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The United Church of Canada will decide during its 40th General Council this week whether or not to pass resolutions calling for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions - a move that has led Jewish institutions to accuse the church of anti-Semitic conduct.
The United Church's proposal calls for its members "to advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions at the national and international level." The boycott would comply with the Palestinian Civil Society's July 2005 call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
The background information included in the church's proposal draws similarities between Israel's actions and South African apartheid.
Eric Vernon, director of government affairs for the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the National Post last month that "this puts the United Church in some very questionable company. The use of boycott, divestment and sanctions has been a weapon used by Israel's enemies to destroy it. Those are elements of anti-Semitic behavior in the contemporary world."
According to the General Council proposal, the goals of this boycott would be similar to those of the one placed on South Africa.
"The South African example showed the efficacy of boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns as a nonviolent means of international solidarity with a population engaged in resistance against racial discrimination and violence," the proposal reads.
Frank Dimant, chief executive officer of B'nai Brith Canada, has expressed his dismay over this development.
"I am disgusted with the proposal," he told the National Post. "I think at a time when we are fighting islamofascism around the world, when Canadian soldiers are fighting islamofascism [in Afghanistan], the attempt by these resolutions is to hurt in a most profound way one of the countries at the forefront [of] that battle. This is an obscene gesture by a religious group, and my hope is that Christians will turn their backs on this resolution."
The proposal is aimed at accelerating the peace process, operating under the assumption that Israeli institutions are discriminating against the Palestinian people and therefore must be clearly targeted as a main obstruction of peace.
"The right to education of Palestinians is attacked in ongoing ways by the illegal regime of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza," it reads. "Israeli institutions, including universities, are involved in an ongoing way in the development and maintenance of this exclusionary regime directed at Palestinians."
The church considers a "just peace" in the Middle East to require, among other things, mutual recognition between Israel and a new State of Palestine, as well as assured peace, security and equality.
Representatives of the United Church - the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, comprising some three million people across the country, according to its Web site - have stressed that the boycott is not intended as an attack on the Jewish people and state, but as a message to them to take action toward peace.
Rev. David Giuliano, moderator of the United Church, noted his institution's longstanding relationship with the Canadian Jewish Congress in a National Post blog. Explaining the church's efforts to uphold this association, he wrote, "In this instance, we honored our ongoing commitment to be transparent with Jewish colleagues by giving them notice of these motions soon after we became aware of them."
Giuliano pointed out that the General Council would "also welcome a rabbi and an imam to this council as invited guests who have full speaking and participation privileges, but not a vote."
Rev. Bruce Gregersen, the church's General Council officer for programs, was quoted in the National Post as saying, "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 toward peace."
The 40th General Council began on Sunday in Kelowna, British Columbia, and runs through Saturday.