A briefing paper by the Methodist Church in the UK that explores the legitimacy of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands, apartheid policies, and subjugation of the Palestinian people has received condemnation from the Israeli embassy in London and the UK-based Board of Deputies.
Though the church document—officially titled 'A briefing document for the Methodist people
on the arguments for and against the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement' (pdf)—is quite clear that the paper is not itself an endorsement of BDS, but rather an exploration of the "range of arguments for and against" and "offering evidence in each case," Israeli officals claim that by presenting such arguments to its congregants, the church is "legitimizing" what the embassy officials called an "extremist" political campaign.
According to the Jewish Chronicle Online, the Board of Deputies "called the exercise skewed and flawed because it offered no alternatives for action other than boycott."
According to the Church Times in the UK, which first reported on the story:
The report says that the Methodist Church recognises both the Palestinian right to self-determination and the national aspirations of the Jewish people. It says: "As, sadly, given the increasing levels of anger and frustration, the prospect of a new armed conflict cannot be ruled out, the need for effective non-violent strategies has never been greater.
"Among the strategies for non-violence, BDS has come to be regarded by many Palestinians and others as particularly influential."
The report suggests that everyday life for Palestinians is overshadowed by occupation in the West Bank, and blockade in the Gaza Strip, and that by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, Israel has jeopardised hopes for a successful two-state solution. It also acknowledges the fact that a general boycott of Israel would be likely to cause Palestinians to lose jobs and income.
Among Methodists, there is no consensus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the briefing concludes. Some Methodists are Christian Zionists who wholeheartedly support Israel; others are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause; many are unsure.
An Israeli spokesperson at the embassy in London told Haaretz that the briefing paper's attempt to present numerous sides to the issue, backed by evidence "was a troubling departure from the Methodist Church's long tradition of genuine listening and promoting reconciliation and justice," though he did not elaborate on why that was so.
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According to a note released alongside its report, the church said "it hoped that the Methodist people will engage prayerfully with this Council briefing and the accompanying letter from the President and Vice-President, considering the issues carefully for themselves."
That letter, signed by president of the conference Revd Ruth Gee and vice president
Dr Daleep Mukarji, follows:
The desire for peace and justice is central to the response of the Methodist people to situations around the world including the very complex issues in Israel/Palestine. To recognise the complexity of a situation is not to deny the reality of suffering or to fail to challenge injustice. Suffering and injustice in past and present are the experience of many in Israel/Palestine and any response we make must acknowledge this.
We will continue to listen carefully to the voices of Palestinian Christians and to stand alongside them, as we listen to the voices of Christians around the world and seek to stand alongside those who suffer or are oppressed. Prayerful discernment is needed as we seek the best way in which to do this.
Prayerful discernment includes careful consideration of factual information. This briefing responds to the request of the Conference of the Methodist Church in Britain in 2013 for a report on “the arguments for and against the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) Movement”. As you engage with these issues:
We ask you to listen well;
We ask you to respond to a complex and challenging situation from a place where you seek understanding, appreciate the insecurities felt by many in the region and challenge injustice; We ask you to recognise that others will, with integrity, differ from your conclusions; and
Most of all, we ask you to pray.