In July 2013 the Methodist Church of Britain passed a resolution to investigate the arguments for and against Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel. This has led to an online consultation exercise conducted by the Church which was open to anyone to put forward their views.
Our submission to the Methodist Church (click to read the full response) has sought to comprehensively explore the tactic of BDS. It highlights the flawed foundations upon which the campaign is based, and explains how the singling out of Israel is antithetical to the hopes of peace as it prompts intransigence on both sides and sows divisions.
The key message of our response to the consultation is that boycotts in this context are destructive and counter the aim of peace. But what is important is that the Board of Deputies has advocated an alternative approach, one that is unifying and not divisive, one that seeks to make a real impact and one that is positive and active rather than passive-aggressive.
The Jewish community alongside the Methodist Church (and, indeed, any other civil society organisation concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) can form a coalition to fund and give support to vital programmes that bring Palestinians and Israelis together. They should back programmes that lead to the building of dialogue and empathy between the populations; providing an alternative to hatred and thus improving the prospects of peace.
For example we can work together to support the Parents Circle, a truly incredible organisation whose members have tragically lost a family member as a direct result of the conflict. These inspirational people channel their greatest grief into propelling their societies into reconciliation through the humanisation of the ‘other’. They acknowledge the other side’s suffering and through dialogue break down preconceived notions. The Parent’s Circle actively engages with wider Israeli and Palestinian society promoting their message of understanding and reconciliation. An example of their impact is the ‘dialogue meetings’ that they hold, which reach over 25,000 Israeli and Palestinian students annually.
The Peres Center for Peace is another example of an organisation looking to break down barriers and lay the foundations of a future peace, enabling dialogue and interaction in numerous areas of society. The ‘Saving Children’ project is one such initiative that builds links between communities. Here Palestinian children that require complex medical procedures that are unavailable in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas are taken to be treated in Israeli hospitals. The Peres Center’s projects extend to all sectors of society, including running mixed Israeli-Palestinian football sessions for children.
In the political field, there is the One Voice movement that seeks to promote peace by having Israelis campaign for concessions within their society and Palestinians doing the same with theirs. Through active campaigning and town hall meetings young leaders are given the support and skills to influence their respective communities.
In the realm of faith there are a number of religious leaders choosing to interact and come together as opposed to alienating and demonising the other side. The Elijah Institute provides a good example of this, being an organisation that facilitates constructive dialogue between leaders, scholars and communities that ultimately bring people of faith together.
For all those who truly seek a lasting peace, such initiatives are vital. They promote an atmosphere that is conducive to peace and prompt their respective societies to look ahead for a better future.
Furthermore, it needs to be recognised that a peace agreement in and of itself is not the end goal. As has been seen in Northern Ireland, while it is without doubt painstakingly difficult to reach a negotiated agreement, it is equally as hard to ensure that it is upheld. Breaking down barriers and stereotypes, enabling dialogue and understanding, are essential for increasing the chances of any agreement being lasting, further emphasising the importance of these conflict-resolution organisations.
With this being the case it is our sincere desire to see the Methodist Church, and other civil society organisations who truly care for the future of Israelis and Palestinians, demonstrate their concern and energy in a constructive manner: to set aside the misplaced strategy of boycotting Israel and to work with us to export peace rather than import conflict.