…working together to promote justice for Palestinians.
March 15, 2020
Dear Rev Dr Martha Ter Kuile and Task Force members:
We in the Canadian BDS Coalition were pleased to learn that the United Church of Canada is reviewing the appropriateness of your existing policy, UCC Policy on Palestine and Israel as of 2019, specifically the three points: support for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; use of apartheid to describe Israeli actions and policies in Occupied Palestine; and altering your position on BDS.
We appreciate the opportunity to address each of these points and we hope that our input will be helpful to your task force as you update your policy to be responsive to the injustice and oppression waged against the Palestinian people..
The Canadian BDS Coalition is an intersectional community of groups in Canada that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. We are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Secular Humanists, Universalists, a plurality of people of professed faith and of none, but with a common commitment to justice and peace in Palestine and Israel based in the universal values of treating others the way we wish to be treated, loving our neighbours as ourselves and doing justice where there is injustice, standing in solidarity with the oppressed, giving voice to the voiceless, and taking actions that give practical expression to those values.
The Canadian BDS Coalition is comprised of civil society groups that formed in answer to the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society to the world for BDS. BDS is a time-honoured means of peaceful resistance against odious systems of settler-colonialism, occupation, and apartheid, that history has taught us is effective in bringing down unjust systems. Our cause is the cause of the Palestinian people who have suffered under systemic oppression, ethnic cleansing, dispossession, forced population transfers, and denial of basic human rights for more than 70 years under Israeli aggression.
It is in this capacity that we wish to be included in your consultation.
The 2017 Palestinian Christian Call
The Canadian BDS Coalition understands your review was prompted by the call made from the Palestinian Christian community in June 2017 as part of the “50 Years of Occupation” call to the World Council of Churches and Christians around the world. In particular, the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine issued an open letter to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in June 2017. The June 2017 call spoke of the urgent situation of the people in Palestine saying, “this could be our last chance to achieve a just peace.”
We have read the
open letter from The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement.
The 2018 Call to Canadian Christian Community
In November 2018, realizing that there had been silence from the Canadian Christian community the Canadian BDS Coalition supported a call for the Canadian Christian community to take immediate and decisive action in response the 2017 letter from the Christian Palestinian community.
This call was to the Canadian Council of Churches, Canadian Christian denominations, congregations and organizations asking them to implement the items identified by their Christian partners in Palestine in the June 2017 letter. Specifically:
- recognize Israel as an apartheid state;
- condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust;
- take a clear theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant;
- revisit and challenge religious dialogue partners;
- defend the right of Palestinian Christians to resist the occupation creatively and nonviolently; support BDS.
- publicly and legally challenge Christian organizations that discredit our work and legitimacy
- lobby, advocate and develop active programs towards justice and peace for the people of Palestine
The Canadian BDS Coalition asks you to consider these points in the work of your Task Force.
Acting on the Call of Palestinian Christians
The Canadian BDS Coalition would hope that your Task Force recommendations will align with the requests from your partners in Palestine through their 2017 Call. This is the bare minimum required to support human rights and international law.
The Canadian BDS Coalition also hopes your Task Force is considering the Kairos document from 2009. in your deliberation. The Canadian BDS Coalition supports fully the calls from the Palestinian Christian community through the Kairos 2009 document as well as the 2017 call to the World Council of Churches. We would urge your Task Force to also recommend this support to the United Church leadership.
Transparency regarding the United Church of Canada Agreements with B’nai Brith and other zionist groups
As part of your policy reconsideration it would also seem imperative that you recommend the end of the agreement from May 1973 with B’nai Brith and the United Church of Canada, and also the end of any formal or implied subsequent agreements with other groups such as the former Canadian Jewish Congress. These should be publicly declared as no longer being operative by the United Church leadership. This is important in order to prevent the fear that is faced by those within and outside church; this includes those who are shut down and silenced as Palestinians and allies. One recent example was the Palestinian Youth Movement event being cancelled by Trinity St. Paul church in the summer of 2019.
Response to the Three Points Raised by Your Task Force
We particularly think it is important for you to reconsider your position on the three issues raised, namely the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the use of the term apartheid, and the attitude towards BDS.
1. Israel as a Jewish State
People not states have the right to exist. According to the Israeli group Adalah there are over 70 pieces of legislation confirming such discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel. The Nation-State which is Israeli Basic Law (openly proclaims not only that Israel is a Jewish state, and the state of all Jewish people, but that it is specifically NOT the state of all its citizens, and that ONLY the jewish people have the right of self-determination in the state of Israel. Non Jewish Palestinians today constitute half of the people living under Israel’s rule. Over 20% of its own citizens are Palestinians. For the United Church of Canada to continue to take a stance recognizing the state as Jewish would be shameful, and is discriminatory towards Palestinians.
