In advance of its 2014 Conference, the Methodist Church in Britain is preparing a “briefing on the arguments for and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement” The Church invited the public to contribute responses in order to “gather a range of perspectives on this topic.” Though the church leaders can be credited for seeking a wide-range of views on this contentious issue, the questionnaire itself demonstrates a clear bias against Israel. Nevertheless, NGO Monitor decided to send a response.
Our message: The BDS campaign is immoral. As such, the church faces a serious ethical dilemma, as support for BDS would be wrong and self-defeating. The church wants to be a peacemaker. But, the BDS movement’s goal is not peace, but Israel’s defeat.
Church support for BDS would therefore result in corroding its moral voice.
Why is BDS immoral? By singling out Israel and using double standards, its supporters undermine universal human rights values. Through intolerance and restricting debate, BDS violates liberal principles such as academic freedom and freedom of expression. BDS opposes dialogue and developing of peaceful ties between Israelis and Palestinians. Ali Abunimah, a major BDS speaker and head of “Electronic Intifada,” labels Palestinian leaders who negotiate with Israel “collaborators.”
Disappointingly, the church’s questionnaire is premised on the presumption of exclusive Israeli guilt for the origins and perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The survey is a series of loaded questions akin to asking “when did you stop beating your wife?” This is an indictment, not a question.
The church’s own bias against Israel also reflects massive disproportionality. The consultation’s Background Notes states that the “annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Britain has engaged in debate on Israel and Palestine at most Conferences over the past 15 years.” It is fair to ask what other international conflicts and border disputes have been debated by the church over such a prolonged period?
The 2010 Methodist Conference adopted a position paper (“Justice for Palestine and Israel”) in which all demands were placed on Israel, none on Palestinians. Disregarding Israeli human rights it failed to condemn terrorism by Palestinian groups that have murdered 1,000 Israelis (mainly civilians) and wounded thousands more over the past dozen years.
This bias is not only a Methodist matter. In the last dozen years activism in support of Palestinian political warfare/rejectionism has increased markedly in mainline churches in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Europe, South Africa, and elsewhere. This growth is not spontaneous. It is the result of efforts by a number of Palestinian Christian organizations whose influence within these churches has increased dramatically.
The oldest and most influential of these groups is Sabeel, which supports and promotes BDS. The Methodist Church in Britain partners with Sabeel and views it as an important resource. The church has celebrated Sabeel’s “25th Anniversary of Palestinian Liberation Theology,” issued a “letter of affectionate greeting” to Sabeel, and has promoted Sabeel’s Global Young Adult Festival.
Founded by Rev. Naim Ateek, Sabeel is a major actor in the effort to convince Christian churches to support BDS. Ateek has skillfully wrapped Palestinian nationalism within a theological casing and called it Palestinian Liberation Theology. Supercessionist theology is utilized to refute Jewish religious and historical claims to the land of Israel.
Using deicide imagery Ateek has written of “Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge [G]olgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.”
By establishing Israel, he wrote, “the Jews” have become “oppressors and war makers” and that “by so doing they have voluntarily relinquished the role of the servant which for centuries they had claimed for themselves. This has been a revolutionary change from the long held belief that Jews have a vocation to suffering.”
For Ateek, then, Jews no longer know their place and are best kept powerless.
After the Holocaust, many Christians began to explore how centuries of Christian anti-Jewish demonization fed into Nazi ideology. Their focus was on what historian and Holocaust survivor Jules Isaac called the “teaching of contempt” comprised of three components: replacement theology, the Temple’s destruction was divine punishments for Jewish rejection of Jesus, and deicide.
Sabeel’s promotion of the teaching of contempt is a strong echo of a time many had thought ended. In this light, the Methodist Church in Britain’s institutional partnership with Sabeel is deeply disturbing. Severing its relationship with Sabeel and its toxic theology would be an essential step toward taking a peacemaker role.
The church’s support of BDS would be a significant moral failing. Instead of promoting understanding, common ground and peace, the church would join the conflict, increasing the circle of misunderstanding, divisiveness and hate.
The Methodist Church in Britain has but one moral option: reject BDS.
The writer is the Chief Programs Officer at the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.