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Israeli Embassy criticises Methodist BDS briefing

Tim Wyatt

by Tim Wyatt

Posted: 02 May 2014 @ 12:12

AP

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Protest: a man holds a Palestinian flag during a protest at a checkpoint gate, after Israeli soldiers closed a checkpoint at the entrance to Nabi Saleh, a village near the West Bank city of Ramallah, last month 

Credit: AP

Protest: a man holds a Palestinian flag during a protest at a checkpoint gate, after Israeli soldiers closed a checkpoint at the entrance to Nabi Saleh, a village near the West Bank city of Ramallah, last month 

A REPORT by the Methodist Church examining the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been criticised by the Israeli Embassy and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The briefing was prepared by the Church in response to a request by the Methodist Conference last year. The BDS campaign calls for an international boycott and disinvestment from of Israeli goods and companies, especially those commercially involved with settlements inside the occupied West Bank.

While the briefing does not recommend that the Methodist Church join the BDS movement, it was condemned by the Israeli Embassy as an attempt to "legitimise the extremist BDS political campaign".

A spokesman from the embassy said: "This is a troubling departure from the Methodist Church's long tradition of genuine listening and promoting reconciliation and justice."

Since 2010, the Methodist Church has supported a limited boycott of goods and services from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It also has a policy of avoiding investment in companies which are involved in such settlements.

The briefing examines arguments in favour of a more general boycott and divestment regime, but states that it does not make a judgement on the BDS movement.

The report says that the Methodist Church recognises both the Palestinian right to self-determination and the national aspirations of the Jewish people. It says: "As, sadly, given the increasing levels of anger and frustration, the prospect of a new armed conflict cannot be ruled out, the need for effective non-violent strategies has never been greater.

"Among the strategies for non-violence, BDS has come to be regarded by many Palestinians and others as particularly influential."

The report suggests that everyday life for Palestinians is overshadowed by occupation in the West Bank, and blockade in the Gaza Strip, and that by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, Israel has jeopardised hopes for a successful two-state solution. It also acknowledges the fact that a general boycott of Israel would be likely to cause Palestinians to lose jobs and income.

Among Methodists, there is no consensus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the briefing concludes. Some Methodists are Christian Zionists who wholeheartedly support Israel; others are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause; many are unsure.

Despite the cautious tone of the briefing, it was criticised by the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush. "In view of the clear and present dangers to the peace process today, the last thing we need are more ways to prise apart the two national communities. Achieving [a peaceful two-state solution] will take the dialogue and compromise that is anathema to the BDS movement."

The report was flawed, Mr Arkush said, because it did not offer alternative courses of action to a boycott. "We look today at a Middle East . . . where Christians flee for their lives, and where the Israel-Palestine conflict seems more intractable than ever.

"It is a challenge to Methodists, to Jews, and to all people who say that they want peace - both in the UK and in the region itself. The challenge is this: if you want peace, go out and make it happen. Build bridges, not boycotts. Don't divest and divide. Invest in peace and dialogue."

A spokeswoman for the Methodist Church declined to comment on the Board of Deputies' criticism.

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