Counterpoint: United Church defends a controversial report on the Middle East (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) David Giuliano 05/15/12)
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The United Church Working Group’s report on Israel/Palestine policy
has raised significant debate and some misunderstanding — including
in this newspaper (“Church to vote on Israel boycott,” National Post
news story, May 2; and “How the Israel-haters lost,” National Post
editorial, May 2).
As chair of the working group, I recognize that there are many strong
opinions related to the issues addressed in our report. Over the past
two years we met with countless Canadians, Israelis and Palestinians,
all of whom are passionate about the views they hold.
Dignity for all the people of the region is a core theme for the
policy directions in the report. It is also what has led to a
significant and regrettable misunderstanding.
The concept of dignity, as used by the working group, goes to the
heart of our understanding of human identity as people cherished,
loved and called by God, and who have an innate right to respect and
The report’s focus on dignity challenges what is referred to as
the “new” anti-semitism, which seeks to undermine and delegitimize
the State of Israel. It also informs the report’s advice that
applying the language of apartheid to Israel should be avoided.
Dignity is the cornerstone of the United Church’s continued
affirmation of Israel as a Jewish state, which the report understands
as “a homeland for Jewish people, and a democratic state that ensures
complete equality of social and political rights to all of its
inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender.”
Dignity is also the principle behind our critique of the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions movement. To be very clear, the report does
not recommend a boycott of Israel.
The call to respect the dignity of both peoples is also found in the
section of the report that upholds the Palestinian Right of Return as
an internationally recognized human right that needs to be resolved
through negotiation in such a way that protects the demographic
integrity of Israel.
The report takes seriously the threats that have been part of
Israel’s reality from the beginning; the history of war, suicide
bombings, the present acts of violence such as rockets fired from
Gaza, the loss of Israeli life, and the stated desire of a number of
nearby regimes to eliminate the State of Israel altogether.
The report makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Israeli
settlements. It also takes seriously that there is a military
occupation, the longest such occupation in living memory. It is an
occupation that the working group and many others in the United
Church and beyond have seen first-hand and know to be harsh and
It is here that the call to respect the dignity of Palestinians
becomes central. To demonize Palestinians is wrong. To suggest that
the occupation is the Palestinians’ fault is unjust. To dismiss as
merely “unfortunate” their stories and suffering, the loss of life
and land, inadequate supplies of water, the destruction of olive
groves, the demolition of houses, the separation of families, and
much more is a profound assault on human dignity.
To claim that Palestinians are a manufactured people with no claim to
the land is false. To do so flies in the face of international law
and the national policies of many countries, including Canada, which
clearly state the reality of the occupation and the illegality of the
In other words, the report takes seriously what is undisputed by most
countries in the world — that there is an occupation, that the Green
Line does exist, and that the settlements are violations of
international law. Because of these realities, the report recommends
economic action against settlement products.
The working group is very concerned to see its focus on human dignity
interpreted, as it has been by some, as a diminishment of the
profound atrocity of the Holocaust. We recognize that the wording
used in this section of our report has led to misunderstanding our
intent, and we deeply regret that. The report will be edited to
address this concern and to ensure that this misunderstanding does
not detract from the report’s recommendations. This revision, and any
other editorial corrections that may be needed, will be made before
the report is submitted to our governing body, the General Council,
for decision in August. The complete text of the working group’s
report is available at Gc41.ca/background-material.
The Very Rev. David Giuliano is immediate past moderator of The
United Church of Canada. (© 2012 National Post, a division of
Postmedia Network Inc. 05/15/12)
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