UK Methodist Conference passes all resolutions from the Palestine/Israel report, including encouraging members to endorse ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’.
‘A Just Peace for Palestine’ update, 1 July 2010
‘A Just Peace for Palestine’ wholeheartedly welcomes the successful adoption by the Methodist Church Conference of the ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’ report [PDF]. The working group is to be congratulated for its hard work in compiling and submitting the report and its resolutions.
We admire the Methodist Church’s stand, particularly given the external pressure that was applied. As observed by a member of the Council of Christians and Jews, urging delegates to vote for the report, inter-faith dialogue is not well served “by being coy about what we believe to be true.”
On behalf of those Jews and Christians in the UK and Palestine/Israel who publicly endorsed “the working group’s humane and principled conclusions”, we would like to thank all those who gave courageous and moving statements in support of the report’s conclusions.
The Methodist Church’s response to the Palestinian cry for solidarity follows on from similar shows of support for the Kairos Palestine document by the World Council of Churches and South African church leaders.
We, the undersigned, are Christians and Jews who have invested our energies and hopes in working for a just peace in Palestine/Israel. We write to offer our wholehearted support for the ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’ report being submitted to this year’s Methodist Conference.
Disappointingly, the working group’s humane and principled conclusions have been misrepresented and attacked by those who empty powerful terms like ‘coexistence’ and ‘reconciliation’ of their true meaning.
Coexistence is not advanced by the bulldozer’s blade as it demolishes Palestinian homes and uproots olive trees; nor is reconciliation furthered by segregation and a decades-long militarised regime of control. In opposing such injustices, the resolutions simply affirm international law.
The illegality of the settlements, for example, is a consensus issue affirmed by the United Nations, the UK government, and countless NGOs like Amnesty International; boycotting their produce is thus a refusal to aid a gross breach of human rights and an obstacle to a just resolution.
We do nothing to advance a just peace without being realistic about the structural imbalance between Israel and the dispossessed, stateless Palestinians. In 1963, Martin Luther King wrote that the greatest ‘stumbling block’ to freedom was the ‘moderate’ who preferred ‘a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice’.
The Methodist church has the opportunity to listen to the cry for solidarity of the Palestinian Church as expressed in the Kairos document and respond. A just peace for Palestine will mean peace and security for Israelis – now is a time for action.
Nader Abu Amsha, Director, East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Programme and Beit Sahour YMCA
Nidal Abuzuluf, Program Manager, YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), Beit Sahour
Rev Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College/Pastor, East Jerusalem Baptist Church
Bishara Awad, President, Bethlehem Bible College
Sami Awad, Executive Director, Holy Land Trust
Constantine S. Dabbagh, Executive Secretary, Near East Council of Churches Committee for Refugee Work, Gaza Area
Aaron Dover, Deborah Maccoby, Diana Neslen, Naomi Wayne, on behalf of Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi UK
Rev Ray Gaston, Inter Faith Enabler, Birmingham District Methodist Church
Abe Hayeem, RIBA, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
Rev Canon Garth Hewitt, Canon of St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem/Director, Amos Trust
Rifat Kassis, General coordinator, Kairos Palestine
Rami Kassis, Executive Director, Alternative Tourism Group – Study Centre, Beit Sahour
Jennifer Oldershaw, on behalf of Friends of Sabeel UK
The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People, Beit Sahour
Pat Price-Tomes, on behalf of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) UK
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, President, Diyar Consortium, Bethlehem
George S. Rishmawi, Coordinator, Siraj, Centre for Holy Land Studies, Palestine
Dr. Walid Shomaly, Executive Director, Palestinian Centre for Research & Cultural Dialogue (PCRD), Bethlehem
Michael Warschawski, Sergio Yahni, Avital Mozes, Tania Kepler, Yossi Bartal, Connie Hackbarth, Shir Hever, of the Alternative Information Centre, Jerusalem
Ben White, Campaign coordinator, ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’
Mr. Ramzi Zananiri, Executive Director, Near East Council of Churches-Jerusalem
The Report’s Conclusion and Recommendations include the following para:
7.4.1 that the Methodist Church should afﬁrm the following:
In the belief that peace and reconciliation depend upon justice, fairness and mercy, the Methodist Church has consistently expressed its concern over the illegal Occupation of Palestinian lands by the State of Israel. That Occupation continues not only compounds the state’s illegal and immoral action but also makes any accommodation with the Palestinian people and future peace in the region much less possible. The importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conﬂict in affecting the peace of the whole Middle East, not to say the peace of the world would indicate the responsibility of other nations not to exacerbate the situation by supplying arms to any party. The Goldstone report into the recent conﬂict in Gaza indicates the seriousness of actions taken by both sides and requires urgent attention if there is to be any progress towards peace. The proposed visa restrictions which limit entry to Palestinian Authority areas damage Israel’s reputation abroad and the current “Citizenship and Entry into Israel” law restricting the residential rights of married couples will lead to separation of such couples or the withdrawal of citizenship for one partner.
The Methodist Church, therefore:
● calls upon the government of Israel to end the Occupation and engage in discussion with Palestinian authorities with a view to withdrawal from settlements, which are illegal under international law, and from other occupied areas including East Jerusalem.
