The United Church of Canada last week approved a boycott on all products made in disputed Israeli-Palestinian territories in protest over Israeli settlements purportedly pushing into Palestinian territory.
The recommendation was approved on Aug. 15 by the Church's General Council in Ottawa, after an eight-day event that included more than 350 delegates.
Bruce Gregersen, General Council Officer of the UCC, shared with The Christian Post some background on the situation by revealing that The United Church's history of engagement with the region goes back to the late 1940s, when a past moderator of the church was a medical missionary in Gaza.
"Since then we have deepened our relationship with partners in the region, including both Israeli and Palestinian groups," Gregersen said. "However we most directly relate to Palestinian Christians. They have called on Christians around the world to support them in the boycott of the products of the occupation."
The General Council Officer noted that the UCC is focusing on boycotting products that have been produced in purported illegal settlements in the disputed territory. It is part of a larger initiative where a number of groups have considered or are considering joining in the boycott, including the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the British Methodist Church, and a number of liberal Zionist Jewish groups.
In a statement, the Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East revealed that the proposal for boycott "passed by a wide margin, reflecting the broad support within the church for Palestinian human rights." It also acknowledged that the decision "also recognized Israel's 45-year occupation as the primary contributor to the injustice that underlies the violence of the region and called on Israel to dismantle its colonies and its wall."
The organization added that they hope this resolution will force Israel to respect international law instead of moving forward with the settlements.
"Our small action is not likely to be significant. What will make a difference is widespread public opinion. This is changing," Gregersen continued to CP.
He admitted that the Palestine-Israel issue has many political overtones, but that is related to moral and religious issues that the church feels inclined to address.
"Palestinian Christians have asked us to act because they are deeply concerned about justice for all the people of the region," Gregersen stressed. "They are concerned that the occupation and the settlements are damaging to both Israelis and Palestinians. They also see many religious aspects to the situation with Christian Zionists supporting the settlements and engaging in significant political lobbying to maintain them."
Pro-Israel groups have reacted with accusations of anti-Semitism over the decision, saying that the UCC boycott only heightens tensions in the Middle East conflict.
"It singles out Israel in a way that is so fundamentally unhelpful," said Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs CEO Shimon Fogel. "In undertaking this action, the United Church has absolutely disqualified itself from playing a constructive role in advancing peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians."
The United Church of Canada remains the largest Protestant denomination in Canada with over 3 million members.