January 11, 2022
Canadian Rabbinic Caucus
Montreal Board of Rabbis
Rabbinical Assembly – Ontario Region
Rabbinical Association of Vancouver (RAV)
Reform Rabbis of Canada
Toronto Board of Rabbis
As Canadian Rabbis from across the country who span the denominational spectrum, we strongly condemn resolutions on Israel and antisemitism currently under consideration by the United Church of Canada preparatory to the 2022 General Council.
We believe in peace in the Holy Land. We hope for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, with the legitimate national aspirations of both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples fulfilled.
We believe that Christian organizations seeking to advance the wellbeing of the peoples of the Holy Land must begin by ensuring that they acknowledge and recognize historic tendencies that demonized the Jewish people. Purifying themselves of this legacy includes both avoiding the use of pejorative language that incites Jew-hatred and reflecting – rather than ignoring – the post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian dialogue work, undertaken in awareness that Christian anti-Judaism was a contributing factor to the genocide.
The Just Peace Task Group report currently circulated affirms that it has “zero tolerance for all forms of racism, including antisemitism.”
For this statement to have any meaning, it must be respectful of Canadian Jews. The United Church must allow Jews – as it does every other vulnerable and targeted group – to define our own oppression. Hiding behind a fringe organization, far from representative of normative Canadian Jewish opinion, is unacceptable. It reeks of tokenism and disingenuousness.
Our research indicates 98% of Canadian Jewish organizations support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, as do the governments of Canada, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, the EU, and many countries around the world.
For the United Church of Canada even to consider telling Jews what we can – and cannot – consider antisemitism is both counter-productive and disrespectful. ‘Nothing about us without us’ is a key principle in all allyship work.
We live in a time of rising antisemitism, now at its highest level since the Second World War, according to Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting
Antisemitism. It is therefore more important than ever for the United Church to stand with the Jewish community against the hate we face and not to presume to know better and more about Jew-hatred than we do.
Indigeneity and Decolonization
The lens of “whiteness” and decolonization is misplaced when applied to the State of Israel, which is the successful outcome of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It represents the miraculous return of the indigenous inhabitants of ancient Israel and the revival of Hebrew, its indigenous language. For indigenous peoples worldwide, Israel serves as an inspiration never to abandon the struggle for freedom.
Despite its imperfections – of which we are aware – the State of Israel is one of the greatest success stories of the 20th century. In addition to generations of Jews who already lived in what then was called Palestine, Zionist dreams, European hatred, and Muslim persecution brought others. Of important note is that the majority of Israeli Jews (or their descendants) are people of colour, immigrants and refugees from Muslim states.
Wherever Jews lived, we carried a memory and love of the Land of Israel. As we read in Psalms:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remember Zion (Psalms 137:1)
At weddings, funerals, in daily prayers, and on Jewish festivals, we remembered our ancient homeland:
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate. If I fail to recall you If I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.(Psalms 137: 5,6)
In Jewish theological terms, the State of Israel is a partial realization of Biblical prophecies of the return to Zion. Indeed, every Shabbat in our synagogues we pray for the welfare of the State of Israel, declaring it to be “the first flowering of our redemption.”
For Christians, people of faith, who revere the Holy Word and seek to respect the teachings of other religious traditions, to denigrate a core aspect of contemporary Jewish belief is bewildering and painful.
As Christians, the United Church of Canada should consider the multiple expressions of Covenant in the Bible that bind the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
The Just Peace Task Group report notes “people’s right to engage in non-violent resistance to injustice” and opens the door widely to BDS. The contemplated resolution originated by the Cambrian Shield Regional Council goes in the same direction as it supports BDS and completely ignores the Covenant that God established with the Jewish people.
In the spirit of “seeking to speak truthfully, even when the truth is painful; with courage to name things as they are,” supporting BDS is supporting a movement that wishes for the State of Israel to disappear, period. You don’t have to believe us. Take it from them. Referring to the entire stretch of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — all of Israel and the Palestinian territories – the current leader of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has stated:
Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.
The proposed Cambrian Shield Regional Council resolution refers to the Kairos Palestine document – to which not one of the heads of the Churches in the Holy Land were signatories. This fact alone should give supporters of this document reason to pause and reflect.
The Kairos Palestine document justifies all means to achieving Palestinian statehood. It does not place any limits on violence. It does not refer to ongoing incitement in mosques and Palestinian media. Above all, it ignores the wider context of Israeli-Arab relations and the Palestinian refusal to recognize historic and religious bonds of the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland.
By failing to acknowledge those bonds, the resolution altogether ignores the Jewish roots of Jesus. Protestations against antisemitism and advocacy of love included in the Kairos Palestine document, therefore, ring hollow.
The use of the term “apartheid” is especially upsetting to Canadian Jews. As the vast majority of our community supports the existence of the State of Israel, although we may disagree with particular government policies, accusations of apartheid suggest that we are de facto racists. This is not only hurtful but also untrue. Moreover, the diversity of Israeli society – with full franchise for all Israeli citizens, regardless of race or religion – stands as clear refutation of the falsity of this accusation.
The Israeli courts are equally accessible to all and include many Arab judges, even on the country’s Supreme Court bench. Arab citizens are represented in the Knesset (parliament), and an Islamist party is part of the governing coalition. Also noteworthy: Israel is the only country in the West that funds and maintains Sharia courts and has passed laws to protect the holy sites of all faith communities.
Israel as a Jewish State
We note with dismay the hesitation – if not the refusal – of the United Church to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, even though the 1947 United Nations Resolution 181 adopted the UNSCOP report calling for partition and the creation of an Arab state and a Jewish state. Moreover, we have not seen or heard the United Church refuse to acknowledge – naming only a few examples – the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Syrian Arab Republic, the United Arab Emirates, or the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Even more outrageous, the United Church has never said anything about the fact that the Palestinian Basic Law (the Palestinian Constitution) states that “Palestine is part of the larger Arab world, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab nation” (Art. 1), that “Islam is the official religion in Palestine” (Art. 4 (1)), that the “principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation” (Art. 4 (2)) and that “Arabic shall be the official language (Art 4(3)).
If the proto-Palestinian state is allowed to self-define as part of the Arab nation, with Islam as the official religion, governed with Muslim Shari’a law as a principal source of legislation and Arabic as the official language, why would the United Church not extend similar respect to Israel? The double – if not triple – standard is, to say the least, troubling.
The interests of Palestinian Arabs will not be advanced through the demonization of Israel and its citizens. To be true agents of reconciliation, the United Church can urge an end to the incitement of violence by all parties. It can do this by encouraging all relevant parties to return to the negotiating table so that all the peoples of the Holy Land may live together in mutual respect and peace.
We urge you to:
Not undermine years of Christian-Jewish interfaith work.
Not negate the Divine Covenant with the Jewish people.
Not be trapped by feel-good virtue signaling at the expense of serious, constructive bridge-building.
Not let yourself be led into a dead end by groups unrepresentative of the Jewish community.
Not veer toward hubris by presuming to know more about antisemitism than we Jews do.
Instead, we urge you to:
Be a constructive Christian bridge between communities.
Reject those harmful, extreme, and out-of-touch resolutions.
Work together with us and all people of good faith to be serious peace builders in the land holy to the three Abrahamic faith traditions.
Should the United Church General Council adopt any of the proposed problematic resolutions: we urge you and your congregation to reject them individually.