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October 2, 2012

United Church, Zionist Enemy

Reuel S. Amdur

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The General Council of the United Church of Canada in convention in Ottawa this month adopted a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli products from the West Bank. This action has resulted in a frenzied hostility from major Jewish organizations in Canada. Frank Diamant, CEO of B'nai Brith Canada, for example, said, "The recommendations only serve to undermine the goodwill that Jewish and Christian communities in Canada have worked tirelessly to establish and maintain."

If Jews anywhere in the world face persecution, B’nai Brith and other Zionist organizations are quick to respond.  Well, Sabeel, a Christian Palestinian organization has asked for boycotts.  Should the United Church refuse the help which Sabeel asks for?  Is the United Church’s friendly relationship with Zionist and Jewish organizations more important than the help that their coreligionists need?

Avi Benlolo, who heads the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, publicly mulled over “whether a latent anti-Semitism within the church is slowly coming back to life.”  Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (note the order of priority) voiced a similar sentiment.

MP Irving Cotler claims to have identified a “new anti-Semitism.”  The elements include some very unequal categories.  For example, no one could object to the contention that racist terrorism against Jews is anti-Semitic, though it is hardly “new”.  On the other hand, denial of a Jewish right to self-determination is hardly equivalent and is in fact a smear aimed at shutting down discussion.  For example, is there a “Jewish people”?  In terms of nationality, there are Ashkenazic Jews, with a culture centered in Germany and Eastern Europe, using the Yiddish language.  Then there is another in Latin countries and North Africa—Sephardic, with Ladino as the language.  And there are Ethiopian and Indian Jews.  “One” people?

And in any case, by what right does one people simply replace another?  In the Occupied Territories this replacement is ongoing and expanding.  Furthermore, does every “people” have a right to its own country?  The Kurds for example, or the Basques.

In any case Cotler emphasizes that criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic, “new” or otherwise. Bruce Gregersen, the United Church staff member to the working group that produced the resolution which was passed, said, “We are solidly behind Israel as a legitimate Jewish state.  We don’t want to demonize in any way Israel or the Jewish people.  The problem is the occupation and the settlements.”  These are sentiments widely shared within Israel itself. The level of outrage expressed within “official” Canadian Judaism is aimed at shutting down discussion, and more especially action, on the illegal settlement enterprise.

One could well argue that the stand taken by the United Church is too conciliatory and seriously flawed in supporting Jewish statehood.  The thing that is troubling is that Jewish organizations spend so much vitriol in trying to shut down opposition to the illegal occupation, even from a church that falls all over itself in declaring its support for Israel. 

This defense of Israeli colonization has taken such hold of “official” Canadian Judaism that it seems to overshadow everything else.  Here is an example.  Currently, there is an election campaign in Quebec.  Two of the three main parties favor denying public servants the right to wear garb on the job that identifies their religion.  One of the two parties makes an exception for small crosses, while the other has not dealt with that exception, though it is unlikely that they would act differently.  I often write for the West Quebec Post.  I e-mailed Ottawa rabbis for their reaction.  One answered.  Among the ones that did not was one who reacted in a real snit over the resolution, cancelling an interfaith activity with the United Church.  It is more important for him to defend an illegal occupation on the other side of the ocean than to address the distinct possibility of discriminatory treatment against Jews and other minorities just across the river.

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