Pay attention to BDS’s marketing drives to the church - South African Jewish Report

7 November 2019 - Church men and women often see the conflict as similar to apartheid partly because of innate sympathy with the Palestinians as “victims”. But I suggest that there is at least a latent anti-Semitism that would allow resolutions of this nature to be passed without investigation and balance.

Sara Gon

At its conference in September 2019, the one million strong Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) noted “Israel’s ongoing ill-treatment and oppression of Palestinian people, and the historic prophetic role played by the church and international community in fighting apartheid and any form of discrimination and injustice.”

The MCSA directed “the Methodist people to boycott, divest, and sanction all businesses that benefit the Israeli economy”. The church has also called for a “boycott of all Israeli pilgrimage operators and tours” and is urging Christians visiting the Holy Land to rather “deliberately seek out tours that offer an alternative Palestinian” perspective. (SA Jewish Report, 1 November 2019)

Although not exactly the same wording, the resolution echoed the sentiments of the resolution adopted by the provincial Anglican synod at the end of September. (SA Jewish Report, 10 October 2019).

The tone of the MCSA’s resolution is more strident and specific. Unlike the Anglican Church, which urged its members who travel on pilgrimages to Israel to include Palestinian Christians in their itineraries, the MCSA calls for a “boycott of all Israeli pilgrimage operators and tours” and is urging Christians visiting the Holy Land to rather “deliberately seek out tours that offer an alternative Palestinian” perspective.

The Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley when he broke away from the Anglican Church in England in the 18th century. Wesley was an outspoken anti-Semite.

The Methodist Church has a history of opposing Israel and demonising Jews. In 2010, the Methodists singled out Israel for boycott action, but it has failed to subject other ethnic groups to similar scrutiny.

During its convention in 2010, it wasn’t simply Israeli policy that was condemned, but an extreme form of anti-Jewish replacement theology was invoked.

Jewish “chosenness” came up for debate followed by the promotion of the supersessionist idea. A delegate who spoke to these issues completed her speech by remarking that “G-d is not a racist G-d, with favourites.” The implication was that Jews and their religion are racist, with belief in a racist G-d, and as such, they should be punished with boycotts. It was a revisiting of the worst form of Christian anti-Semitism.

In a response to my article about the Anglican resolution in the Daily Friend, the online newspaper of the Institute of Race Relations, Nigel Willis, an ordained non-stipendiary priest in the Anglican Church, writes that the church’s provincial resolution in support of BDS sanctions can help shape moral opinion, but are neither binding on the membership nor do they represent the view of everyone in the church.

The provincial resolution can only call on every diocese to adopt a similar resolution. What matters more are the stances taken by a bishop within a particular diocese.

Willis says the resolution caused him considerable distress and embarrassment. Further, he’s concerned that it was adopted unanimously. He says several parishioners at his church have written to him to express their dismay.

He wished to assure us that it was most unlikely that the resolution was driven by anti-Semitism. Rather, there is a pervasive view that the resolution of the conflict in the Middle East would take place in much the same way as apartheid was ended in South Africa and for much the same reasons.

As Willis notes, this is fallacious. In South Africa, by the end of the 1980s there was an across-the-board recognition that Christianity and apartheid were incompatible. However, “there is no similar congealing theology when it comes to the troubles in the Middle East”.

Willis called the resolution astonishing in its naïveté and ambiguity. It’s unclear whether it brings the existence of the state of Israel into question. He holds that there should not have been room for any misunderstanding in a resolution of such importance.

Willis doesn’t see a resolution of the conflict in his lifetime. “The best that Christians can do is to pray about it, and insist in both prayer and public utterances that there should be no violence, that the shared humanity of us all should be recognised, and that adversaries should be encouraged to talk to one another so that the cause of peace may prevail in the end.”

Willis doesn’t share my view that the Anglican Church today is supersessionist. On the contrary, the whole question of religious pluralism has “received much attention within the worldwide Anglican communion since the end of World War II. We now recognise that the best theological explanation for religious pluralism is that different religions learn from one another. We also recognise that, when it comes to ‘doing’ religion, most people do best what they know best.

“In other words, although there will be exceptions, we accept that most people adhere to the religious tradition into which they were born and raised, and there is nothing very wrong with that.”

Willis undertakes to take up the issue of the resolution in his own parish and diocese. The “Anglican church in Johannesburg has always been keenly sensitive to any whiff of anti-Semitism, and is hugely proud of the contribution of the Jewish community, especially in the struggle against apartheid.”

Willis is emphatic that this resolution neither represents Anglicans nor binds them, and that Anglican resolutions on the Middle East in the future (if there are any) be treated with much greater care.

I stand to be convinced that supercessionism is not behind both the Anglican and Methodist resolutions.

BDS clearly went on a marketing drive to a religious community that was open to its message. Neither church sought a Jewish view on the matter before their resolutions were passed.

Church men and women often see the conflict as similar to apartheid partly because of innate sympathy with the Palestinians as “victims”. But I suggest that there is at least a latent anti-Semitism that would allow resolutions of this nature to be passed without investigation and balance.

Sara Gon is a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

https://www.sajr.co.za/opinion/op-eds/2019/11/07/pay-attention-to-bds-s-marketing-drives-to-the-church

© 2018 South African Institute of Race Relations
CMS Website by Juizi

Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy | Accuracy Guarantee | Sponsors & Donors