In a remarkable interfaith development, the United Church of Canada (UCC) may be relocating its denominational headquarters to the storied Jewish town of Chelm, also known as the town of idiots.
For the uninitiated, here’s an example of how Jewish Chelmites confront a crisis. Informed about a particularly treacherous and ill-maintained hairpin curve on the mountain road approaching their town, they swung into action. The Wise Men of Chelm announced a fundraising campaign to build a hospital at the base of the mountain.
It is no secret that Christians have much to worry about in the Middle East. Start with Syria, where to date, 80,000 people have died in a brutal civil war, with over a million in internal exile. Among the most vulnerable are local Christians and Palestinians, trying to dodge the ever-escalating crossfire between Assad loyalists and allies including Iran and Hezbollah and desperate opposition fighters, who are increasingly eclipsed by Al Qaeda fighters. And there are millions of other Christians at risk in the region. Ten million Coptics live under the boot of the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt. Iraqi Christians experience religious/ethnic cleansing of their historic communities. Christian leaders are arrested in Iran, harassed in Pakistan and murdered by terrorists in Nigeria.
So how does the UCC choose to deploy their moral outrage in the Middle East? By boycotting a company making seltzer bottles.
Yes, the Wise Men of UCC are boycotting three Israeli companies, including SodaStream, the manufacturer of environmentally friendly home soda machines, made famous by their Super Bowl commercial. SodaStream’s sin? Maintaining a plant on the West Bank. No matter that half of its workers are Palestinian; that those workers earn about three times as much as Palestinian workers elsewhere on the West Bank; that they earn more than the mayor of Ramallah. Actually, SodaStream could easily operate elsewhere and not supply jobs to Palestinians. In fact, it is now building a plant in Israel’s Negev that will employ substantial numbers of Bedouins.
It is not only Palestinian workers that the UCC will punish. The boycott will work against the only faint glimmer of hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which comes from economic cooperation. Last week, 300 Israeli and Palestinian business leaders, said to account for 30% of the economic productivity of their respective peoples, met in Jordan to attempt to jump-start negotiations. They came with the blessings of their governments, the World Economic Forum, and Secretary of State John Kerry. The US Secretary of State even announced a $4 billion incentive plan to help boost Palestinian economic fortunes.
Most importantly however, is the message delivered by Israeli and Palestinian business leaders. They know how joint ventures function as building blocks for peaceful coexistence, the necessary precursors of peace treaties. High-tech guru Yossi Vardi pointed to Munib al-Masri, a Palestinian billionaire who sits on the Palestine Legislative Council. Masri, he said, had told him “the whole thing” could be resolved in 15 minutes; only, said Vardi, “he didn’t tell me when to start counting.”
Unfortunately, the reaction of Palestinian leadership after the conference was a resounding “no.” Too many Palestinians embraced Chelm long before the UCC did. Or to put it in the immortal words of Abba Eban, Arab leaders ” never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Despite these setbacks, earlier this week there was a high profile meeting to actuallydiscuss economic cooperation between Israel’s Minister of Finance Yair Lapid and his opposite number in the Palestinian Authority, Shukri Basahara.
Those truly concerned with the future of the Holy Land forget boycotting seltzer bottles along with the outrageous BDS campaigns and work instead to incentivize peace. The UCC and Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans meeting next month to consider Middle East resolutions should be supporting joint economic projects between Israelis and Palestinian, just as US Episcopalians and Presbyterians voted to do last year. But rather than helping to improve conditions for Palestinians, The United Church of Canada may have only succeeded in helping deprive some Palestinians of their livelihood. Instead of upgrading the road towards peace, UCC elders, like the “Wise” men of Chelm, seem intent only on preparing for more (unnecessary) casualties.