● reafﬁrms its opposition to the Separation Wall that divides families, deprives people of agricultural land and denies Palestinians access to health care and repeats the call of the Methodist Conference for the Separation Wall to be pulled down beginning with, as an urgent ﬁrst step, the very extensive portions located in occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.
● repeats its call for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza which, as highlighted by the UN and aid agencies, is causing great suffering.
● calls for a full arms embargo against all sides in the conﬂict.
● expresses its objection to the proposed visa regulations limiting entry into Palestinian Authority areas
● expresses its objection to the current laws restricting residential rights for Palestinians and calls upon the government of Israel to rescind them.
● expresses its concern that the Goldstone report has been rejected by parties to the Gaza conﬂict and believes that the recommendations of the report should be implemented in full.
● calls for Muslims, Christians and Jews, wherever they may live within Israel/ Palestine, to be able to freely travel to and peacefully worship at their holy sites.
● reiterates its deep concern that the rights of Palestinian refugees should be upheld.
The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, led condemnation of the Methodist Church for its approval of a report on Israel which he warned would have widespread repercussions for interfaith relations.
By Marcus Dysch and Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010
Lord Sacks said the implications of the decision would “reverberate across the hitherto harmonious relationship between the faith communities in the UK”.
He blasted the report as “unbalanced, factually and historically flawed” and offering “no genuine understanding of one of the most complex conflicts in the world today. Many in both communities will be deeply disturbed”.
Delegates at the conference in Portsmouth overwhelmingly passed every recommendation of the report, which also included a call to review whether Zionism was compatible with Methodist beliefs.
The Reverend Graham Carter, who chaired the working party that produced the report, said that while some people had wanted a boycott of all Israeli goods, “we did not feel that was the right thing to bring to conference”.
Jewish organisations are particularly incensed that the Methodists disregarded advance warnings from the Council of Christians and Jews and other groups of the likely impact of the report on relations between Jews and Methodists.
In a blistering joint statement, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said the report’s authors had “abused the goodwill of the Jewish community, which tried to engage on this issue, only to find our efforts were treated as an unwelcome distraction”.
The conference “swallowed hook, line and sinker a report full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy,” they said.
Calling the outcome “a very sad day” for Methodist-Jewish relations”, they said it would “cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation to cheer from the sidelines”.
An internal church memo shows that the Methodist Church had rejected calls for a more “balanced” working party, whose members included Stephen Leah, the chairman of the York branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
David King, a delegate from Lancashire and one of a number of speakers at the debate who raised Jewish concerns, noted “a rise in antisemitic activity in the UK”.
He said: “I’m concerned that in our acts as a church we are incredibly mindful of the wellbeing of the Jewish community in the UK.”
But Mr Carter told the conference: “I want to state quite clearly that there is no hint of antisemitism in what we have said or what we intend… If we are concerned about antisemitism, why don’t we talk about the anti-Islam approach? We might be between a rock and a hard place.” Expressing his hope for continued dialogue with the Jewish community, he said: “I want us to continue to hold out the hand of friendship — and I hope it won’t be refused.”
While the 54-page document mentions that Israelis had legitimate fears, it contains no more than a fleeting reference to Hamas.
Jonathan Arkush, senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies, who witnessed the debate in Portsmouth, said afterwards: “It is hard to see how anyone genuinely concerned with the Middle East and interfaith dialogue can take the Methodist Church seriously.”
The Methodist action reflects a tactic urged last year by Palestinian churches, which denounced Israel’s occupation as “a sin against God and humanity”.
JC editorial (print edition only as far as we can ascertain):
Official statements from the Board of Deputies are usually bland words, designed to smooth ruffled feathers and going out of their way not to offend. But its reaction to Wednesday’s decision by the Methodist Church to endorse a report demanding a boycott of goods from “illegal” West Bank settlements, an end to Israel’s occupation and the “siege of Gaza” was – quite rightly – suffused with anger and outrage. Condemning the church’s “crass….breathtaking insensitivity”, the Board says that the Methodist Church should “hang its head in shame, just as surely as it will cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation to cheer from the sidelines”. We can only concur. With their vote on Wednesday, the Methodists have, de facto, declared themselves to be in formal hostility to Jews. Speakers in the debate claimed that they “have no argument with the Jewish people” and that “there is no hint of antisemitism in what we have said” but such words are the purest sophistry. Both the debate and the report were a compendium of classic antisemitic tropes. One speaker complained that Jews had “lobbied so fiercely”. The report attacks the undue influence of the “pro-Israel lobby” in the US. And it describes a history of Zionism and Israel so deformed that it could almost have been written by the Hamas leadership. There is not a word of criticism of Hamas, Hizbollah or any group or nation other than Israel. As the Board puts it, the document is “full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy” For the Methodists to argue that endorsing as policy calumnies about the very basis of Israel and Jewish theology is not antisemitic is to display either dangerous ignorance or a duplicity which renders the church unfit for civilised discourse. The Methodists, it might be said, number only 330,000 people in the UK. Need we be so exercised? Worryingly, this seems to be a harbinger of further such actions. Where the Methodists have led, others – such as the Church of England – may soon follow. This decision cannot be ignored. We must prepare ourselves for similar, perhaps even worse, attacks – and fight back.