The United Church of Canada’s 40th General Council made the news this summer for its proposals on the Middle East, but less publicized was the implication of Mennonites in the controversial subject of Middle East political response.
Lloyd Mackey, in canadianchristianity.ca, reported “a couple dozen members of Parliament, mostly Conservatives, are being circulated with a paper written by Christian analyst Dexter Van Zile, entitled Key Mennonite Institutions Against Israel.”
Van Zile accuses Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams of being “at the forefront of the effort to discredit Israel to audiences in North America.”
He cites three main objections to the position of “key” Mennonite institutions: activists affiliated with MCC and CPT offer a one-state prescription for peace which fails to recognize that “a Jewish minority would not be safe in a Muslim-and Arab-majority country in the Middle East”; “ironic and hypocritical” Mennonite hostility toward Jewish sovereignty; and Mennonite “inability to deal with the reality of evil and the power needed to confront it.”
In an email exchange with the MB Herald, Esther Epp-Tiessen, peace ministries coordinator and policy analyst for MCC Canada, responded to both Van Zile and Mackey’s report on the controversy. “MCC decries all violence,” she says, “be that acts of terror committed by Palestinian militants against Israelis, or Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands.”
Epp-Tiessen says MCC does not take a stance on whether a two-state or single joint Israeli-Palestinian state is the right solution and works with both Israeli and Palestinian groups. “MCC seeks to respond to the most vulnerable people,” she says. “In this conflict, there are far fewer resources available to ordinary Palestinians than to Israelis.”
Contrary to Mackey’s report that “MCC could identify with most of the [United Church] GC proposals,” Epp-Tiessen says MCC has not taken an official position on calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and their identification was only with one resolution (Implementation of Measures towards Peace in the Middle East), “with the exception of the two-state proposal.”
“We have not and still do not support across-the-board sanctions of Israeli institutions,” she says.
MCC’s critique of Zionism and Christian Zionism has been erroneously conflated with anti-Judaism, suggests Epp-Tiessen, whereas “we believe that anti-Judaism is a factor contributing to conflict and insecurity in the Middle East.”
“Mennonites’ refusal to take up arms does not mean passivity in the face of evil,” she says, in reference to Van Zile’s third charge. “Rather, we seek to engage in ‘preventative defence’ on behalf of the world by proactively working for justice and peace.”
As for the fate of the United Church proposals, the General Council repudiated the “provocative, unbalanced and hurtful” background language of the proposals but called for churches and individuals to take action on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict after consultation, dialogue, study, and prayer.