The United Church of Canada is more a political party than a church these days -- spending its time issuing statements on everything from bottled water (no, really) to foreign affairs.
So it is no surprise that at its convention last week, the most lively discussion was about boycotting Israel. This was a perverse debate from the beginning. The resolution was put forward long before the recent Israel-Hezbollah war. Back then, the main political news about the region was Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip -- effectively granting Palestinians there their own country -- and promising to withdraw from much of the West Bank, too. The other big news was the Palestinian response to that gesture: The election of the Hamas terrorist group as the official "government" of the Palestinians. To call for a boycott of the Jews against this backdrop was nothing less than anti-Semitism, and to do so in the absence of condemnation of terrorism was simply a dramatic flourish.
To their credit, the UCC's general council rejected this resolution last week, at least in the form put forward by its radical Toronto council. In the end, the UCC did support an economic boycott of Israeli industries operating in the disputed West Bank.
But it refrained from boycotting Jews in Israel proper. And, in a surprising flourish of even-handedness, the UCC announced it was extending its boycott to Arab states that refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to exist -- in other words, most Arab countries other than Egypt and Jordan.
This last development is a startling surprise -- and a tremendous moral setback to those who wished to pick on the Jewish state, and turn a willfully blind eye to the way Israel's neighbours conduct itself. To hold Arab and Muslim states accountable for their actions is simply not done in polite international society. Contrast the UN's vigorous opposition to the liberation of Iraq, or stopping the slaughter in Darfur, to its unseemly haste in demanding that Israel stop defending itself against terrorist rocket attacks.
In the end, the anti-Semitic proposers of the boycott were hoist on their own petard: If divestment was going to be an ethical tool, it would be applied to all in the region.
I write this because earlier this summer I condemned the UCC as an immoral organization for countenancing such a resolution. Fairness demands that I note and congratulate them for pulling back from the precipice.
The same cannot be said for CUPE Ontario, which adopted a far more venomous resolution earlier this year. Not only did CUPE call for a boycott of the Jews, it demanded Palestinians be resettled by the millions into Israel proper -- giving the Arabs both a new state of Palestine, but also taking over Jewish Israel, too. It was pure malice, and remains a moral blemish on CUPE.
The difference between how CUPE and the UCC handled this matter is an important difference, and one increasingly common on the left.
Once upon a time, the left was Israel's ally -- when Israel was a more socialist country, when it was the underdog, and when memories of the Holocaust were still fresh. Now that Israel is no longer willing to play victim, the radical left has abandoned it -- and sides increasingly with the terrorists and Arab dictators who seek to destroy it. But that is not liberalism; that is radical leftism, and it's not the same.
CUPE, led by a perennial failed NDP candidate named Sid Ryan, is of the radical leftist variety. The UCC is still in the liberal camp.
It's an important moral difference.