Methodist consultation on BDS: J-BIG response

When the UK’s Methodist Council endorsed BDS, it met Zionist condemnation and threats regarding interfaith relations.  This response led the Council to initiate a public consultation on the issues.   On4 November J-BIG submitted the statement below.

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What Methodist relations with the Jewish community?
Submission from Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG)

Les Levidow and Diana Neslen

There is some concern within the Methodist community that support for BDS will harm community relations and dialogue-based initiatives with the leadership of organised Jewry.  At first glance these threats do not seem to be idle.  Past decisions by the Methodist conference have induced a flurry of activity by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.  The Board hascondemned these actions and threatened a breakdown of relationships with the Methodist Church. Speaking for ‘the Jewish community’, in 2010 the Board expressed their ‘hurt and anger’ at the Methodist Church adopting the Justice for Palestine and Israel report.[1]

The Board stated that the decision ‘shattered the good relations’ between the Jewish Community and the Methodist Church.  This strong statement seemed to presage a divorce between the two organised communities, but this was not to be.   A communal Seder seemed to repair rifts [2].Soon after this the Board of Deputies was engaging in dialogue with the Inter-faith group on issues of concern to the Jewish community and the Methodists, like challenging anti Semitism[3].  Clearly it was one thing to engage in bluster, but another to make divorce a reality.

The same behaviour is manifest with respect to the Coop, which took the decision to boycott agricultural products from occupied Palestinian territory.  Since Israeli agricultural companies source agricultural products from the occupied territories, this means that all Israeli agricultural companies are subject toboycott. The reaction from the organised Jewish community was immediate and highly critical.  Efforts were made to overturn the Coop’s action.  Many Israel supporters joined the Cooperative movement for the express purpose of overturning the decision, but they had no arguments worthy of considerationin open debateand were unable to achieve their objectives. Consequently the Leeds Lobby Network, an organisation that gives unqualified support to Israeli policies, is now telling the Jewish Telegraphthat it is engaging in a dialogue with the Cooperative movement.  So the Board’s earlier threats were not fulfilled.

What kind of dialogue is sought by the Board? As the mouthpiece for Israel, it is committed to ‘an unwavering relationship with the state of Israel’,[4]so the parameters of dialogue are very limited.

Discussion of this issue is all the more urgent in the light of recent developments following the statement by Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies[5]. In October the Jewish Chronicle reported that after talks with the Board of Deputies, the Methodists are considering abandoning the boycott.[6]   According to the report both sides ‘agreed to explore approaches, distinct from the BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions] consultation on which the Methodist Church is presently engaged, including investing in peace, dialogue and reconciliation projects’.

At first sight this would seem to preclude the outcome of the consultation exercise.  Therefore the Methodist Church should consider carefully the character of the dialogue on offer.  Those who give unqualified support to Israel’s policies find that they cannot defend them to those who believe in universal human rights. Rather than acknowledge Israel’s transgressions, the Board resorts to subterfuge and propose something else like ‘dialogue, peace and reconciliation projects’.

Why? Precisely because nothing changes as a result.While people talk to each other, Israel grabs more territorywithout any penalty, as it is doing through the current ‘peace process’.  Dialogue is used to impose Israel’s distorted perspectives, rather than consider opposing viewpoints and change behaviour accordingly.  The Council of Christians and Jews illustrates how an organisation promotes Israel as a victim while paying lip service to Palestinian rights.[7]

Dialogue may be worthwhile if there is any chance that it will be used to encourage insight and change, towards respecting Palestinian rights.  Instead it is used to bully others into acquiescence with the powerful – the Board’s main aim for dialogue.  At this stage, the Israelis seek to reconcile their self-portrayal as the victim with the reality that they are oppressors.  Meanwhile the Palestinians need liberation rather than ‘reconciliation’.  A free people can enter into dialogue and indeed reconciliation, but the first objective must be freedom and equality. Anything less undermines the possibility of an equitable dialogue.

Israel is still the powerful player pulling the strings.  Let us be quite frank:  Israel wants more territory and in that quest is happy enough to allow her army to maintain ‘peace’ and to contract out the policing of Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority.  Israel lives under a peace that works for her.  Treated as lesser beings, the Palestinians live under oppression and dispossession, the very opposite of peace.

BDS is a non-violent means of trying to bring about change for Palestinian rights.  It raises awareness, engages the activists and slowly and inexorably changes the nature of the conversation from one of dominion to one of rights.   In fact the World Council of Churches supported BDS with respect to apartheid South Africa. The same must be true for the issue of Palestine.  Weneed to enhance the voice of those under the yoke of occupation.

The question then arises as to whether a BDS stance is the best available option.  The issue is whether Israel has any incentive to change its behaviour.  Unfortunately the evidence shows that without sanctions Israel continues to take advantage of its dominant position. It is the reaction of Israel and its supporters to BDS that tells us how profoundly this affects them.  Two members of the Israeli embassy in London are employed to challenge BDS.  This is how seriously the state takes this matter.  There are no members of the embassy employed to advance ‘peace, dialogue and reconciliation’.

There are those who say, not necessarily with tongue in cheek, that the time has come for dialogue, but not between organised British Jewry and those who support BDS.  Instead the time is ripe for dialogue between organised British Jewry and their contacts in the Israeli political establishment.  The purpose of this dialogue should be to advise Israel that the country need to change course before it is too late. It is time for the organised Jewish community to rescue Jewish values from the militaristic, nationalist ideology undermining them.  This viewpoint is being increasingly expressed by many Jews – not represented by the Board of Deputies.

In sum: The Zionist establishment (claiming to represent ‘the Jewish community’) seeks types of interfaith dialogue which reinforce Israel’s occupation of Palestine and lead other faiths to collude. If such dialogue is jeopardized by Methodists’  support for BDS, then this result would be no loss for the Methodist community.  To support Palestinian rights, the Methodist Church should support BDS and seek forms of dialogue which challenges the Occupation.

Notes

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