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UK Methodists still half-hearted about BDS

UK Methodists still half-hearted about BDS

“We’ll continue dialogue and engage prayerfully”

By Stuart Littlewood
July 3, 2014

The UK Methodist conference has ducked the opportunity to extend BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) to the whole of Israel. They are content to limit it to firms that operate in the illegally-occupied Palestinian territories for the time being.

They sidestepped a proposal to “strengthen the church’s commitment to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a peaceful and effective method to persuade the state of Israel to end its military occupation of the Palestinian territories… by applying BDS to Israel in addition to the illegal settlements”. And they did so on a day when Israelis were ramping up their wildly disproportionate murder spree and collective punishment against Palestinians in response to the alleged kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers.

All talk, no action
A spokesperson for the church said: “A Notice of Motion calling for Conference to look at adopting BDS at next year’s conference was not passed and the original resolutions in the report were voted on.”

What were those original resolutions?

The conference, mindful of the demands made by this work upon the Connexional Team and the resources of the whole Church, encourages the Methodist people to observe a period of two years (conferences of 2015 and 2016) before submitting memorials or notices of motion to the Conference on this or similar issues relating to Israel/Palestine that require further work or action.

So there’s absolutely no need for urgency. What are Methodists supposed to do in the meantime?

The conference, recognizing that significant time and energy has been expended on this work beyond what is sustainable for the church, directs the Methodist people to the resolutions of the Methodist conference in 2010 (see Appendix 1). This will offer to the church a variety of ways in which people might engage prayerfully and practically with the region.

So it’s too much like hard work grappling with this BDS stuff.

The conference wishes to continue in dialogue with those in Britain who are closely affected by the ongoing conflict and calls on Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) to act as an agent for the churches in drawing together the wide range of voices from within faith communities in Britain as well as continuing to work with a variety of relevant agencies…

Thanks, we get the drift. All talk, no action.

Weasel words
In a briefing document circulated a few months before conference the authors (unnamed) came up with every excuse imaginable, and then some, to put the skids under the call for fuller BDS.

• “The very notion of boycott recalls for many the Nazi-organized boycott of 1933 when Hitler came to power…”

The term “boycott” was used in Germany in the 1930s to project hatred toward the Jews and provided a means through which hatred could find physical expression.

• “Any formal call for boycott from churches strengthens a perception among some within the Jewish community that Christians are unwilling to counter anti-Semitism. This would present difficulties for relationships between Methodists and many in the Jewish community.”

• “Trade sanctions against Israel would be unjust as this would be inconsistent with the approach taken to occupation in other contexts including China’s occupation of Tibet, Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara…”

• “When divesting you close the door to further engagement with a company.”

• “Academic boycott runs contrary to the principle of a free exchange of ideas. An academic boycott would to some extent curtail the opportunities for academic exchange and would discriminate against Israeli academics who are critical of the Israeli government. The Israeli academic community contains some of the most free-thinking members of Israeli society.”

• “A blanket ban on all Israeli goods is difficult to achieve as Israeli manufactured products and components are prevalent in the UK market place… The pragmatic approach proposed by the BDS movement is to boycott goods within reason, but this does rather suggest a boycott of convenience.”

• “To some extent BDS could distract from a dialogue around the application of the core principles of justice, equality and self-determination… It is often suggested that it would be better for the Church to join with other faiths in efforts to facilitate bridge-building projects and build trust.”

• “We have acknowledged that, when a national church institution issues criticism of the policies of the government of Israel it can be perceived as hatred and victimization of the Jewish people.”

They expect to be loved after what has been done in their name for the last 60-odd years?

• “There is general agreement that many Israelis may assume that Israel is being targeted by BDS ‘because they hate us’ or ‘because they are anti-Semitic’.”
• “The tactic of BDS, by giving credence to one perspective only, is unlikely to promote an atmosphere for dialogue that could be truly transformative in nature.”

When was dialogue with Jews or their Jewish state ever “transformative”? They have forced the Palestinians to live under illegal occupation for decades. Muslims and Christians live in daily terror, their movement is severely restricted, their trade is strangled, their academic freedoms are almost non-existent, they cannot attend their holy places, their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed, their country has been pillaged and trashed. It is the Christian-Muslim perspective that claims out attention and the Christian presence in the Holy Land is dwindling fast. It is they who have suffered, and continue to suffer, while Israel prospers at their expense.

The Methodists’ BDS briefing reads like it’s the work of the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the hasbara team in Mark Regev’s propaganda den in Tel Aviv. BDS, of course, is not a fight setting one people against another. It is the application of social, economic and political pressure to bring about change. If it is a fight at all, it’s a fight against oppression and brutal occupation. It’s a fight for freedom and self-determination. Encouraging people to think that it might be a fight for something else, as this grubby document does, is pure mischief.

In the end UK Methodists, at their annual conference, didn’t seem to grasp that the BDS campaign is to make Israel realize that, even if the international community continues to allow the racist regime to run amok, civil society will eventually ensure there are consequences for its cruelty and for defiling the Holy Land with its crimes. Only consequences can change the situation. Nothing else has done so.


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