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Quakers and Christian Aid Parliament lobby over Israel settlements

    Sir Gerald Kaufman
    Sir Gerald Kaufman

    Two leading Christian groups, the Quakers and Christian Aid, have urged the government to ban the import of products from Israeli settlements.

    At a Parliamentary briefing on Tuesday, Christian Aid officers and Quakers told MPs that stopping goods from West Bank settlements being sold in Britain would enhance the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

    The groups had invited more than 20 MPs to the meeting about the effect settlements have on life for Palestinians in the West Bank. The meeting was chaired by Liberal Democrat MP Steve Gilbert but only around half-a-dozen other parliamentarians attended.

    Christian Aid’s William Bell said the government must protect consumers from “purchasing goods from an illegal source”. He claimed the stance was “nothing to do with the delegitimisation of Israel.

    “We do not support a ban or boycott on trade with Israel but consider that a ban on trading settlement products is justified because settlements are illegal and have a negative impact on Palestinian economic development,” said Mr Bell.

    “Although informed consumer choice can send a powerful message, on its own it cannot adequately tackle the problem.”

    Quaker Marisa Johnson, a former ecumenical accompanier in the West Bank, said Palestinian villagers did not receive IDF support to defend themselves against attacks by Jewish settlers. She also claimed that, while Palestinian families did not have sufficient water, Israelis allowed their dogs to swim in water reserves.

    The Methodist Church secretary for international affairs, Steve Hucklesby, described the impact of the church’s own boycott policy implemented two years ago.

    He claimed that the move — which saw the church’s annual conference back an anti-Israel report that advocated banning settlement products being sold in Britain — had strengthened relations between the church and the Jewish community.

    The move in fact prompted the Board of Deputies to cut top-level ties with the Methodist Church. In the past year, some grass-roots Methodists have sought to work more closely with local Jewish groups, largely in resistance to the Methodist church’s anti-Israel stance.

    Sir Gerald Kaufman MP said he would “love to see legislation” against settlement goods but warned: “We have to be practical and accept no such legislation will go through this parliament. Boycotts are important. There is no point in appealing to Israel’s better nature — it has no better nature to appeal to.”

    He said there were plans to send officials from the Co-op — which banned settlement goods from its UK stores last month — to the West Bank to assist Palestinians in creating their own co-operatives.

    The Council of Christians and Jews said a ban would be ineffective and suggested that ministers should ignore Christian Aid and Quakers.

    CCJ chief executive Reverend David Gifford acknowledged “the challenges that the Israeli settlements present”, but he also observed that “The CCJ questions whether a boycott will achieve much more than for the few who support it to feel better. We still oppose boycotts and consider continued diplomatic engagement and negotiation as the better response.”

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