced by Palestinians (since removed from the report); a bizarre section that expresses “regret” for the past policy of calling on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and the false assertion that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the presence of settlements are the root cause of the conflict.