United Church drops Israel 'apartheid' wording

Delegates at the United Church of Canada's national meeting have voted almost unanimously to reject controversial language used in material for a proposed divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Delegates at the United Church of Canada's national meeting have voted almost unanimously to reject controversial language used in material for a proposed divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Bernie Farber, chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, warned of an 'irreparable' schism between his organization and the United Church if delegates adopted a boycott resolution against Israel. ((CBC))
The United Church is still considering the resolutions themselves, including a proposed boycott of Israeli organizations at this week's general council meeting in Kelowna, B.C., said church spokesman Bruce Gregersen.

But in a motion that deemed some of the wording "provocative, unbalanced and hurtful," delegates voted Tuesday to repudiate and regret background documents that raised the ire of Jewish organizations across the country.

One of the proposed resolutions called on the Canadian government to end support for Israel's "occupation" of the Palestinian territories and to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions in protest. 

Another document likened the Israeli political authority to "South African apartheid," while a separate document questions Canadian MPs who are "dual citizens with Israel and have sensitive roles in Canada" and classifies junkets to Israel as "bribes."

In the end, the church decided to drop the reference to apartheid and Canadian MPs, while delegates are scheduled to vote on the proposed boycott Thursday.

Church's reputation seen at risk

Bernie Farber, chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress who came to Kelowna to head off the resolutions, said the reputation of the United Church as a fair-minded institution is at stake.

He also warned of an "irreparable" schism between his organization and the United Church if delegates adopted the boycott resolution.  

"It almost sends shivers down our spine that the United Church of Canada won't speak out against documents which on their face are anti-Semitic," Farber told CBC News ahead of Tuesday's motion.

Vicki Obedkoff, a United Church minister who recently headed a youth delegation to the region, said she supports the resolutions, except for the document about members of Parliament.

"The occupation is increasingly brutal and there has to be a justice-seeking resolution," she told CBC News outside the Kelowna meeting.

But several delegates also expressed reservations about the call for a boycott against academic institutions, which they argued are grounded in ideas and communication, the CBC's Priya Ramu reported from the convention.

To boycott them, they said, would be to go against the key values of the United Church.

With files from Priya Ramu and The Canadian Press