Board of Deputies cuts links with Methodists

By Marcus Dysch, July 8, 2010

The Board of Deputies has broken off all contact with the leadership of the Methodist Church following its endorsement of a report deeply critical of Israel.

A spokesperson for the Board said: "There cannot be any engagement with the leadership of the Methodist Church until such a time that we see signs of a change in their stance."

But both sides vowed to continue interfaith work at a local level, encouraging members of Methodist and Jewish communities to maintain regular dialogue.

The Board said Methodists from across the country had contacted deputies to express distress and discomfort with the report.

Following the endorsement of the motion at last week's Methodist conference, the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council said the Church should "hang its head in shame" for passing the policy calling for a boycott of goods from "illegal" Israeli settlements in the West Bank and blaming Israeli occupation for hindering the peace process.

Attempts had been made to convince the Church to re-think its stance.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks spoke to leading Methodist Reverend David Gamble ahead of last week's vote, and Board president Vivian Wineman claimed Jewish representatives had received assurances that inaccuracies in the report would be corrected. Mr Wineman said the representatives felt "stitched up" when the corrections did not materialise.

Joy Barrow, interfaith relations officer for the Methodist Church, has held a number of informal discussions with the Board and the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) in the past week.

She said: "The Church and the Jewish community have long-standing and close relationships, both nationally and also on a local level where Christians and Jews engage in friendship, dialogue and working together on community activities. Our commitment is stronger than ever as we take steps to ensure conversations remain open, honest and in a spirit of fellowship."

David Gifford, CCJ chief executive, said: "All 40 of our local branches have been asked to engage with local Methodist groups. We want the Methodists to listen to the other side.

"The Jewish community is very hurt. The report and resolutions could clearly impact on Britain's Jewish community. I don't think the majority
of delegates thought this through."

Mr Gifford said the damage was not irreparable but it may take "some time" for relations to improve.

The International Council of Christians and Jews said it was "committed to dialogue even among those in conflict with one another".

There are fears that other churches will use the Methodist report as a forerunner for their own anti-Israel action. However, the United Reformed Church held its annual general assembly this week and there was no debate on the issue. A spokeswoman confirmed the Church had no intention of raising the subject in the near future.

Last updated: 2:49pm, July 8 2010