The Methodist church’s stance on the Israeli – Palestine conflict was addressed once again at this year’s Conference. Deliberating the conflict, particularly in expressing sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, opens the church to accusations of anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the church plans to call on members to take a stand.
Speaking after the Conference, District Chair John Howard, who has travelled to the West Bank, said “The Israeli-Palestine issue is a difficult one to raise because lots of people characterise you as having anti-Jewish feelings. Anti-Semitism quickly gets raised when the church begins to take a stance for justice for the Palestinians. We do find ourselves being characterised in ways which are negative but you have to have the integrity to face that kind of criticism.”
According to John Howard the Methodist church has led the other churches in raising the issue of the conflict.The continuing debate at Conference was a result of a motion passed last year. Previously, in 2010 a report called Justice for Israel and Palestine proposed a series of recommendations one of which is to galvanise support for Jewish and Palestinian peace groups through a range of methods, enabling church members, Methodists in particular to get to know more about what is happening and be better educated about the conflict. It was suggested that where possible, church members travel to Israel and Palestine and meet with those caught up in the struggles. Another recommendation was that church members boycott products of the illegal Israel settlements in the West Bank. “Last year a notice of motion was approved by Conference that we should take that forward into the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and over the last year a report has been written by our consultation team which has presented the arguments for and against a boycott of all Israeli companies and products, similar to the boycott campaign against South Africa.” John Howard explained, adding “What Conference has agreed is to send that document to all of our churches for discussion in our churches so that’s a document that’s available.”
The question of when the results of discussions will return to Conference has proved a controversial one. While John Howard and others argued that in light of the current state of the conflict the debate should return to Conference next year, it was decided that the discussion period should last between two and three years and a resolution at Conference recommending a boycott of all Israeli products would not be sought until the Conference in 2016. During the interim, the resolution passed in 2010 will remain the bases of the Methodist church’s continuing engagement with Israel and Palestine.
The notice of motion that it should come back to Conference next year was lost by about two-thirds to one-third majority but the resolutions that recommended a study of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement were accepted by a very large majority of around ninety percent.
How the debate will be introduced into the various churches and responses monitored is a challenge to be addressed when John Howard meets with the superintendents to discuss the matter later this year.