Is the United Church’s Israel-boycott decision fair? Yes.

The General Council denounced violence and hatred on both sides

By Cathy HamiltonSeptember  24, 2012
Rev. Cathy Hamilton is president of the Montreal and  Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada and was a commissioner to the  church’s 41st General Council. She serves as minister at Christ Church United in  Deux Montagnes.

To denounce something is to publicly declare it to be wrong or evil.  “Denounce” is a strong word. Last month, it was the word that commissioners  to the 41st General Council of the United Church of Canada chose to describe the  violence and incitement of hatred by people on both sides of the  Israel-Palestine conflict. I am one of those commissioners.

While media attention focused on the church’s support for economic action  against products made in the West Bank Israeli settlements, the motion that  passed also included some very significant affirmations saying that the church  “denounces all questions of Israel’s right to exist or that seek to  undermine its legitimacy as a state.”

In choosing the term “economic action” over the more charged  “boycott,” the church is trying to walk a middle path, while denouncing the  violence and hatred perpetrated on both sides.

It is important to read the actual motion that was passed — it can be found  at — as well as the hundreds of other actions we took. The motion  calling on the church to act was the result of a strong report written by the  Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy, commissioned at the last General  Council three years ago

That report names the settlements as an illegal occupation (based on the  United Nations Fourth Geneva Convention, and the view of the Canadian  government). It reported the stories of Palestinian farmers who could no longer  get to their ancestral land, their olive groves or even the water in their  wells. It reported that the Christian community living in the territory had  asked us to help raise the unheard voices of those on all sides who are victims  of violence, often against each other.

The 353 elected church members who attended the General Council — a  gathering held every three years, a week of prayer, meetings, policy-making and  election of a new church moderator — were moved by the report’s  findings.

We heard from Dr. Victor Goldbloom, chair of the Canadian Christian-Jewish  Consultation, and from Palestinian Christian Ramzi Zananiri, executive director  of the Near East Council of Churches in Jerusalem.

We listened prayerfully and carefully reflected on our mutual desire to  contribute to building peace.

In the end, I believe that the motion is a balanced and clear  statement.

It affirms non-violent resistance. It challenges some Christian theologies  that seek to justify the occupation. It encourages United Church members to  participate in ethical travel, peace projects and study that strengthen our  relationships with both the Jewish and Muslim communities. And it calls on  United Church members to join the existing economic action campaign started by  partners in the area.

We are choosing not to support the economies of illegal settlements. The  Presbyterian and Methodist churches in the United States have taken similar  action against settlement-produced products.

A recent survey commissioned by Faithful Witness (a group of United Church  clergy and members who oppose the recommendations of the working group) and the  Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs found that a majority of United Church folk  believe that the church should speak out but remain strictly neutral between the  two sides in this long-standing dispute. As an elected commissioner to this  General Council, that is exactly the position I saw the church struggling  faithfully to take. I also saw a church trying to follow the call of God through  the prophet Micah, the call to seek justice, to love kindness and at the same  time to walk humbly. But we cannot seek justice for those being abused, love  kindness for all our neighbours and walk humbly if we remain strictly neutral.  We will be silenced and frozen by the nuances in a fruitless effort to attain  the perfect balance.

Instead, we are denouncing the violence and hatred on both sides that impede  solutions for a just peace. We must continue to listen with open hearts and  stand beside those who live in fear. We must attempt to find the peaceful path  and invite others to join us on that path.

In calling for economic action, Barbara White, a member of the reporting  team, notes: “How else can our church convey to Jewish and Israeli colleagues  that something has to happen to allow justice for Palestinian people and a  healthy unfolding of a Jewish state for Israelis?”

What has emerged from this report are the voices of those who need to be  heard. The debate has engaged thousands of people in a thoughtful, prayerful  process toward peace, not only within the United Church of Canada but across  many sectors of Canadian society.

A new statement by the United Church of Canada on the church’s policy  toward Israel and Palestine can be found under News and Info at

Cathy Hamilton is president of the Montreal and Ottawa Conference of the  United Church of Canada and was a commissioner to the church´s 41st General  Council. She serves as minister at Christ Church United in Deux  Montagnes.

      ©             Copyright  (c)             The Montreal  Gazette

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