Quakers consider Israel boycott

Increasing anti-Zionism among Christian denominations in UK

By Jessica Elgot, February 17, 2011
Candles: Palestinian Christians celebrate the Orthodox Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

Candles: Palestinian Christians celebrate the Orthodox Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

British Quakers are considering "all options" after a debate on boycotting Israeli settlement goods.

Marigold Bentley, assistant general secretary of Quaker Peace and Social Witness said all boycotts and campaigns were currently being considered.

Quakers in Ramallah have called for the organisation to commit to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, at the national "Meeting for Sufferings" last week with 150 British Quaker representatives.

Ms Bentley said: "We have discussed sanctions in the past, in the cases of Iraq and Zimbabwe; we are a peace movement.

"The purpose was to get Quakers to think about the situation. The discussion was wide-ranging, and many of our members are very passionate.

It is a very complicated issue for us because Quakers were very involved in the Kinder-transport

"I think it is likely, yes, that further action will be taken but we need to get the response of local groups." She stressed that no boycotts had been decided yet.

Quakers have already advised their members to lobby supermarkets and suppliers to label settlement goods. Ms Bentley added: "It is a very complicated issue for us because we do have Jewish members and of course the Quakers were very involved in the Kindertransport."

The most active pro-Palestinian campaigners in the movement are graduates from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The volunteers, known as EAs, work in the West Bank as "human rights observers." Quakers have sent 102 representatives as part of the programme to the West Bank since 2002.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: "As historically strong friends of the Jewish people in our darkest hours, it is troubling that the Quakers don't show the same level of understanding of the threats facing Israel.

Those advocating boycotts fail to realise that these tactics play directly in to the hands of the enemies of peace. They are counterproductive, damage the livelihood of Palestinians and do nothing to encourage economic and cultural ties which would build bridges towards a long-lasting and mutual peace on all fronts."

Concern has already been voiced about growing anti-Zionism in many Christian movements following the Methodist boycott of settlement goods in July 2010.

One document has caused a particular rift in Jewish-Christian relations, the Kairos Palestine paper written by Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. It calls for resistance to the occupation via "civil disobedience," and encourages boycott and divestment as "tools of non-violence for justice, peace and security." The paper was widely discussed in the Quaker meeting. Previously, the Church of England has called Kairos "an important and deeply thoughtful account of what it means to be a Palestinian Christian living in the Holy Land today," but said the document fell short of the criteria needed for it to be corporately affiliated with the CofE.

Baptist Union spokesman Chris Hall also said the union's assembly had "no plans to recommend a similar route" of boycotting settlement goods.

In response to Kairos Palestine, the Board of Deputies has published a pamphlet on Zionism, aimed at church groups. Edited by Liberal Judaism chairman Lucian Hudson, it includes analyses of Kairos by Board president Vivian Wineman, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi Tony Bayfield and Rabbi Danny Rich , explaining the history of the Jewish claim to the land of Israel.

A Board spokesman said that relations with the Methodists were "improving" after the Board met Methodist leaders last month.

Last updated: 1:50pm, February 17 2011