The Church of Sweden is the latest to join the growing list of Christian organisations to have raised concerns over Israel's imposition of apartheid on the Palestinians. In a formal move last week, the church's decision-making body, the General Synod, commissioned its Central Board to investigate what has become a near consensus among major human rights groups that Israel is an apartheid state.
These groups include Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem, which concluded earlier this year that Israel meets the threshold for being designated as a country that practices apartheid and crimes against humanity.
The board has been instructed to "raise the issue of scrutinising the implementation of international law in Israel and Palestine, also from the perspective of the United Nations convention on apartheid and the definitions of apartheid in the Rome Statute."
Unsurprisingly, the decision has been criticised, especially by Sweden's pro-Israel Jewish community. "[The Church of Sweden] repeatedly chooses to criticise the only Jewish state, without criticising any of Israel's neighbours for the persecution that Christians are subjected to," said Aron Verständig, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities in Haaretz. His remarks followed the all too familiar pattern of trying to divert attention from the issue in question, a tactic used by anti-Palestinian groups when Israel's human rights abuses are mentioned.
The church's director of international affairs, Erik Lysén, explained that members of the Synod who proposed the investigation argued in the debate that they were doing so out of a belief that the deteriorating human rights situation on the ground requires an investigation based on human rights and international law. In doing so, they are echoing the voices of the oft-forgotten Palestinian Christians, as well as Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups who call for action to end Israel's impunity.
A church leader who opposed the decision said that he was against the use of the word "apartheid" because it provokes anger and sadness. "I myself would not have used the word in this context," Archbishop of Sweden Antje Jackelén is reported saying. "But I am also aware that Israeli and other human rights organisations such as B'Tselem, Yesh Din and Human Rights Watch have used the term in their reports." Apartheid has also been used by the UN to describe the situation in Palestine.
Several other Christian groups have passed resolutions denouncing Israel for its apartheid, which is a crime against humanity. Chicago's Episcopalian Church, for example, approved a resolution last month by 72 to 28 per cent to describe Israel as meeting the legal definition of apartheid and to condemn that as "antithetical" to the church's values. This resolution came within a year of a similar resolution being rejected by the church.