Chief rabbi slams South African Anglican Church’s support for BDS

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has condemned the Anglican Church of South Africa (ACSA) for its resolution to support “well-directed Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) actions” against Israel.


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

It also condemned “all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the strongest terms”, and said that “Palestinians and Israelis both deserve to live in peace and harmony”.

The chief rabbi condemned the resolution as “morally offensive, and based on a complete distortion of history”. He pointed out three particularly questionable elements. First, an 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”.

Said Goldstein, “This is a lie, and it insults the victims of real apartheid.”

Second, he said the BDS movement had been declared by the United Nations as anti-Semitic, and therefore the resolution’s support for BDS was anti-Semitic in terms of international law.

Third, he was horrified at the resolution stating 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”.

“This is beyond the pale. The audacity to make pronouncements on what Judaism is and is not is beyond their right,” said the chief rabbi.

“The modern Zionist movement is a natural expression of the fact that, for 2 000 years, we had a dream to return to the land of Israel. The connection to Israel and Jerusalem is inseparable from Judaism. The Anglican Church has crossed serious red lines with this.”

The chief rabbi said he had discussed this at length in a telephone conversation with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, and they agreed that delegations from the Jewish community and the Anglican Church would meet soon.

The chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, 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,” Polovin said.

Many members expressed their disappointment with the resolution in the comments section of the Anglican Church’s website.

Reverend John Atkinson said it was a sad day. “People who forget their own history are doomed to repeat it. No acknowledgement of centuries of anti-Semitism and violent acts against Jews in Europe by the church. No acknowledgement of the rise of anti-Semitism in contemporary society. This resolution is one-sided and ill-informed – the very thing it calls for others to avoid.”

Another church member, Quentin Leeds, said he was shocked but not surprised. “I have been to Israel, have spoken to Arab Christians, have travelled through the West Bank and interacted with Christians and Jews who live in Israel. I have seen Palestinians and Jews working side by side in harmony in Jerusalem. This doesn’t make me an expert, but it has opened my eyes to a misreported situation. I’m dismayed that the ACSA should rely on a political view of our government to inform it, and chooses to support the BDS movement. This smacks of politicking, and should have no place in the affairs of G-d.”

Thea Haller wrote, “I strongly disagree with the above statements which in my mind are contradictory to your statement of anti-Semitism. As long as Hamas – which effectively controls the Palestinians and has been responsible for the systematic killing of Christian Palestinians – remains, there will be no peace.”

In the resolution, which was unanimously supported, the church claimed among other things that Israel continued to support 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.”