Head of Swedish church's support for boycott of Israeli products stirs debate

January 29, 2003

A statement signed among others by the (Lutheran) Archbishop of Sweden, K. G. Hammar, and by the Swedish ambassador to Germany, Carl Tham, urging a boycott of Israeli products from territories occupied by Israel has provoked strong protests from opposition political parties.

Hammar's name was at the top of a list of 73 Swedish public figures who signed a statement urging a boycott of goods produced by Jewish settlements in territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

'We call on citizens, non-governmental organizations, unions, consumer co-operatives, political parties and companies to boycott all goods from the illegal Israeli settlements,' said the statement quoted in the leading Swedish daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. The signatories hope a boycott will pressure Israel into dismantling the settlements.

The ire of opposition politicians was aimed mainly at Ambassador Tham, whom they said was going against official Swedish policy. But Hammar has also faced criticism from some of his church members. Some of the bishop's critics complained the church was taking standpoints on matters other than those dealing with religion and belief.

Staff at the headquarters of the Church of Sweden say that since the statement was published the bishop has received a torrent of e-mails, phone calls and letters. Many were encouraging, but several accused Hammar of failing the Jewish people and made comparisons to the 1940s, an era in which Swedes have been criticized for failing to have done more against the persecution of Jews.

Hammar said in response that he wanted to focus on the occupation and illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. A boycott was an instrument to raise awareness about this, argued the bishop. All Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are considered illegal by the international community, according to many UN resolutions.

'To buy and sell goods from the occupied territories is to actively support the illegal Israeli occupation,' the group said in their statement, noting that 'it is also against international law.'

The group, which included writers, publishers, doctors and professors, urged the international community to act since the Israelis and Palestinians have proven 'unable to resolve the conflict on their own.' According to the appeal, a lasting peace in the Middle East requires an independent Palestinian state together with the acceptance of the right for Israel to exist within undisputed and secure borders.

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