I always find it interesting to read the reports of religious denominations when they are about to justify taking controversial positions outside of theological debate and in the realm of practical politics. Usually the resulting reports are riddled with logical contortions and problematic assertions. This working group report is actually fairly well constructed and it is clear that the group worked very hard to acknowledge varied opinions about the conflict.
Ultimately, however, the report fails to make its case. I have read through it a couple of times and have three major questions about the working group report, which I will deal with in depth in future posts. Today, however, I would like to write about the most glaring error I see.
It seems that the United Church of Canada has defined its own proposed policy on BDS as anti-semitic. This is their conclusion and the logic presented in their working groups report, not mine.
In section 4.6 of the report outlining the working group assumptions, the report states that:
The working group also takes seriously charges that church actions disproportionately criticize Israel in comparison to other countries in the region or other situations globally. The working group believes that Israel can and should be held to a higher standard than surrounding non-democratic countries or authoritarian regimes.
This is a clear and concise argument and the report lists many reasons as justification of this double standard. However, it is equally clear that as the report continues, the committee had some serious heartburn with applying this double standard to Israel.
The Analysis and Policy Directions section of the report (5.2), addresses the issue of the "new anti-semitism." To distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-semitism, it references (footnote 23) and hyperlinks a three fold test of demonization, delegitimization, and double standards first articulated by Natan Sharansky. This test is widely accepted in the Jewish and non-Jewish world as a valid way to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of Israel.
However, this test is in absolute contradiction with the assumptions defined in section 4.6. In the linked article, Mr. Sharansky's clearly states:
It seems strange to me that the working group would take this position and then deliberately undermine it several pages later. Most organizations would simply ignore the Sharansky definition and stick with their own justification of the double standard applied against Israel provided a few pages earlier.
But in their effort to appear objective an reasonable they have done something quite remarkable. They have defined anti-semitism and then recommended a Church policy that clearly meets that definition. They never dispute or reject the Sharansky definition, in fact they seem to be using it to affirm that some criticism of Israel is justified.
If the Church adopts this working group report, the Jewish community can legitimately criticize the Church for taking an openly anti-semitic stance. By ignoring the objective test that they have held up as a standard, the Church has not only opened the door to such accusations, but seems to be welcoming them.
It would not be the first time that in history that a Christian denomination has taken a position that is openly hostile to Jews. In fact, if you look at the statistics, anti-semitism in Canada is much more acceptable than it is in the United States.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is significant disagreement on this issue within the United Church of Canada. There are challengers that see the call to join the BDS movement for what it is. The Canadian news outlet, National Post published an article about United Church pastor Rev. Andrew Love who was quoted:
“I really want to believe this is the workings of a very active minority in the church,” said Andrew Love, a pastor at a parish in the town of Arnprior, 55 kilometres west of Ottawa.
“The vast majority of people in the pews are not ready to embrace this kind of extremist and radical agenda from a small minority. There is a real disconnect between the leadership and its people.”
I wish Pastor Love all of the the good luck in the world in his efforts around this issue. I sincerely hope that the United Church of Canada does not take this step into open anti-semitism.