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Daily News Analysis

How 50-year church-Israel lobby alliance influenced Canadian policy on Palestine

Crescent International

By Karen Rodman

This week, the United Church has responded to 150+ people who wrote the church regarding the church’s 1973 cooperation agreement with B’nai Brith, a pro-Israel lobby group.

The church indicated the 1973 accord was just to settle a legal spat.

This revisionist history disregards the widespread media coverage at the time and the reams of documents in the church’s own archives.

These archives show months of backroom meetings leading to the agreement that ensured the resolutions passed by the church’s 1972 general council were not implemented.

The pro-Israel lobby asked the United Church leadership to reverse these grassroot resolutions.

The Moderator and General Secretary said that this was not possible but gave their personal assurances that the resolutions would not be implemented.

The August 1972 resolutions approved by the full church body would have been significant in exerting pressure on the Canadian government to act, given the influence of the United Church at the time.

The resolutions called on Ottawa to speak out regarding the sale of Israeli bonds and to re-consider its $100 million loan to Israel from the Canadian Export Development Corporation.

Among other things, it challenged Canada’s voting record at the United Nations.

This was to be sent to Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau with a request for a meeting with him and his caucus, which no doubt would have been granted.

Trying to save face with its own membership, a detailed brief to the prime minister was drafted, and in June 1973, following the pact with B’nai Brith, the United Church had the Canadian Council of Churches send it to the pro-Israel lobby.

The lobby felt duped. It presented a quandary as the pro-Israel lobby knew that the moderator and general secretary had not told the Canadian Council of Churches about their gentleman’s agreement that resolutions would not be implemented.

In the end, the letter was not sent to the prime minister, and indeed the 1972 resolutions were never implemented.

A formal dialogue with the pro-Israel lobby from 1977 onwards meant no resolutions made their way to the general council for the next quarter-century.

The agreement served to subvert and prevent implementation of legitimate resolutions, allowing them to die away.

In recent years, ethical investment and minimal settlement boycott motions were approved at general council, but glossed over with a “let’s keep talking” campaign.

No action was taken on the 2015 divestment resolution.

Meanwhile the church supported Israel as a Jewish state, condemned the BDS movement, negated the right of return supporting it only if it did not impact Jewish demographic integrity, and insists Palestinians do not experience apartheid, contrary to the statements of many Israeli Jewish writers such as Uri Davis, Miko Peled and most recently, Peter Beinart.

Often the church’s suppression of those who speak out within the church in regard to Palestine is met with gaslighting and bullying.

Perhaps the best-known case was that of Rev. Dr. A.C. Forrest, who was badgered into dropping his defamation lawsuit against B’nai Brith, so the church could proceed with its 1973 cooperation agreement.

Forrest, who was editor of the United Church Observer, a magazine that was the staple in many homes across the country at the time, was told about the agreement just as the public signing happened.

At the press conference, the church made it publicly look like Forrest supported the agreement.

Forrest’s correspondence from that time show his shock and heart break.

He was most concerned about how this made him look like he had abandoned the Palestinian people as well as the Canadian Arab community.

In 2015, I returned from serving as human rights observer for the church in Palestine, to be called by the same church a “terrorist” for having been in the “West Bank.”

The church refused to address this serious allegation, and instead undertook a review of me as a clergy, even though there was nothing in their policy allowing them to do so.

In 2016, after the top court of the church refused a hearing, I filed a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) complaint on the basis on my creed being grounded on a theologically-based anti-zionist, post-Christendom, post-colonization belief system that substantially influences my identity, worldview and way of life.

The church continues to insist the claim is about what they call the “Israeli-Palestinian political conflict.”

Over four years, the church has attempted to dismiss the case several times, and to remove the interveners, Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU) of Montreal, and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).

In its response to the HRTO, the United Church claimed to be the expert on Israel-Palestine, and insisted that the intervenors had nothing to add.

So far, the HRTO has accepted the intervention. However, after 18 months of fighting to remove my representative Dr. Jonathan Kuttab, a recognized human rights lawyer and Palestinian Christian, the HRTO succumbed based on an ambiguously worded loop hole, and disallowed him.

The arrogance of the church might seem surprising, but a review of the archives shows the church’s systemic goading and defamation of others who support Palestine.

Similarly those who led the resolutions related to even ethical investment about a decade ago were ostracized by the church.

The human rights code is clear: one can not discriminate against someone because of their association, relationship or dealings with others identified by a code grounds, and so in harassing and defaming those who support Palestine, the church also condemns those who are Palestinian by ethnicity, ancestry, citizenship or race, and whose place of origin is Palestine.

Beyond this, the HRTO has expanded the grounds of creed to include worldview.

In April 2018, the HRTO agreed to my claim against the church based on my antizionist worldview. I await the promised hearing to be scheduled.

One can only imagine what influence the United Church might have had in changing the direction of Canadian policy in regard to Palestine if they had not hitched their horse to the pro-Israel lobby a half-century ago.

Karen Rodman was ordained by the United Church of Canada and is Executive Director of Just Peace Advocates.

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