A few days ago, the group known as UNJPPI (United Network for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine) made a bold stroke for a lasting peace in the Middle East. They stood in front of a Canadian Tire store… and called for a boycott of SodaStream. In so doing, they proclaimed for the world to hear that the primary obstacle to peace between Israel and its neighbours is not Arab rejectionism or a genocidal Iran or a murderous Hamas or a hatefully indoctrinated Arab street. No. The true impediment to peace, bubbling to the surface in all of its effervescent naughtiness, is…Wait for it…seltzer.
I cannot speak for the readers, but I have fond memories of seltzer. My grandfather drank it. The Three Stooges sprayed it. The guys on Mad Men mix it with their scotch. So…seltzer. Seriously?
I remember the profound words of Dr. Sidney Freedman on MASH who described the curative effects of this sparkling elixir: Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum … a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants! Surely this is a recipe for a long and happy life.
Obviously not. In the hands of UNJPPI, helping to bring to life the boycott resolution passed by the General Council of the United Church of Canada in 2012, seltzer has been turned in a Weapon of Mass Distraction. Rather than focus on the real issues, boycotters continue to advance the proposition that Israel must be brought to heel, and this can happen if only she is punished sufficiently.
I attended a UNJPPI press conference on Tuesday morning at which there was no press and only a handful of true believers in attendance. I took the opportunity to ask what I thought was a simple question: “If the United Church has now decided that boycotts are necessary, what did the Church try before?” The answer was that this policy had developed over many years and that there was an attempt to engage in ethical investment in 2006. Since that didn’t work (well, really they never tried) the church was now trying a limited boycott against settlement products. But, I was told that, if that initiative didn’t work, and if there was no positive reaction from the boycotted companies and Israel, then the policy might develop further.
So, to be clear: these activists recognize the ineffectiveness of their previous efforts and will respond with more of the same.
It’s a great pity, because there is in fact a constructive role that third parties like the United Church can play in helping to bring peace to Israel and Palestine: they can support useful and positive projects both here and abroad that will help to break down barriers, build trust and establish the foundations of a citizen-driven Palestinian society and a peaceful two-state solution.
Although third parties do not advance peace by singling out one party for opprobrium and relieving the other of responsibility, unfortunately, the UCC and other boycotters have chosen to do so. But, because only the parties to the conflict can end the conflict, to be effective, third parties like the UCC should support and encourage both sides equally to promote peace. Anything else is wishful – and destructive – thinking.