2. Use of the term apartheid
We expect you have heard from others that “Apartheid” is now a well-defined legal concept that refers to a system of practices in a legally and legislatively sanctioned system, under which one group has policies and practices of segregation, separation and discrimination for the purpose of establishing or maintaining domination of one group against another and such policies include legislative measures designed to divide the population by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of one racial group or groups .
This crime as you may know is prohibited under Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention of 1977, and is designated as a crime under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is also prohibited under the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of apartheid adopted by the UN in 1973.
The three elements for such a crime include:
a. creating a regime for the domination by one group over another group,
b. by the creation of a separate and unequal system of governance to the detriment of the victim group and its members, and
c. committing various violations of the rights of the victim group including enslavement, forced transfer of the population, deportation, torture , persecution and other violations against any identifiable group based on political, national , ethnic cultural or gender grounds.
In the West Bank of Palestine today two distinct groups of civilians exist under the rule and control of Israel: the indigenous Palestinian population and the Jewish settlers. Apart from the blatant illegality of these Jewish settlements under international law, and the fact that these settlements are largely established on lands stolen from the Palestinians, the system of governance in the West Bank of the oPt itself clearly fits the legal definition of apartheid. If anything approaches a system of injustice creating suffering, it is this apartheid system in the West Bank. As indicated in point 1 above, the Nation State Basic law along with the 70+ laws that discriminate against non-Jewish Israeli citizens are clearly apartheid at work.
To call it by its proper name is the least that the United Church of Canada can do. The insistence of the United Church of Canada over the years to say that using “apartheid” is not helpful speaks of the zionist influences within and on the United Church of Canada, and leaves the United Church of Canada badly out of step with international law and human rights. We surely hope you are not saying “apartheid” cannot be used as an excuse to avoid speaking truth, just because the powerful would find it objectionable!
3. Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
We understand the United Church of Canada has indicated it accepts the principles behind BDS as proper nonviolent tactics for addressing and combating the systemic injustices involved in the Israeli occupation and as legitimate tools for influencing Israeli policies. Thus, the United Church of Canada’s objections against BDS seem very misguided.
For the United Church of Canada further suggests that the BDS “as a whole involves too broad a spectrum of participants with significantly varied and sometimes unacceptable goals” is to misrepresent the historic nonviolent tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
The essence of BDS is to provide an alternative nonviolent method pressuring Israel which has so far successfully defied international law. It also provides churches and others a means of promoting their values of freedom, equality and justice. BDS allows citizens and institutions to take action through boycotts and divestment when their own governments fail to pressure Israel into ending its occupation policies, providing equality to all citizens, and to upholding the universal right of return of refugees.
Boycotts and divestment have been used against other countries, and their rulers have also had to face sanctions over human rights violations. Israel should not be exempt from such pressures and consequences.
In Canada at any time there are at least 20 countries being sanctioned under the United Nations Act and the Emergency Economic Measures Act. In this sense, Israel is not unfairly singled out, but rather, Israel is being unfairly exempted from the universal requirements we impose on other countries.
It would be a shame if the United Church of Canada does not take a clear call, now over a decade after the 2009 Kairos call from Palestinian partners, to show this clear leadership including support for boycott, divestment and sanctions related to end of occupation, ensure equal rights and release the right of return.
The Canadian BDS Coalitions calls on your Task Force to seriously consider why NO action has been undertaken to the motion at your General Council 40 in 2012, and subsequently at General Council 41 in 2015, to implement the divestment call approved by the United Church of Canada grassroots, and to make clear recommendations to support the grassroots movement within the church in support of the full BDS call made by Palestinian civil society in 2005.
We would be available to discuss in further detail, and do urge the United Church of Canada to take the courageous leadership it is known for on many issues, and stand with the call made by the Palestinian Christian community for full support of BDS and a clear naming of the Israeli settler-colonization and apartheid regime.
The Canadian BDS Coalition
The Right Reverend Dr. Richard Bott, Moderator, United Church of Canada
Nora Sanders, General Secretary, United Church of Canada;
Reverend Michael Blair, Executive Minister, Church in Mission, United Church of Canada; Member of Task Force
Rev. Brenna Baker, Member of Task Force
Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell, Member of Task Force
Rev. Jim Cairney, Member of Task Force
Wendy Gichuru, Program Coordinator, Africa and Middle East Partnership Program, United Church of Canada