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July 19, 2012

Boycott would balance one-sided approach to Israel

Desmond Jagger-Parsons

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On June 17, nine Canadian senators who are members of the United Church of Canada wrote to our church's moderator concerning an upcoming discussion of our policy on Israel and Palestine, which will take place at our general council in Ottawa this summer, that could lead to a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands.

I am amazed and appalled by the content of the senators’ letter. These senators ask our moderator to take a stand against the well-researched attempt to offer an actually balanced approach to seeking Middle East peace. As parliamentarians who also claim to be members of the United Church, they ought to have understood that the moderator, like a Speaker in a parliament, is meant to preside over the debate, not be partisan in it.

I am even more amazed that parliamentarians who passed legislation, or sat at cabinet tables, have forgotten that the federal government’s present approach is to make illegal in Canada economic relations with Palestinian political parties resulting from their violent histories, and to label them as terrorist organizations.

Canadians are participating in a global economic advocacy strategy to oppose Middle East violence on one side.

As for our relationship with the Israeli side, who are building the settlements and causing more than 10 times the deaths, who have built a wall inside Palestinian territory, who are denying basic human rights to the Palestinian people — we are selling them arms to help them do it, and have a free-trade agreement with them.

It is farcical that the word “balance” is used to argue against the peace movement’s efforts to actually move us to working for a just peace in the Middle East.

We do need balance. We need to say to the government of Israel — as we do to organizations within the Palestinian community that support a violent response to the Occupation — that if you will not stop building settlements (against repeated United Nations resolutions and the long-standing Canadian and international position that settlements are illegal), then there will be economic consequences.

This summer, the United Church of Canada will consider one small step at balancing Canada’s very one-sided approach: calling for the boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements.

In more simple terms, those in favour of this would say that it is wrong to purchase something produced on land that has been stolen, where the presence of those producing it causes intense aggravation to an already untenable situation.

If Israel does not listen, then the consequences will eventually have to move from boycotts to divestment to sanctions. The alternative is standing idly by while the Palestinian people live in an impossible situation, and this is unacceptable to people of conscience.

If the United Church takes this step we will join other Christians, including the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. and the United Methodist Church of the U.S.A., whose national gatherings have both supported this step this year. In terms of shared history, those two churches are born of exactly the same unions that make up the United Church of Canada, so it is more than coincidence that we would move in step with one another.

As for our brothers and sisters in faith, Jewish Canadians, who hear this with the ears of those who remember when our Christian ancestors turned on them (and feel this is anti-Semitism), we are sorry for your legitimate pain.

However, your anxiety does not justify the government of Israel’s repeated harassment and oppression of the Palestinian people, nor does it give cause to perpetuating a 45-year-old situation where a huge percentage of the Palestinian people cannot vote in the government that controls every aspect of their lives. And with respect, the teachings of your faith call for justice for all peoples, not preference of any one people or race or creed, as do the teachings of our faith.

We have learned this from listening extensively to the Jews in Canada, Israel and many lands who are working side by side with Palestinians and peoples from all around the world for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

We have learned this from Jewish rabbis who call on us to do exactly what we are doing. We have learned this from our own faith, and we cannot apologize for doing the right thing.

Rev. Desmond Jagger-Parsons is the minister of outreach and Christian development at Trinity United Church in Kitchener and a member of the United Network for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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