A decision by Canada’s largest Protestant denomination to boycott West Bank settlement products has shattered its relations with the country’s Jewish leadership.
Meeting in Ottawa for its triennial General Council last week, the United Church of Canada passed a resolution calling for a boycott of products made in the “illegal” settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
A further, last-minute amendment expressed “regret” over a previous request for the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition to peace.
Also passed by the 350-member General Council, which sets church policy, was a request for the Canadian government to ensure that “all products produced in the settlements be labelled clearly and differently from products of Israel”. The council also resolved that products produced in the settlements should “not given preferential treatment” under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1996.
Tensions between the church and the Jewish community have been building since the resolutions were introduced in a 29-page report in May, and erupted in the days after the boycott motion was adopted.
In reaction, Rabbi Steven Garten of Ottawa’s Temple Israel cancelled an interfaith programme with a neighbouring United Church scheduled for next month.
“I was to have spoken at the church, and church members would have come to synagogue,” Rabbi Garten told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “But after the church council’s decision, I wrote to say there did not seem to be a lot of room for dialogue. The minister wrote back to say he understood.”
Rabbi Garten said he also wrote to the Ottawa Christian-Jewish interfaith dialogue to say he might not be able to continue as its co-chair.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said: “The only comments I’ve received so far are those advocating a complete severing of ties with the United Church.”
The United Church of Canada has an estimated 2.8 million adherents.