Preacher set to sue own church over anti-Israel policies

David Hallam, a Methodist minister from Birmingham, accused his church of using donations to pursue a campaign of discrimination against Israel.

LONDON – A Methodist minister is preparing to take legal action against his own church over its decision to boycott Israeli goods and adopt a controversial report on Israel that Jewish community leaders feel is replete with “deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy.”
“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 Methodist Conference has purported to do,” said a statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative organization of British Jewry.
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The report – which it said “smacks of breathtaking insensitivity, as crass as it is misinformed” – led the Board of Deputies to break ties with the Methodist church, criticizing its content as “deeply flawed” and symptomatic of “a biased process” that had “already formed its conclusions at the outset.”
David Hallam, a Methodist minister from Birmingham, last week accused his church of using charitable donations to pursue a campaign of discrimination against Israel after the church adopted the report and a boycott of Israeli goods and services from the West Bank at its annual conference in July.
“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,” the Board said. “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 Jewish organization said that with the report, “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 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 Board maintained.
Hallam has recruited barrister Paul Diamond, an expert in religious and human rights law, in an effort to show that the church is in breach of European human rights law and the European Union directive on racism.
“What I object to is money which I am putting on the collection plate on a Sunday being used to fund a political campaign against the Jewish state,” Hallam said.
Hallam, a former Labor Member of the European Parliament, maintains that the church is prejudiced against Israel by singling out the Jewish state, in light of countries with far worse human rights records.
“This is both discriminatory and a misuse of a charity’s funds,” he said. “The Methodist Church seems to think it has a God-given right to tell Jews how to run their affairs. It is very disturbing we are getting involved in a territory where we don’t have any members or churches.”
Methodist spokesman Toby Scott told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that the church was not sure if the potential charges have any substance and claimed that the church was “committed” to a discussion on justice and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
“The Methodist Church is confident that we always act within the law, both the law itself and the spirit of the law which we believe is our duty.
We are committed to a continuing discussion about justice and a peaceful resolution within Israel-Palestine, and that is the focus of the resolutions passed at the Methodist Conference.
“With regard to potential charges by Paul Diamond or David Hallam, we have yet to be clear about what the Methodist Church is being accused of as neither have contacted us directly,” Scott said. “Therefore we cannot be sure that this has any substance.”