LONDON – The Methodist Church of Britain voted on Wednesday to boycott Israeli-produced goods and services from the West Bank because of Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.”
“A majority of governments recognize the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as illegitimate under international law,” the church body said at its annual conference in Portsmouth.
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The church body will now encourage Methodists across the UK to follow suit.
The motion stated that the boycott of goods “from illegal Israeli settlements” was in response to a call by the World Council of Churches – which advocates divestment from Israel – and by Palestinian civil society and “a growing number of Jewish organizations in Israel and worldwide.”
“The Methodist Conference notes the call of the World Council of Churches in 2009 for an international boycott of settlement produce and services and the support given for such a boycott by Christian leaders in Palestine in the Kairos document, Palestinian civil society and a growing number of Jewish organizations both inside Israel and worldwide and calls on the Methodist people to support and engage with this boycott of Israeli goods emanating from illegal settlements,” the church said.
Last year, the Methodist Church set up a working group to “work for an end to the Occupation, an end to the blockade of Gaza, adherence to international law by all sides and a just peace for all in the region.”
The resulting 54-page report produced by the church body, titled “Justice for Palestine and Israel,” met with a fierce condemnation by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Council of Christians and Jews and British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
In a statement released after Wednesday’s vote, the church body said the decision, which carried unanimously, had the goal of ending “the existing injustice.”
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but after months of research, careful consideration and finally, today’s debate at the conference,” said Christine Elliott, secretary for external relationships. “The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region.”
Jewish community leadership organizations reacted with dismay. In a joint statement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council said it was, “This is a very sad day, both for Jewish-Methodist relations and for everyone who wants to see positive engagement with the complex issues of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Methodist Conference has swallowed hook, line and sinker a report full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy.
“The deeply flawed report is symptomatic of a biased process: The working group which wrote the report had already formed its conclusions at the outset. External readers were brought in to give the process a veneer of impartiality, but their criticisms were rejected. The report’s authors have abused the trust of ordinary members of the Methodist Church, who assumed that they were reading and voting on an impartial and comprehensive paper, and they have abused the goodwill of the Jewish community, which tried to engage with this issue, only to find that our efforts were treated as an unwelcome distraction,” the statement said.
David Gifford, the chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, said he was disappointed that the Israeli narrative was not heard during the debate.
“I was very disappointed at the emotive nature of the debate which again did not hear fairly also the pain and cry of the Israeli,” Gifford said. “It was right to hear the pain of the Palestinian but in the end the vote of the Methodist Conference was to boycott goods and services that originate from the West Bank. We shall have to see how this will affect future relationships of the Methodist Church with other churches, the CCJ [Council of Christians and Jews] and with the British Jewish community.”
The Board of Deputies said the conference should “hang its head in shame.”
“This outcome is extremely serious and damaging, as we and others have
explained repeatedly over recent weeks. Israel is at the root of the
identity of Jews and of Judaism, and as an expression of Jewish
spiritual, national and emotional aspirations. Zionism cannot simply be
ruled as illegitimate in the way that the conference has purported to
do. This smacks of breathtaking insensitivity, as crass as it is
misinformed. That this position should now form the basis of Methodist
Church policy should cause the conference to hang its head in shame,
just as surely as it will cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation
to cheer from the sidelines.”
Anti-Zionist and anti-Israel activists who support a blanket boycott of
Israel were the main sources of the document. They included
Israeli-born academics Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim; Jeff Halper from the
Israeli Committee against House Demolitions; Anglican vicar Stephen
Sizer; and Beirut-based journalist Robert Fisk.