A highly anticipated report by the Methodist Church, weighing up whether to boycott Israel, could pave the way for a vote at a national level later this year.
The briefing document, advising Methodists of the pros and cons of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, does not conclude one way or the other.
However, it sets the groundwork for a decision in favour of joining what is seen as an anti- Israel movement. In a series of pre-emptive arguments, the report says: “When a Church criticises the policies of Israel it can be perceived as hatred and victimisation of the Jewish people, although the intention may be very different.
“Some see the intention of those supporting BDS is to challenge the existence of the State of Israel. This would be an unreliable characterisation of the supporters of BDS and an over-simplification of a difficult issue.”
Jewish communal bodies were less than impressed, however, with the Board of Deputies saying the publication “confirms our earlier fears”.
In a statement, it criticised the report as “skewed and problematic for a whole host of reasons,” with Vice-President Jonathan Arkush branding BDS a “maximalist movement that wants all the land and opposes dialogue and compromise”.
An Israeli Embassy spokesman said the report was “an attempt to legitimise the extremist BDS political campaign”, adding: “This is an extremely troubling departure from the Methodist Church’s long tradition of genuine listening and promoting reconciliation and justice.”
In a letter to Methodist colleagues, conference president Rev. Ruth Gee acknowledged the complexity of the Middle East’s most intractable conflict, but said: “To recognise the complexity of a situation is not to deny the reality of suffering or to fail to challenge injustice.”
Yet Arkush argued that, ahead of its national conference at the end of June, the church had given itself only two options – to back BDS or do nothing. This was a false economy, he said, because “BDS seeks to unfairly punish all Israelis, including Israeli Arabs”.
He added: “People of good-will know there is no future in a ‘Greater Palestine’ or a ‘Greater Israel’. Two peoples will need to share the land, and their consistent preference is for two-states. Achieving this will take the dialogue and compromise that is anathema to the BDS movement.”