TORONTO (JTA) — Canada’s largest Protestant church has voted to boycott goods from Israel’s Jewish settlements.
Voting Aug. 17 on a final set of resolutions, members of the church’s governing General Council passed a measure to boycott products exported by Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in eastern Jerusalem.
The resolution calls on church members "to avoid any and all products produced in the settlements"; requests that the Canadian government ensure that "all products produced in the settlements be labeled clearly and differently from products of Israel"; and requests that products produced in the settlements "not be given preferential treatment under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement."
Other resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict singled out the settlements as a principal obstacle to peace in the region; called on Israel to suspend settlement expansion; and expressed regret for previously asking Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition to peace.
The resolutions relating to the Middle East were contained in a 29-page report released in May, angering many in the Jewish community and inflaming tensions between the two faith groups.
Previous United Church measures advancing economic sanctions against Israel failed because of inflammatory language. This time, the church stressed that the boycott was not directed against Israel proper but against "illegal" Jewish settlements.
Even so, seven hours of vigorous debate on both sides of the issue preceded the vote.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told the Toronto Star, "The only comments I’ve received so far are those advocating a complete severing of ties with the United Church."
Fogel called the church’s approach "simplistic and uninformed. Palestinian suffering has its genesis in the rejection of the State of Israel, which the church has now voted to allow the Palestinians to continue."
Details of how the boycott will be applied will be determined in the coming weeks and months, church officials said.
The church also chose as its new leader, or moderator, the Rev. Gary Paterson. Paterson, who recently went on a two-month sabbatical in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said he is anxious to talk with Jewish leaders "about the plight of the Palestinian people in the settlements and also to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel."
"I think if you read the report rather than the headlines, you will see that there is a deep commitment we have always had to Israel and the Jewish people, and we recognize the existence of anti-Semitism and legitimate fears," he told the QMI news agency.
In a statement, Avi Benlolo, head of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said he fears "a relationship of trust and friendship is irreparably broken. I don’t know if church members truly understand how utterly offensive and imbalanced this proposal is, or whether a latent anti-Semitism within the church is slowly coming back to life."