Shame on the United Church of Canada if they follow through with their proposals for a boycott of Israel, which are currently being discussed in Kelowna.
According to the Vancouver Sun, the four resolutions call for a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions at the national and international levels”. Furthermore, pro-Israel advocacy group Camera complains that UCC members have been pushing a faulty analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa in order to justify the boycott proposals.
However, the UCC are insisting the proposals are not intended to be antisemitic. Their spokesman Reverend Bruce Gregersen commented:
The Canadian Jewish Congress has consistently argued that language that seeks to undermine the existence of the state of Israel is anti-Semitic. And we would agree with that[…] But these proposals are not meant to undermine the state of Israel but rather calling on them to make moves towards peace. In 2003, the Church said that we affirm the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. And that’s a significant commitment. What is means is that we are strongly supportive of the existence of Israel for the sake of the Jewish people in the world.
The UCC doesn’t seem to grasp a simple point: just because you are not being racist deliberately does not mean you are not being racist.
Does the UCC not realise the history of church boycotts against Jews? For most Jews this boycott will have nothing to do with the Middle East. This policy will be interpreted as the next shameful episode of Christian antisemitism. It will be an embarrassment for the church itself, and will cause more harm than good.
The Kelowna boycott is intended to hurt Israeli businesses. It will also affect Jews with cultural and academic links to Israel, and will lead to the exclusion of individual Israelis who hold similar political views on Israel/Palestine to the UCC. People will be shunned from public life because of where they are born.
As for historical resonances, you can learn about the 1904 Limerick Boycott here, which was inspired by clergyman Fr John Creagh.
Justifying his decision to boycott Jewish business in the Northern Whig, 8 Feb 1904, Creagh wrote:
“…and, as for the Jews in business, I am quite prepared to admit that there are many who are irreproachable. What people have been pleased to call my crusade has been directed only against a class of Jewish traders who grind and oppress those who are unfortunate enough to get into their power – who exact extortionate sums under the instalment system from those who can ill afford to pay them.”
The United Church of Canada should be able to show its desire for peace between Israelis and Palestinians without excluding persons and businesses of either nationality.
Yet clergy-led boycotts of Jews are a part of a shameful history of Christian antisemitism that should be shunned by all churches which are serious about avoiding racism and discrimination.