The Anglican synod is naïve if it believes that peace will result should Israel end the Occupation of the West Bank.

The recent endorsement by the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa of ‘actions against the Israeli state until they end their occupation of Palestine’ has drawn deep criticism from Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and South Africa’s Friends of Israel.

Titled ‘Time to act: Solidarity with Palestine’, the synod specifically calls for support of the ‘well-directed Boycott, Divestment and Sanction [BDS] actions against the Israeli state until they end their occupation of Palestine’.

The synod resolved to condemn ‘all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia’, but described the situation in Israel and Palestine as ‘in some respects worse than apartheid’ and urged its church members who travel on pilgrimages to Israel to include Palestinian Christians in their itineraries.

The resolution said Palestinians and Israelis deserved to live in peace and harmony, as this would contribute to peace not only in that region, but globally.  

BDS spokesman Tisetso Magama said the resolution by the church dispelled the confusion between the modern apartheid state of Israel and the biblical land of Israel.  

‘BDS South Africa thanks the Southern African Synod of the Anglican Church for including BDS SA board member Dudu Masango-Mahlangu in their recent meeting. Masango-Mahlangu has consistently been working with churches in southern Africa on the issue of Palestine/Israel.’

The Anglican Church, which has about three million followers across southern Africa, voted to support ‘non-violent action to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestine’.

In the unanimously supported resolution, the church claimed that Israel had supported the apartheid state in South Africa ‘until the very end’, and that ‘Jerusalem should not be for the exclusive use of one group over another’.

It resolved to ‘encourage every diocese [district] within ACSA to pass this or a similar resolution; educate and inform ourselves as much as possible on the daily reality of the situation; support any non-violent action, especially well-directed BDS actions against the Israeli state, until it ends its military occupation of Palestine; and respectfully request that ACSA appoint a Palestinian study group to prepare and disseminate study material.’

It also called on members to say the following prayer for Palestine: ‘God bless Palestine, free all from oppression; and bring justice and peace. Amen.’

Goldstein condemned the resolution as ‘morally offensive, and based on a complete distortion of history’. He elucidated three particularly questionable elements. First was the accusation that ‘there are possible similarities between apartheid in South Africa and what is happening in Israel and Palestine, and that in some respects, the situation there can be described as worse than apartheid’.

Second, BDS had been declared anti-Semitic by the United Nations (UN) and therefore the resolution’s support for BDS was anti-Semitic in terms of international law.

Third, the statement that ‘(the) current political nation state of Israel and Israel in the Bible should not be confused with each other, and neither should the ideology of Zionism and the religion of Judaism be conflated’.

Said Goldstein: ‘This is beyond the pale. The audacity to make pronouncements on what Judaism is and is not is beyond their right. The Anglican Church has crossed serious red lines with this.’

Chairperson of the SAZF Rowan Polovin said: ‘It’s disturbing that medieval Christian anti-Semitism has resurfaced in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, placing it at odds with an international Anglican Church community that has worked to reject all forms of anti-Jewish prejudice.

‘The statement uniquely singles out the Jewish state for censure among the nations of the world, and proposes actions that are targeted towards its harm.

‘Tellingly, it fails to stand up for the safety and security of Christians inside Palestinian territory. Meanwhile, they thrive under the democratic protections afforded in Israel. There is nothing helpful or constructive in the resolution. It’s another poor attempt to hide anti-Jewish ideology behind the thin veil of anti-Zionism.’

Clearly, BDS has access to and sway over the church on a subject that at the very least is both fraught and contentious. The church did not consult with any official organisation representing the majority of the Jewish community to test BDS’s claims.

Internationally, the UN and Germany have declared BDS anti-Semitic, the United States House of Representatives has passed a resolution rejecting the BDS campaign, and 27 American states have passed laws or resolutions against anti-Israel targeting. In these circumstances, where previously uncritical support for BDS is being challenged, the church appears to have had no regard for this phenomenon and the reasons for it.

The church has endorsed BDS’s position that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’ and even ‘in some respects worse than apartheid’. The damage to a person, entity or country to be labelled as being in anyway aligned to apartheid means it is irresponsible for the church not to have heard a Jewish view on it, and just endorsed BDS’s view as the originator of the comparison.

BDS’s raison d’être is not the end of the occupation of the West Bank; it is the dissolution of the Jewish state. Does the church support the same goal? BDS doesn’t seek a negotiated settlement over the Occupation as it states that only Israel has anything to give. This is wrong both in fact and in respect of the very notion of negotiations.

The church is naïve if it believes that peace will be the result of giving up the Occupation. Hamas, which runs Gaza, has as its core goal the destruction of the Jewish state; ending the Occupation of the West Bank won’t change that. It is highly likely that Hamas (and/or Hezbollah) will wrest power from Fatah in the West Bank. This would put the safety of both Israeli and West Bank citizens at risk.

The church appears not to know about the anti-Semitism that has been spread by Palestinian leaders long before and since Israel occupied Palestinian territories in 1967. No Palestinian child is taught to live in peace with Israel.

It should concern the church that the Palestinian leadership is deeply corrupt, that it has failed to build proper institutions to govern the Palestinian territories for the citizenry’s benefit, and that foreign money has been misappropriated to arm Hamas instead of being used for civilian purposes. 

Perhaps the obvious intellectual rigour that one expects from an Anglican synod is absent because the support for BDS is more a reflection of Anglicanism’s supersessionism.

Supersessionism is the belief that Christianity is the fulfilment of Biblical Judaism and therefore Jews who deny that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah fall short of their calling as God’s chosen people.

Its more radical form maintains that the Jews are no longer considered to be God’s chosen people in any sense. This position is generally termed ‘replacement theology’, according to which the New Covenant has replaced or superseded the Mosaic covenant.

Islam views itself as the final and most authentic expression of Abrahamic prophetic monotheism, superseding both Jewish and Christian teachings. The doctrine of tahrif teaches that earlier monotheistic scriptures or their interpretations have been corrupted, while the Quran presents a pure version of the divine message that they originally contained.

BDS’s purpose may resonate with a secessionist position, but it is probably unlikely that a Muslim state would be sympathetic to the church’s claims as a replacement for the Jews.

Sara Gon is the head of strategic engagement at the IRR.

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Rants professionally to rail against the illiberalism of everything. Broke out of 17 years in law to pursue a classical music passion by managing the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and more. Working with composer Karl Jenkins was a treat. Used to camping in the middle of nowhere. Have 2 sons who have inherited a fair amount of "rant-ability" themselves.