August 11, 2010
A few weeks ago the Methodist Church's annual conference did a very courageous and praiseworthy thing. It voted to boycott products from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, regarded as illegal under international law, and to encourage Methodists across Britain to do the same.
"The decision is a response to a call from a group of Palestinian Christians, a growing number of Jewish organizations, both inside Israel and worldwide, and the World Council of Churches," said the press release.
Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships, remarked: "This decision has not been taken lightly, but after months of research, careful consideration and finally, today’s debate at the conference. 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."
UK Jewish leaders incensed by boycott call
Predictably, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which calls itself "the chief voice of British Jewry", blew a gasket. In a joint statement with the Jewish Leadership Council they said the Methodists should "hang their heads in shame". The chief rabbi led the verbal assault warning that the implications would "reverberate across the hitherto harmonious relationship between the faith communities in the UK".
What seemed to have inflamed the chief rabbi this time was the report "Justice for Palestine and Israel" submitted to the Methodist Conference. Its recommendations include the following:
In listening to church leaders and our fellow-Christians in Israel, Palestine as well as leaders of Palestinian civil society, we hear an increasing consensus calling for the imposition of boycott, divestment and sanctions as a major strategy of non-violent resistance to the occupation. The conference notes the call of the WCC [World Council of Churches] in 2009 for an "international boycott of settlement produce and services" and calls on the Methodist people to support and engage with this boycott of Israeli goods emanating from illegal settlements (some Methodists would advocate a total boycott of Israeli goods until the occupation ends).
Elsewhere it says:
The Methodist Church has consistently expressed its concern over the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the State of Israel. That occupation continues not only compounds the state’s illegal and immoral action but also makes any accommodation with the Palestinian people and future peace in the region much less possible.
The chief rabbi nevertheless denounced the report as "unbalanced, factually and historically flawed" without saying in what way it was inaccurate. Actually, it is a very well put together document, which hits the mark and is hard to fault.
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said the authors of the Methodists' report had "abused the goodwill of the Jewish community, which tried to engage on this issue, only to find our efforts were treated as an unwelcome distraction". Here is the full text:
Statement on the flawed document endorsed by the Annual Methodist Conference
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.
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 Methodist 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.
Empty barrels, they say, make the most noise.
If arrogance is the only response to serious concerns about Israel’s unending barbarity towards Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land, it’s time that implications did indeed "reverberate" across the faith communities, not only in the UK but around the world.
Zionist cuckoos in the Methodist nest
Lo and behold, before the dust could settle another new product from the Zionist drawing-board popped up, calling itself Methodist Friends of Israel.
We are Christians who are members or adherents of the Methodist Church, who love Israel and want to bless her and who fully accept God’s everlasting covenant with His chosen people," they announced. "While recognizing that the nation of Israel is, like all nations of the world, an unrighteous nation that does not always get things right, we firmly stand with her at all times and continue to support her in an increasingly hostile world. We will not turn our backs as so many did in the 1930s.
We see that anti Semitism is on the rise throughout the world with synagogues and graveyards vandalized and Jews being attacked both verbally and physically and that there appears to be a direct relationship between the increased attacks on Jews and the blanket condemnation of Israel by the media, many charitable organizations and world bodies such as the UN. We are concerned that the whole, true picture of what life is like in Israel is given to the world rather than the biased half truths, distortions and lies that are presently reported.
We are concerned that many churches are going down the politically correct line of condemning Israel’s policies and are thus contributing to the strong anti Semitic views of the world.
Note that they are concerned only with "what life is like in Israel", not the hell Israel has created in the occupied Palestinian territories for Christians and Muslims.
And what else do they believe in?
They recognize that Israel is the land given by God to the Jews and Jerusalem is its only capital.
They believe that God’s word for, promises to, and covenants with Israel – people and land, through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) – are everlasting and that the church has not replaced Israel
They believe that Scripture prophesies the restoration of the Jews to the land of Israel and what they are seeing today is a fulfilment of prophecy. It is a privilege that they are witnesses to this fulfilment
They believe that Israel is central in the enactment of God’s purposes as we move in these last days
They believe in finding out from many sources the whole picture of what is happening in Israel so that they can pass on the facts to those whose view is based solely on biased media coverage, and so correct mistaken beliefs (achingly funny, this)
They believe in blessing Israel however possible, including buying goods and produce from Israel and resisting all calls for boycotts
They believe in supporting Israel’s defence of its people and their right to live without the threat of missile attacks, homicide bombings, etc.
They believe in standing against libellous attacks against Israel
They believe in fully supporting Israel’s right to the land given them by God
According to the Jewish Chronicle, the group was set up by preacher Pam Smith from South Wales in reaction to her Church’s call to boycott Israel. Naturally, Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chairman of the Zionist Federation, was overjoyed and said: "I hope this will be the start of a grassroots movement within the Methodists to reverse the motion passed at the Methodist Conference, which was theologically invalid, maligned Zionism and demonized Israel."
Needless to say, the Methodist Friends of Israel website editorial reads like pages from some Israeli propaganda rag.
Have they not heard of "The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism", a statement by the Latin Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued in 2006? It is neatly summed up in its first sentence:
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.
Those guys are on the ground, in the front line. They know the score. It’s time Preacher Pam visited Gaza and the West Bank (not by Israeli tour bus or as guests of Israel’s 'establishment’) and got a grip on reality. She and others have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into supporting a sinister political movement that is intent on stealing the Holy Land from under our noses.
I wonder how long these cuckoos will be allowed to foul the Methodist Church’s nest.
Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.