The Church of England has declined to pursue anti-Israel divestment. But the smaller and less prudent British Methodist Church has just voted full speed ahead at its recent governing Conference to boycott Israeli products that profit from the “occupation,” drawing the condemnation of Britain’s chief rabbi, Baron Jonathan Sacks.
Lord Sacks decried the Methodist anti-Israel initiative as “unbalanced, factually and historically flawed” with “no genuine understanding of one of the most complex conflicts in the world today. Many in both communities [Jewish and Christian] will be deeply disturbed.” He also warned that the boycott would “reverberate across the hitherto harmonious relationship between the faith communities in the UK.”
Methodism in Britain was of course once a formidable religious movement famous for fostering piety, thrift, industry, charity, and public service. Its spiritual and demographic collapse in the 20th century has turned much of the shrinking denomination over to ever more brazen forms of political correctness as it struggles for relevance. Its dwindling congregations are largely populated by grey heads, and some venerable old Methodist church buildings have become restaurants or, at least in one case, a mosque. No longer interested in spreading Christianity per se, British Methodist elites often fill their time with left-wing political crusades, the jeremiad against Israel’s “existing injustice” being just one recent example.
Typically Methodist political posturings in Britain arouse little notice. But Britain’s Jews have definitely noticed British Methodism’s attack on Israel. A special joint statement from Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews noted that the recent Methodist Conference had “swallowed hook, line and sinker a report full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy.” They pronounced the Methodist action to be “extremely serious and damaging,” as “Israel is at the root of the identity of Jews and of Judaism, and as an expression of Jewish spiritual, national and emotional aspirations, Zionism cannot simply be ruled as illegitimate in the way that the Methodist Conference has purported to do.”
The Jewish groups also suggested the Methodist Conference should “hang its head in shame, just as surely as it will cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation to cheer from the sidelines.” Although not receiving prominent media play in Britain, the anti-Israel Methodist action likely will be broadcast throughout the anti-Israel international blogosphere, and perhaps some Arab state media, for its supposed pro-Palestinian solidarity. Of course, key proponents for British Methodist anti-Israel boycott included diehards like Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions as well as Anglican priest and anti-Israel crusader Stephen Sizer, plus a Methodist minister with Friends of Sabeel UK.
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