By Jonathan Arkush, Vice President, Board of Deputies
Last week, the Methodist Church released its long expected document entitled A briefing document for the Methodist people on the arguments for and against the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement.
The document confirms our earlier fears, set out in our response to the consultation. The process had a flawed beginning as it was constrained to only allow itself to consider BDS – which doesn’t promote peace, it only deepens divisions. The process did not effectively consider other, more productive means of engaging in the tragic conflict in the Middle East.
The resultant report is therefore predictably skewed and problematic for a whole host of reasons. While the report has no direct recommendations, it fails to adequately scrutinise the blatant flaws of BDS. Ultimately, the greatest failing of the report comes down to a false dichotomy: Boycott Israel – or don’t do anything.
This is not the real choice facing people who care about the situation facing Israelis and Palestinians today. Indeed, the report itself does acknowledge: “There is little doubt that BDS is likely to entrench division”. With an understanding of this consequence, it is difficult to see how any faith group could even contemplate embarking on such a course. Indeed, with the present dangers to the peace process today, the last thing we need are more ways to prise apart the two national communities. We need to find ways to bridge the gaps, not to widen them.
The BDS movement is by no means squeamish about constant confrontations with others because it is a maximalist campaign that wants all the land, while opposing dialogue or compromise. It is a campaign that seeks to unfairly punish all Israelis – including Israeli Arabs, and even sometimes harms Palestinian workers themselves – for a conflict for which some on both sides bear responsibility. The report recognises this reality in part, but nowhere near as much as it should.
People of goodwill know that there is no future in a ‘Greater Palestine’ or a ‘Greater Israel’. Two peoples will need to share the land and, according to all polls, the populations of both sides consistently show their preference for a two-state solution. Achieving this will take the dialogue and compromise that is anathema to the BDS movement.
It is salutary to take an honest look at whether the harsh words and the boycott of the 2010 Methodist Conference have really brought about the change that was wanted. We look today at a Middle East in flames, where Christians flee for their lives, and where the Israel-Palestine conflict seems more intractable than ever. We are forced to conclude: It is time for something different. It is time for a fresh approach.
We therefore set out a new challenge today. It is a challenge to Methodists, to Jews and to all people who say that they want peace, both in the UK and in the region itself. The challenge is this: If you want peace, go out and make it happen. Build bridges, not boycotts. Don’t divest and divide. Invest in peace and dialogue.
There is a myriad of excellent projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians together; that model a better future; that challenge leaders to look beyond short-term hurdles and look towards long-term benefits. Those projects need our combined support, not our undignified squabbling. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis need us to import conflict to Britain. On the contrary, they need us to export peace to the Middle East.
This flawed report is therefore a challenge. But it is also an opportunity. It can be ‘business as usual’, where communities in the UK once again mirror the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Or it can be a new start, where people of faith stop betraying their calling to be peacemakers, and start working together towards a future of peace, security, prosperity and equality for Israelis, Palestinians and the wider Middle East.
The Board of Deputies has made its choice. We now call on our brothers and sisters in the Methodist Church, the Jewish community and beyond to respond to the report by becoming part of the solution, and not by being part of the problem.