Time to support Methodists
AMID THE sombre events in Israel this week came the more encouraging news that the Methodist Church has overwhelmingly rejected calls to commit the church to supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel. At their annual conference in Birmingham, British Methodists chose instead to heed the call of church leaders to observe a two-year break before debating issues relating to the Middle East conflict and use this time for study, prayer and reflection.
As the outgoing president of the Methodist Conference, Rev Ruth Gee, pointed out, the pause did not mean inaction, but the contrary. The leadership’s resolutions specifically recommended Methodists to take pro-active action in the region by engaging in projects and programmes that improve livelihoods and encourage Israelis and Palestinians to promote peace.
The Board of Deputies has long urged British churches to turn away from importing the Middle East conflict into their affairs and instead to play a part in exporting initiatives that work to bring peace to divided communities. In private and in public the Board has consistently pursued its advocacy and engagement, in the belief that reasonable people can be better informed by the force of balanced arguments. The significance of this week’s conference decisions is that a British mainstream church has listened.
Sadly the Methodist Conference debate on Israel was shortly followed by the tragic news of the deaths of Gilad Sha’ar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel.
This underlines the reality that Israel’s citizens face multi-faceted threats, from physical violence to the obsessive campaign of delegitimisation.
Writing this article in the shadow of the brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers on their way home from school, whom our community mourn with distress, is exceptionally hard. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families whose pain is unimaginable.
Listening to a Palestinian representative on the radio describing the murders as “accidents” and explaining that Palestinians could not be expected to care when their young people were under daily attack, it was clear that there is a chasm between her view of the world and that of most rightminded people. But the interview underlined the challenge we all face to build a shared understanding of events in the Middle East, so even if we are unable to create a single narrative, we can at least acknowledge the other’s humanity and suffering.
The strategy pursued at last year’s Methodist conference by a small extremist, but characteristically vocal, group of Methodists was to impose on thier co-religionists an exclusive narrative of Israeli oppression with the aim of bouncing their church into a full boycott of Israel by 2014. They targeted conference delegates with their propaganda, including references to dubious websites, and pursued what one conference speaker called an orchestrated and utterly relentless campaign. They sought to derail the call of the church’s leaders by wrecking amendments; by a large majority, they failed.
British Methodists have made a wise decision which deserves our support. They understood that peace will never be achieved by driving wedges between people and communities. They understood that not only is it the responsibility of faith communities to build bridges, but that in Israel there is a real opportunity to do this. In other words, they saw through the agenda of the Israelbashers in their midst to drive people apart and rejected it. I hope others will follow where the Methodists are now leading..
They tried wrecking but they failed
Jonathan Arkush is vice-president of the Board of Deputies