• August 15, 2009
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    United Church of Canada sidesteps anti-Israel resolutions
United Church of Canada sidesteps anti-Israel resolutions KELOWNA, B.C. — Hoping to stop a fire from spreading through their ranks, delegates at a major United Church of Canada conference decided Thursday to put on hold a proposed boycott of Israel and to sidestep anti-Israel resolutions put forward by church activists.

The decision to not introduce immediate punitive measures against Israel was welcomed by the Canadian Jewish Congress, which represents a majority of practising Jews in Canada.

Delegates to the United Church’s 40th General Council instead voted to recommend that members spend more time studying the possibility of an “economic boycott” of the Jewish state.

It was proposed earlier that the church sanction Israel for its enduring conflict with Palestinians. Among the measures suggested at the General Council was the promotion of a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions at the national and international levels.”

Some church members countered that such a boycott would achieve little. If anything, they said, it would isolate their church from other denominations and faiths and would impede its growth. The United Church has been losing members for the past two decades.

More troubling to some was background material attached to three proposals.

The material suggested members of Parliament in Canada have accepted “bribes” from Israel. It also suggested that holding dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship was, for an MP, a “questionable position.”

On Tuesday, church delegates voted overwhelmingly to “regret and repudiate” the background material, which they described as “provocative, unbalanced and hurtful.”

But the three contentious proposals remained on the General Council’s agenda.

They were to have been discussed again Thursday and put to a vote. A motion to “take no action” on them was carried instead.

Church spokesman Bruce Gregersen told reporters later that in practical terms, the three proposals had been “rejected.”

He reiterated the church “has not approved or begun a boycott at a national level.

It has stated its encouragement and recommendation to its member bodies that they are free to study, discern and pray, and to undertake their own initiatives, which may include an economic boycott as a means to ending the occupation (of Palestinian territories by Israel).”

Gregersen did not rule out the possibility the United Church might call for a national-level boycott later. “But that has not been approved at this point,” he said.

In a written statement, Canadian Jewish Congress chief executive Bernie Farber said his organization is “pleased that the UCC has rejected these misguided and destructive proposals and we look forward to building on this positive step.”

Past congress president Rabbi Reuven Bulka told United Church delegates earlier this week that a move to boycott Israel in “any way, shape or form” would spell the end of relations between his organization and the church.

He reminded them Thursday that a boycott of Israel would “have serious repercussions.”

But Bulka later told reporters he could live with the compromise that was reached, even if it does leave open the door for a boycott. “I’m not delighted,” he said. “I am grudgingly satisfied.”

The debate over Israel has overshadowed other church business, which includes the election Friday of a new United Church moderator. The moderator acts as spiritual leader to Canada’s largest Protestant denomination. Eight nominees are vying for the position.

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