Israel should be punished with EU wide sanctions if it goes ahead with its planned annexation of further Palestinian territory, the World Council of Churches has said in a letter to the foreign ministers of the 27-country block.
"The EU must surely suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement," said the umbrella body in reference to the 1995 contract. The deal, which has made the EU Israel's largest trading partner, became a major bone of contention since the 2009 assault on Gaza in which the Israeli military killed at least 1,383 Palestinians, including 333 children.
Urging the EU not to make exceptions for Israel, the council said that the body should apply sanctions on Israel "at least commensurate with those adopted by the EU in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea."
In its response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014, the EU blacklisted hundreds of Russian individuals and firms, subjecting them to entry bans and freezing of EU properties. Critics often point to this disparity to argue that the block is unwilling to uphold its own laws when it comes to Israel.
"The unilateral annexation of yet more of the territory that remains to Palestinians cannot lead to justice or to peace, but only to greater injustice," wrote the body, which was established in 1948 with 350 member churches and 500,000 followers among them.
In a column condemning the letter, Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs compared the call for sanctions on Israel to centuries of Christian hostility to Jews. "Considering the history, in which churches continuously instructed Jews on what they can and cannot do, it would behoove those same churches to adopt caution and humility on Israel," he is reported saying in the Times of Israel.
The council of churches joins a network of European groups that have also called on the EU to impose sanctions on Israel. In a letter addressed to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP), expressed concerns over Israel's planned annexation of the West Bank, saying it was part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing, apartheid and colonisation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said in recent weeks that Israel will annex approximately 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank with measures coming into place from 1 July.
In response to his announcement, the Palestinian Authority said that it is no longer bound by all agreements with Israel, including those relating to security.