So, in the face of a world of horrors, the General Council of the United Church of Canada chose to vote a boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank because the Council claims that the settlements are the primary impediment to a two-state solution. Reasonable people can debate the settlements. But where is the Council's concern over Hamas' thousands of murders of their own people as well as Israelis? Where is the Council's concern over the utter failure of the Palestinian Authority to stop suicide bombers operating from its territory against Israel? Where is the Council's concern over Palestinian children being taught anti-Jewish, yes anti-Jewish not anti-Israeli, hate in PA schools from textbooks paid for in part by Western foreign aid dollars? Whether or not one supports the settlements, to announce that they are the major impediment to peace is a travesty of truth.
And another question arises. Is settlement productivity that gives jobs to Palestinians really the crucial world issue ? What, no boycott of Iran that threatens the world with a nuclear war? No boycott of Islamist regimes where women are treated like chattel and little girls have acid thrown in their faces if they have the temerity to go to school? No boycott of China that harvests organs from Falun Gong prisoners and keeps hundreds of millions of its own people in slave labor? No, those targets would have been too difficult. Too big. Too dangerous. So let's pick on Israel, a small democracy but the giant frontline defender of our liberal pluralism against existential threat. Defender of the very freedoms that allow the General Council the luxury of indulgence in such unbridled hypocrisy.
But perhaps no one should be surprised. Because the answer to why the Council took this repulsive action lies in its own history and in its own words. They are eloquent and sufficient testimony to condemn the Council for such perfidy.
In 1997 the 36th General Council authorized the publication of a 125 page document to improve relations with Jews, educate its own members on the Jewish roots of Christianity and come to terms with the Church's own checkered past in confronting anti-semitism. It was overwhelmingly approved at the 38th General Council in 2003.
In the preamble, the document lists the reasons why such a report was necessary. The third and fourth reasons were the following: "Because there is rising anti-Judaism, antisemitism, white supremacy, and neo-Nazism in Canada and other countries in the name of Jesus Christ; Because we are finally understanding that Christian denial of Jesus’ Jewishness contributed to pogroms, the Holocaust, the refusal to admit refugees, and other horrors against Jewish people." The document was called "Bearing Faithful Witness." The actions of this Council are a betrayal of faithful witness.
Let us shed some light on what the study found on United Church history in Canada.
In the officially sanctioned Appendix E to the study, Prof. Alan T. Davies writes the following:
"In spite of its social gospel roots and its liberal image, including a general antipathy to social evils of every type, the United Church is not a stranger to anti-Judaism and antisemitism. For example, the 1927 Yearbook accuses Jews of wielding inordinate power and causing problems wherever they settle (pp. 116–117). Occasional pro-fascist letters and articles can be found in The New Outlook during the 1930s, some of which are quite anti-Jewish (e.g. see H.B. Hendershot, “The German Point of View,” August 9, 1933, p. 584). Even in the 1970s, The United Church Observer crossed the line that separates legitimate comment and illegitimate insinuation on more than one occasion (see especially, John Nicholls Booth, “How Zionists Manipulate Your News,” March 1972, and an antisemitic advertisement describing “official Judah” as controlling the money of the world, March 1974).
"But these are largely aberrations. Antisemitism and fascism were frequently denounced in the pre-war period, both in the United Church press and in many pulpits. Prominent preachers such as Richard Roberts, E. Crossley Hunter, G. Stanley Russell, and Ernest Marshall Howse decried the Nazi persecutions in Europe and racial slurs against Jews in Canada. Especially commendable was Gordon Domm, the less well known minister of Bathurst United Church in Toronto. Two months before Kristallnacht, the General Council extended its empathy to the Jewish people in a moving resolution (R.O.P., 8th G.C., Toronto, September 1938, pp. 54– 55). Following the Nazi pogrom, the church rang with denunciations, and the King government found itself swamped with pro-Jewish, pro-refugee resolutions from scores of Canadians.
"During the war years, the United Church persisted in its efforts to bring Jewish escapees, especially children, to Canada. These efforts largely failed. The church only staged moral appeals, and the official agencies of the church could not arouse the larger national conscience. The United Church was not silent, if editorials, letters, resolutions, sermons, and lobbying activities are taken into account. despite claims to the contrary. In Canada, only the Quakers have a better record..Still, there was no mass outcry for rescue in Christian Canada, and such efforts as there were failed to move the Canadian government which held all the cards."
Davies went on to point out however that serious tensions arose between the United Church and the Jewish community in Canada in the post-war era. These were prompted in part, he wrote, by the "New Curriculum" adopted by the church.
Davies pointed out that as late as 1962 the United Church continued to blame “the devil and all his hosts: the jealousy of the Pharisees, the scheming of the Sadducees, the treachery of Judas, the hysteria of the crowd” for the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (cf. Donald Mathers, The Word and the Way, Toronto: The United Church Publishing House, 1962, pp. 61–62). Other contributing factors were the increasingly hostile criticisms of the State of Israel featured in The Observer. While expressing concern for justice toward Palestinians, editor A.C. Forrest, adopted - in Davies' words - a stridently anti-Zionist tone and "revealed an insensitivity to anti-Judaism in Christian theology and Christian history."
Under Forrest’s editorship, The Observer published the antisemitic Booth article, “How Zionists Manipulate Your News,” instigating a notice of libel from B’nai B’rith. Court action was averted, but United Church–Jewish relations have - again in Davies' words - "not been fully restored to this day."
The General Council's actions today are, sadly, too rooted in the lesser angels of the Church's nature. Canada is poorer for it.