Australian churches back Israel boycott

By Dan Goldberg, July 29, 2010

relations between Australia's Jewish and Christian communities have been rocked by a controversial resolution that urges churches to boycott Israeli goods from the West Bank.

The National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) - the nation's top-level ecumenical body - passed the resolution during its seventh triennial forum, prompting a scathing response from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ).

In a letter to the NCCA's general secretary, Reverend Tara Curlewis, ECAJ president Robert Goot said that the resolution "revived painful memories for Jews in Australia of earlier times in Europe when churches allowed themselves to be swept up in the tide of popular prejudices against the Jewish people".

But a contrite Reverend Curlewis said that her group meant no malice.

"I was really sorry that anything we had said or done reflected that depth of pain. That was not the intention and, maybe naively, we didn't realise that. We value the relationship with the Jewish community. We didn't intend to hurt them as much as [Goot's] letter indicated."

However, she said she had not received negative feedback from the churches and that the resolution would not be retracted.

But Jeremy Jones, a former ECAJ president and longstanding interfaith activist, said that several senior church leaders had contacted him to distance themselves from the motion.

"Some were appalled and some were embarrassed by the resolution," he said. "It's certainly not something that has unanimous support.

"It's not a deal-breaker in terms of our relationship. Generally we've found when things like this have happened, the push-back has almost always put us in a better position than we started with. Historically, there has been more goodwill than ill will."

The meltdown comes just weeks after the Methodist Church in Britain voted to boycott Israeli goods produced in the West Bank. Earlier this month, the Presbyterian Church in America passed a resolution recommending against US aid to Israel as long as Israel builds new settlements, but voted down clauses which called for divestment and labelled Israeli policy as apartheid.

The Australian resolution also affirmed Israel and Palestine's right to exist within secure internationally recognised borders and condemned all acts of terrorism.

Reverend Curlewis did agree to Mr Goot's request to meet the executive of the NCCA to provide a critique of the motion. The NCCA comprises 17 church groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Uniting Church.

Last updated: 11:56am, July 29 2010