Kirk boycott resolution scuppered by Israeli legal 'intimidation'

By staff writers
25 May 2011

A resolution calling for a UK ban of goods from unlawful Israeli settlements has had to be withdrawn as a result of the threat posed by proposed legislation in Israel which could make such a call a criminal offence subject to judicial and financial punishment.

The Assembly unanimously made the withdrawal "with regret", and with deep concern and measured outrage expressed by several speakers.

But the Kirk's national decision-making body nevertheless passed Deliverance 48, which "instruct[s] the Church and Society Council to work with ecumenical and civil society partners to continue to lobby for the introduction of labelling of products in the UK which clearly identify whether they are from an illegal Israeli settlement."

That statement, however, stopped short of calls for a boycott.

It was reported to the Assembly, meeting on the Mound in Edinburgh, that the terms of proposed legislation going before the Israeli Knesset are that anyone who calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, or goods related to Israel, will be made subject to punishment and made financially liable for the economic impact of such action, as determined by the Israeli authorities.

The Church of Scotland has assets and staff in Israel-Palestine, and the Kirk's Church and Society Council convenor, the Rev Ian Galloway, said that it was "impossible to assess the risk" posed to them by the legislation if the call for a ban of goods from the occupied territories was passed.

The General Assembly "may take this legislation to be intimidatory", said Mr Galloway, adding sorrowfully: "We are intimidated."

But he made it clear that this was not the end of the matter. Continued lobbying of Israel to end its occupation, dispossession and oppression of Palestinians was necessary, Kirk members working for a just-peace for both Jews and Palestinians in the region argued.

A strategy of nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) has been proposed by Christian Palestinians in the Kairos document which the Assembly affirmed earlier in the afternoon on 25 May 2011.

Speaking to the withdrawal, which he said was the "only course" in the circumstances, the Rev Paraic Reamonn declared firmly that, through its proposed legislation, "Israel is holding the work of this Church hostage".

He said that the currently constituted state of Israel is an apartheid state which "privileges Jewish ethnicity in the way that Afrikaaners used to privilege white people in South Africa".

This situation of institutional injustice, and all that flows from it, damages the soul and security of Jewish people as well as destroying the lives of Palestinians, he continued.

Christians, Mr Reamonn said, had for far too long been complicit in the Israeli state's oppression of Palestinians, because of a double wrong: the deplorable history of Christian anti-Judaism, which had contributed to the genocide against Jewish people under the Nazis, and the consequent 'Holocaust guilt' that then lead them to be "far too often silent... as Israel dispossesses people from the land."

Christian Palestinian activist Daoud Nassar, from the Tent of Nations peacemaking initiative, also spoke to the General Assembly. He too referred to the evidence of daily oppression, but said that the response to this needed to be campaigning against violence and injustice while simultaneously "refusing to be enemies".

Church and Society Council convenor Ian Galloway said that, in the light of the withdrawal of the deliverance, it was additionally important that church members buy fair trade products marketed by organisations like the Hadeel Palestinian Fair Trade Shop - whose white felt doves were actively promoted at the Assembly.

The Rev Graeme R. Brown said that it might be appropriate, as a point of principle and protest, to present and withdraw the ban on goods from unlawful settlements resolution at succeeding Kirk Assemblies, if the Knesset law criminalising boycott calls passes.

[Ekk/3]

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