Largest Protestant church in Canada votes for Israeli settlements boycott
Members of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, voted Wednesday to affirm a controversial motion supporting a boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Wednesday’s vote was preceded by nearly six hours of contentious debate, in which the church’s general council members nitpicked the proposal’s wording and heard drawn-out testimonies from representatives on both sides of the issue.
The motion was one of several recommended by a report released by a church working group last May. Along with calling on church hierarchy to accept a comprehensive boycott, the report named the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory as a major challenge to a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Bruce Gregersen, a United Church general council officer and spokesperson who assisted the working group, called the vote Wednesday a “significant step” toward the church’s affirmation of the entire proposal.
“I think the mind of the council appears to be clear,” he said. “If there was any sense that all the (anti-report) lobbying was going to have an effect, the council made up its own mind, irrespective of the lobby.”
Voting results were not immediately available but Gregersen said voters were “substantially in favour” of the boycott motion.
The general council will vote again Friday on whether to confirm the proposals as official church policy.
The United Church general council comprises more than 350 delegates from across Canada. Nearly three million Canadians identify themselves with the United Church, according to Statistics Canada.
The vote was met with swift condemnation by some members of the Canadian Jewish community, who say a boycott will create an irreparable breakdown of relations between the two religious groups.
In the months since the report was released, Jewish leaders, United Church insiders and a group of nine Canadian Liberal and Conservative senators, all United Church members, have spoken out against the boycott, accusing the United Church of taking sides on the testy topic of Israeli-Palestinian politics.
“The reaction of the Jewish community is one of unbridled outrage,” Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Wednesday. “It is beyond comprehension that (the United Church) would choose to so skew a commentary on the conflict and come out with so one-sided an approach.”
An online survey, commissioned by CIJA and Faithful Witness, an anti-boycott group led by a United Church pastor, found 78 per cent of church members believe the church should remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From July 11-16, the Gandalf Group polling firm surveyed 501 Canadians who attend United Church services at least once a month. The poll is considered accurate within a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.