Richard MatherRichard Mather writes and edits for Israel News Online. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel and Chabad Lubavitch’s Holiday Times Magazine. He lives in Manchester, England.
The debate continues. Should Christians boycott Israel? That is the question on the lips of the Methodist Church in Britain, which is planning to write a report about the viability of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
In July 2013, the Methodist Conference launched a consultation in order to consider how to respond to the BDS movement. The Church’s deadline for public contributions to the debate expired a few days ago but the debate goes on as Church leaders use their findings to establish the question of whether Israeli products, academics and cultural events should be shunned by British churchgoers.
This may not cause much of a stir in Israel. After all, the Methodist Church in Britain has only 300,000 members, which equates to around 0.5 per cent of the UK population. But before Israelis stifle a yawn, they might want to consider the positive effect of a Methodist rebuttal of BDS.
First of all, the Methodist Church is an important (if underappreciated) component of UK society, thanks to its historic influence on the British Left. There is an old saying that the British Labour Party “owes more to Methodism than to Marx.” There is a lot of truth in this. With the exception of the hard left, socialism in Britain is rooted in the New Testament rather than Das Kapital. What the Methodist Church decides on the issue of BDS may have a knock-on effect inside the Labour Party (and a future government).
Secondly, if the Methodist Church decides that BDS is a bad thing, then this may positively influence other churches which are either committed to the boycott or are prevaricating. Moreover, it would be a blow for Israel-bashers if an entire organization such as the Methodist Church in Britain rejects the aims and methods of BDS.
But before we get ahead of ourselves (the report won’t be ready until 2014), it is worth addressing a major concern about the consultation, which comprises fourteen questions, all of which are worded in a fashion that seems to presume Israel’s guilt.
Among critics of the consultation are NGO Monitor and the British Board of Deputies. NGO Monitor describes the questionnaire as “seriously flawed” because of the way it blames Israel for the origins and perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, says NGO Monitor, the consultation “fails to ask hard-hitting questions of Palestinian representatives regarding their role in the origins and perpetuation of the conflict,” such as anti-Semitic incitement, terrorism and rejection of the right of Jews to live in their ancient homeland.
The British Board of Deputies cites “strong concerns about the premise and the processes around this report.”
Meanwhile, Dexter Van Zile, the Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (Camera) has described the consultation as “a kangaroo court.”
In an open letter to the Methodist Church, he says: “A quick perusal of the questions indicates that the church has already concluded that Israel is solely responsible for the continued existence of the Mideast conflict, and that the Palestinians (and their Arab supporters) bear no responsibility. The only question facing your church is how Israel should be punished.”
The critics are right to be critical of the consultation process. A quick look at the Methodist Church’s website confirms this. The questions include:
“Do you support a boycott of products produced within Israeli settlements?”
“Do you support the call for a wider consumer boycott of all Israeli products?”
“If you do not support the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, could you ever see yourself supporting such a call in the future? Under what circumstances?”
“Do you support an academic boycott of Israel? Please explain your reasoning.”
“Do you support a cultural boycott of Israel? Please explain your reasoning.”
Out of the fourteen questions, there is just one question that hints at Palestinian responsibility. But even this is couched in terms that obfuscate Arab accountability:
“What actions other than BDS might members of the Methodist Church take to encourage a political process that could deliver a just and sustainable resolution in Israel and Palestine?”
Fourteen questions and not a single one mentions the decades of rejectionism, anti-Semitism, Arab invasions and terrorism.
Indeed, one could go further and question the entire premise of the consultation. Why is Israel being singled out in the first place? Its human rights record is far superior to that of the USA (see Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel). Next to Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as most of Africa, eastern Europe and South America, Israel is a model of virtue. It is absurd to question Israel’s ethics while its neighbors are busy slaughtering each other.
What is also worrying is the fact that the Methodist Church’s questions focus on Israel rather than on the methods and goals of the BDS movement. The BDS movement deserves a lot more scrutiny than it is currently getting. BDS is not a fair critique of Israeli policies but is a malicious propaganda tool designed to undermine the political, constitutional, economic and diplomatic foundations of the world’s only Jewish state.
According to the EU’s working definition of anti-Semitism, BDS is anti-Semitic. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination is anti-Semitic. Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not demanded of any other democratic nation is anti-Semitic. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is anti-Semitic.
The Methodist Church should be aware that contemporary anti-Semitism is not restricted to racial slurs and pogroms but includes the unfair delegitimization of Israel. BDS is guilty of this and must be judged accordingly.
Those who are already opposed to Jewish self-determination and/or ignore the reprehensible role of the Arabs and Palestinians will not be persuaded by the EU working definition. But anyone with a mind for fair play and rational thought ought to understand the notion that BDS is not pro-Palestinian but simply anti-Israel. And this is the most troubling aspect of BDS. It is the fanatical hatred of Jewish statehood which is alarming.
So here’s the dilemma. The Methodist Church is questioning whether it is right to support BDS. This is a good thing because far too many Christian organizations have lent their support to the boycott movement without a proper appraisal of its aims. However, the consultation is deeply flawed. The questionnaire is inherently biased against Israel, omits the Palestinian role in the conflict and ignores the anti-Semitic character of BDS.
On the plus side, it is still possible that the Methodist Church will reject the call to boycott Israel. Yes, the questionnaire is defective and its premise is unfair, but there is always the possibility that enough people have used the consultation to explain why BDS is unethical and Israel is in the right. Plus, the fact that the consultation itself has been criticized may cause the writers of the report to rethink their prejudices and be more careful in their use of language in the future.
So I implore the writers of the report and the Methodist Church in general to listen to the complaints of NGO Monitor and other critics. And I call on them to thoroughly reject the claims of the BDS movement. I ask this not because I am part of any Israel lobby or pressure group but because I believe it is the right thing to do.