Yesterday, 30 June 2014, was a challenging day in all sorts of ways. The news headlines drew our attention to the tragic deaths of three Israeli teenagers. Our hearts go out to their families and the whole family of Israel.
Our prayers are that those who are responsible are swiftly brought to justice; it would be unrealistic to not expect an escalation of violence but we remain hopeful.
In a far lesser way it was also a challenging day for the Methodist Conference.
For almost two hours we debated the Methodist Church’s briefing paper setting out the arguments for and against BDS.
The paper was received almost without challenge.
There followed a notice of motion that sought to rewrite the recommendations that had encouraged the Methodist people to refrain from bringing further notices of motion and memorials to the Methodist Conference until at least 2017.
It was a delicate time for us all.
Four years ago the Justice for Palestine Israel Report was deeply hurtful for many of us and inflicted great damage on our relationship with the Jewish communities.
Year on year we have been able to increase awareness of that hurt and the complexity of the issues that had seemingly been overlooked in the initial report.
My own speech was as follows:
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to keep silence and a time to speak
The Kairos Britain booklet, with which we have all been lobbied prior to Conference, calls this a Time for Action. Conference must decide whether this is a time for further action or a time for reflection.
Whether the time is right for pursuing what is an orchestrated and utterly relentless campaign or whether it is time to pause and reflect.
Whether the time is right to continue importing the conflict into the Methodist Church or help promote peace projects in Israel Palestine.
We have all seen what is happening across the region. Conference must decide whether it wishes to continue criticising the only Jewish State in the world: when ancient Christian communities in Syria are being wiped out, when, according to the Foreign minister of Iran (and he should know), the conflict between Sunni and Shia is the greatest threat to world peace today, when a woman raised as a Christian has to give birth in a cell shackled to the floor and is then sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, the sentence not carried out only as a result of international furore; not so lucky for the hundreds of women who are executed because they have been raped yet the law of their land deems them to have committed adultery.
Conference must decide whether to widen the boycott of Israel when the Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas opposes such a move.
Time never allows us to have a full debate on the reasons why the Jewish communities of these island nations are justifiably sensitive to anything the Christian Church, in particular the Methodist Church, has to say on Israel.
The history of our relationship is one that has never been properly addressed.
I would suggest that this is not the time to pursue this campaign that has cost the church dearly.
I would suggest that the church we love has other priorities at present – not least arresting the decline in our membership, challenging those responsible for the food crisis and finding ways to counter the emerging threat posed by extremism in our own cities and towns.
When 500 jihadists from ISIS return to these island nations, how will we respond?
Brothers and sisters now is the time to reject this NOM and support the carefully crafted recommendations brought to us by the Methodist Council.’
The debate yesterday highlighted how far we had travelled during that time.
Following some excellent speeches and the gracious and wise guidance of the Methodist Church ex-President the Revd Ruth Gee, the vote to reject the notice of motion was overwhelming.
It goes without saying that those of us from MFJ that were present and those who supported our perspective and stand were delighted with the outcome and feel that much has been achieved.
I wish to record my deep and sincere appreciation to those in MFJ and elsewhere whose support is vital as we continue to address the issues we face, for surely we will, and to fulfil the aims for which we were founded.
The Revd Bruce Thompson
Chair Methodist Friends of Judaism