The fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United Kingdom is under fire for supporting Palestinian Christians.
In late June, the Methodist Church of Great Britain became the first major UK denomination to boycott goods from Israeli settlements following last year’s release of the Palestine Kairos document, which declared Israel’s occupation “a sin against God.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, representing 300 Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in Britain, said the Methodist conference ought to “hang its head in shame” after it “swallowed hook, line and sinker a report full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions” that “will cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation to cheer from the sidelines.”
“This outcome is extremely serious and damaging,” the board said in a statement. “Israel is at the root of the identity of Jews and of Judaism, and as an expression of Jewish spiritual, national and emotional aspirations, Zionism cannot simply be ruled as illegitimate in the way that the Methodist Conference has purported to do. This smacks of breathtaking insensitivity, as crass as it is misinformed.”
According to pro-Israel activist Robin Shepherd of London’s Henry Jackson Society, Israel ought to retaliate by banning Methodist officials “from entering; deport their missionaries; block their funds; close down their offices; and tax their churches. If it’s war, it’s war. The aggressor must pay a price,” Shepherd wrote in an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post, an English-language Israeli newspaper.
The Methodist Church called on its people “to support and engage with [the] boycott of Israeli goods” emanating from illegal settlements as their response to a call from a group of Palestinian Christians, a growing number of Jewish organizations, both inside Israel and worldwide, and the World Council of Churches. A majority of governments recognize the occupation as illegitimate under international law, it said.
The church says it plans to “undertake further work on the theological issues, including Christian Zionism, raised in the report that are needed to guide and support the approach of the Methodist Church to the Israeli/Palestinian situation.” The conference also called for a full arms embargo as an important step toward a just peace in the region.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but after months of research,” church spokeswoman Christine Elliott said in a statement. “The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region.”
The World Council of Churches, which represents 560 million Christians including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, praised the move. WCC general-secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit congratulated the Methodist Conference for the “important and forward looking resolutions by your church around the question of a just peace for Palestine and Israel.”
“Palestinian Christians will certainly take courage and strength from the implementation of the report’s resolutions. They will be more courageous in denouncing all forms of violence and to invoke the need for enforcing international law by bringing an end to the Israeli occupation,” Tveit wrote in a letter to the Methodist conference.
“We trust that Methodists in Great Britain and, indeed, people everywhere will be influenced and impacted by your call to boycott goods from illegal Israeli settlements as a pathway to a lasting and sustainable peace in the region,” Tveit wrote, adding that such actions “are visible proof of your irreversible conviction that God demands that we dare more than words.”
Meanwhile in the US, the Presbyterian Church will consider a resolution urging the US government to halt aid to Israel until the Israeli government freezes settlements, relocates its wall to internationally recognized borders, and ceases its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The American protestant movement’s 219th General Assembly began Saturday in the US state of Minnesota.