If one is to assume that the United Church of Canada’s general council was motivated by good intentions on the Middle East conflict, and wasn’t simply on an ideological ego trip, then the church could benefit from some self-reflection about its naive approach to extreme elements within its membership.
Rather than simply focusing upon ecclesiastical issues of the ministry such as gays in the clergy or the divinity of Christ, they seemed prepared to engage in the same selective outrage as the radical left, although ultimately they backed off in the end.
During their meeting, there apparently was no discussion of China’s repression of Tibet, not to mention the Muslim Uighurs and the Falun Gong. They exhibited no concern about the murder of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Darfur countenanced by Sudan, which even the International Criminal Court has now addressed. One could go on with references to the suppression of democratic protesters in Iran, the slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the widespread rapes and murders in the Congo, the police-state tactics in Myanmar, Zimbabwe and North Korea, among countless other abominations occurring around the world.
Rather, the church choose to focus solely on the outrages of Israel, which is combatting a Hamas regime dedicated to destroying their nation and committed to a strategy of terrorism against civilians in achieving that goal. Sanctimonious hypocrisy is hardly unique to the United Church, but more troubling is the counterproductive impact the selective morality has on the people and the conflict these do-gooders are ostensibly trying to help. The Arab world has been pursuing economic boycotts of Israel for some 60 years, during which period Israel has flourished, while the lives of Palestinians have declined dramatically.
If United Church activists truly wish to support the Hamas agenda of destroying Israel, they might want to consider its negative implications for Palestinians, as well as their own church.
As it happens of course, the United Church has a rather checkered history in being able to claim “moral authority.” On the most significant moral questions of the last century the church did little, nor did other Canadian churches. They did not support the plight of Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, nor did they protest the relocation of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
More recently, the outrages of the residential schools they administered have been revealed.
In reality, the church is in serious demographic decline. Its membership included 25 per cent of the Canadian population 50 years ago to less than 10 per cent today.
It should be stipulated that neither the state of Israel nor any other nation is above criticism, and there are numerous mistakes the Israeli government has made in dealing with Palestinians. However, the fallacy that settlement of the West Bank is at the core of the dispute should be laid to rest. United Nations Resolution 181, in 1947, partitioned the disputed area between the two peoples, just as colonial India had been divided a few months earlier.
Israelis accepted the agreement and Arabs rejected it, which led to a series of wars against Israel, in each of which the Jewish state prevailed.
At any time through 1967, the Arabs then in complete control of the West Bank and Gaza could have declared a state - as not one Jewish settlement existed on their land - but they refused to do so. And for many years afterward all Arab states refused to accept the legitimacy of any Jewish state, which is the position of Hamas to this day.
United Church members – and, indeed, others of the ideological fringe - might endorse a position of destroying the Israeli state, but they shouldn’t be surprised that Israelis resist it, and fight back against suicide bombings and other terrorist tactics with whatever means they have available.
This leads us back to the question of whether extremists in the United Church and elsewhere are really helping Palestinians in their demonization of the Jewish state. I have in the past tried to suggest that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not a conflict between good and evil, but rather a conflict between two peoples, each of which is entitled to a homeland. That one is immeasurably stronger than the other makes it neither right nor wrong, but it does pose some realities for those who wish to use violence to vanquish it.
Similarly, the intransigence of Palestinian leaders in the face of adversity doesn’t make them right or wrong either. It does, however, suggest they are masochistic, in preferring to perpetuate their people’s suffering rather than to reach a compromise. Isn’t it long past time for the absurdity of this conflict to come to an end, and shouldn’t outsiders of good will like the United Church be encouraging conciliation rather than polarization?
Barry Kay is a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University.