While Israelis agonized over the unilateral disengagement process, the political war against Israel escalated, in the form of the church-based divestment campaign. In contrast to the optimism expressed by American, European, and also Canadian officials, these Protestant churches were actively promoting Palestinian victimization and demonizing Israel. Although there are also many Christians who actively support Israel, the others are having a poisonous impact.
Divestment is part of the “Durban process” – the strategy proclaimed by many of the participants in the UN-sponsored Conference on Racism that took place in September 2001. Under this strategy, Israel is to be painted as “the new apartheid state”, and subject to the sanctions and boycotts that were used to dismantle South Africa. This is a travesty and distorts the victims of the real apartheid, but there are powerful resources behind the campaign.
In order to proceed towards this goal, Palestinian terrorism and corruption are erased, and Israeli responses are branded “war crimes” and “racism”. The divestment resolutions adopted recently by the Anglican Church, the World Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Assembly (USA) and others are all based on this strategy.
From the Durban conference through the (failed) academic boycott effort, and now divestment, this campaign is being led by pro-Palestinian non-government organizations (NGOs). These NGOs use the language of universal human rights and humanitarian relief, but are primarily extremist political organizations. For example, the divestment texts are taken directly from the pamphlets of a radical Palestinian NGO calling itself the “Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center”.
Without funds from North America and European “peace groups”, Sabeel and other NGOs would hardly be visible. “Friends of Sabeel” chapters are active in many cities, and the Anglican Church of Canada sponsors its fund raising events in Ottawa. In parallel, various groups of volunteers and “peacemaking teams” with no knowledge of the history, are sent on “study tours to Palestine”, to be inundated with tales of Israeli atrocities and Palestinian suffering. On their return, the participants become impassioned advocates in the demonization of Israel, often echoing antisemitic themes.
Beyond the active involvement, including funding, provided by affiliated Canadian churches, the Government of Canada is also at least an indirect supporter of these activities. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) claims that its goal is to “reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.” To this end, CIDA, which operates independently of the Department of Foreign Affairs and local embassies, has a budget that exceeds $C2 billion.
The Middle East is a central area of CIDA’s activities, many of which indeed focus on providing humanitarian relief. However, some of these projects provide large sums to NGOs. These include the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the Inter Church Lutheran World Relief and Justice, Medecins du Monde, and the misnamed Medical Aid for Palestinians. (Using the politicized language of these NGOs, some CIDA references refer erroneously to "Occupied Palestinian Territory" rather than the Palestinian Authority, or simply projects to assist Palestinians.)
These CIDA-funded NGOS are systematically involved in extremist anti-Israel political efforts, and many have played a role in promoting divestment. The MCC is closely allied with Sabeel and other Palestinian-based groups, and reprint their manifestos. MCC’s "Peace Office Newsletter" labeled Israel’s security barrier as a "systematic land-grab policy", and predictably erased the environment of terrorism. Similarly, Lutheran World Relief’s publications repeat the standard allegations of Israel’s responsibility for “widespread destruction of buildings and infrastructure”, and for policies that “have prevented ambulances from reaching casualties”. In June 2002, at the height of the suicide bombing campaign, the Canadian branch issued as press release entitled “Palestinian Communities Imprisoned Behind Deep Trenches and Coiled Razor Wire”. And in the Winter 2004 Canadian Lutheran World Relief Newsletter, executive director Ruth Jensen published a totally biased attack on Israel’s security fence that again erased the background of terror. By grossly distorting the events, such reports prepared the foundations for the divestment campaign.
Funding from the Canadian government and church groups for the efforts to promote anti-Israel hatred stands in direct contrast to the claims of promoting peace and human security. Divestment should start at home, by pulling the plug on these programmes.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is the Director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar Ilan University, and is the editor of www.ngo-monitor.org