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From rhetoric to action: largest Protestant church in Canada prepares to boycott Israeli settlement goods

Palestinians carry banners during a protest against the policy of Canada in front of the Canadian Embassy in the West Bank on 14th August 2014 [Shadi Hatem/Apaimages]
Palestinians carry banners during a protest against the policy of Canada in front of the Canadian Embassy in the West Bank on 14th August 2014 [Shadi Hatem/Apaimages]

The resistance against Israel’s occupation took another step forward this week as Canada’s largest Protestant church looks likely to go ahead with a planned boycott of products made in Israeli settlements. The United Church of Canada’s proposition requests members to “avoid any and all products produced in the settlements”, and asks the Canadian government that “all products produced in the settlements be labelled clearly and differently from products of Israel”. The boycott is part of a wider proposal by the church to bring an end to Israeli occupation and illegal settlements in the region.

Sadly, not everybody is in favour of the boycott. The President and CEO of The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, Avi Benlolo commented: “I don’t know if church members truly understand how utterly offensive and imbalanced this proposal is, or whether a latent anti-Semitism within the church is slowly coming back to life.”

Benlolo’s statement is a smokescreen, because the church’s decision is far from being anti-Semitic. The United Church has clearly stated that the proposal is not anti-Israel, as Bruce Gregersen, a church official, told Postmedia news: “We don’t want to demonise in any way Israel or Jewish people.” The church’s move is anti-settlements and the Israeli occupation, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Violence, mainly directed at the Palestinian population, is routine amongst some extremist settlers, determined to stamp out opposition to their settlement project. Ninety per cent of the 781 episodes of settler brutality monitored since 2005 are now closed, with no charge brought against the perpetrators.

A UN investigation in 2011 revealed that radical settlers initiated around 300 attacks on Palestinian property; that’s up from 200 attacks in 2009. There are too many incidents where soldiers have stood by, failing to intervene in the violence. Not all settlers are violent, but the fact remains that their homes have been built on land that does not belong to them and are considered illegal under international law.

That the proposal by Canada’s largest Protestant church encourages others to participate in the boycott is highly significant. Whilst public opinion of Israel is generally negative, and in fact worsening rapidly following Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon and the 2010 attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla, change in parliamentary policies remains very highly detached from this. In fact in many cases, not only have governments failed to criticise, but they have adopted a highly pro-Israel attitude.

Western governments, and Israel, have effectively proven that they cannot be counted on to play their part in resolving the conflict. It therefore falls on popular action to oppose an oppressive system, or at least to help keep the international spotlight on what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories.

A number of parallels have been drawn between Zionism and apartheid South Africa, with many people concluding that Zionism is in fact worse. In the 80s and 90s a global movement against apartheid gathered steam after Chief Albert Luthuli’s call in 1958 for the boycotting of the system. It played a huge part in the collapse of the system and, just like South Africa, Israel too must have a breaking point.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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