Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Balance needed on Israeli settlements, in United Church vote

On the issue of settlements, we have history as our guide.

In 1982, Israel withdrew every last settler from the Sinai after securing a peace agreement with Egypt. Both countries have since benefited from peace. In 2005, Israel withdrew every settler from Gaza as a unilateral gesture without a peace agreement. Civilians in southern Israel have since been targeted by some 10,000 missiles and mortars from Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
History is clear. Israeli withdrawals must include peace and security guarantees signed by Israel’s neighbours, as per international law under UNSC Resolution 242. (Exerpted from Shimon Fogel's piece on the United Church of Canada's proposed vote on boycotting Israeli settlements, included below.)
Balance, in the face of adamancy on the part of social activists, is often extremely difficult, sometimes impossible. What we may have, in the United Church, is a vocal group drawing attention to the "settlements" issue, about which there is considerable angst in many quarters, given the living conditions and repression of the people living there under Israeli control, and that group's carrying their single-minded purpose to meetings that were designed to formulate resolutions for votes at the church's national convention. There are undoubtedly many within the convention and in the broader church membership whose capacity for balance and detachment exceeds that of the ardent activists.
Social Justice, as a ministry, has for nearly a century been one of the cornerstones of the United Church faith praxis in Canada, and through that ministry the church has attracted the attention of public figures to social 'boils' that needed lancing, and even social 'cancers' that needed excision. Such a ministry based solidly on the urgings of the gospels to care for the needy and the voiceless, to 'comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable' can and will always be an integral component of the faith as practiced by those attending the United Church, no matter how minuscule those numbers might become.
Raising the conscience of the members, on an issue like the settlements, is both legitimate and necessary.
Boycotting all products from there could well be counter-intuitive, as well as counter-productive.
It is not the people living in the settlements that the UCC should be targetting, but rather the Israeli government, through a conscientious and carefully designed political campaign to bring attention to the plight of the people in the settlements, and to work with other equally committed and sincere activists for peace between Palestine and Israel, clearly a mine-field of negotiations that has too long a history and too many roadblocks for likely success in our lifetimes.
The UCC has carried the torch for social justice for so long, that to slip off the rails in this instance, while regrettable, must not be seen as a reason for abandoning that ministry. However, we can all hope that the final vote at the UCC convention will reject the boycott proposal, for legitimate political and historical reasons.

Boycott of Israeli settlements would shatter United Church’s credibility
By Shimon Fogel, Globe and Mail, August 14, 2012
Shimon Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada.

On Tuesday, the United Church of Canada (UCC) will vote on the Report of the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy, which includes a church-wide boycott of goods from Israeli settlements. That report, sadly, has failed to grasp what’s really at stake in this decision. A boycott of Israel launched in any form would put the United Church outside the genuine peace movement and the Canadian consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As hurtful as this would be to the Jewish community, it pales in comparison to the long-term damage it would cause to the reputation of one of Canada’s foremost voices in civil society: the United Church itself.

Granted, the church has removed a disturbing statement from the original report that the deepest meaning of the Holocaust was the denial of human dignity (and posits a moral equivalence with the challenges faced by Palestinians). Yet the report still calls on the UCC to “acknowledge with deep regret” its past policy of asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. What this move would achieve is anyone’s guess. But the notion that the Palestinians can continue to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state (as it was explicitly affirmed by the UN’s 1947 partition resolution) only relieves the Palestinian leadership of the duty to reconcile with its neighbour – and with reality.

No less disturbing is the report’s thesis that the occupation is “the primary contributor to the injustice that underlies the violence in the region,” that settlements are the chief obstacle to peace, and that Israel alone must be pressed to resolve the conflict. Put aside that the Arab-Israeli conflict began in 1948 (decades before settlements existed) and that the violent repression in Syria and throughout the region has nothing to do with Israel. On the issue of settlements, we have history as our guide.
In 1982, Israel withdrew every last settler from the Sinai after securing a peace agreement with Egypt. Both countries have since benefited from peace. In 2005, Israel withdrew every settler from Gaza as a unilateral gesture without a peace agreement. Civilians in southern Israel have since been targeted by some 10,000 missiles and mortars from Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
History is clear. Israeli withdrawals must include peace and security guarantees signed by Israel’s neighbours, as per international law under UNSC Resolution 242.

It’s astonishing that Israel’s removal of thousands of settlers from the Sinai and Gaza is not mentioned once in the UCC’s report – despite “settlements” appearing no fewer than 54 times. That “terrorism” is mentioned once and “Hamas” and “Hezbollah” receive no mention at all speaks volumes to the report’s lack of balance. Indeed, it reflects a minimization of key obstacles to peace (including anti-Jewish incitement, continuing terrorism, and yes, Hamas – the archetype of Arab rejection of the Jewish state).
Peace will come only through negotiations and painful concessions by both Israelis and Palestinians. This is the consensus among most Canadians and across the political spectrum (the NDP, under both Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair, firmly rejected boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts). No doubt this reflects the majority of UCC members, who would hope to play a constructive role in supporting the legitimate aspirations of both sides. Should a small minority of boycott advocates succeed, the greatest resulting injury would not be to the relationship between the UCC and the Jewish community, but rather between the UCC and its own congregants.
The framework for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict described above is also upheld by the mainstream peace movement, which is engaged in a myriad of projects to bring both sides together. To contribute to this movement, one need not refrain from criticizing particular Israeli policies (as Israeli peace activists can attest). One must simply commit to advancing peace through balance, mutual obligations and reconciliation – rather than coercion and the singling out of one side for blame.
Unfortunately, were the UCC to launch a church-wide boycott, it would alienate one of Canada’s most prominent churches from this important cause. In so doing, the church would not only be turning away from Canada’s Jewish community, but ultimately from the UCC’s own tradition as a leading voice in civil society for fairness, moderation and peace.

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