Time to sup­port Methodists

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Jonathan Arkush

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

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