Oslo Bishop Kari Veiteberghas sparked a debate by calling for a boycott of Israel on Facebook over the recent wave of violence that swept the Middle East.
She quoted the Prophet Isaiah (“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”) and suggested that boycotting Israel is the best means of non-violent resistance.
“We have both a moral and an obligation under international law not to support the occupation of Palestine financially. We urge the churches in Norway to support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as solutions for a lasting and just peace,” Veiteberg wrote, sharing a picture originally published by the YMCA-YWCA (Young Men's Christian Organisation and Young Women's Christian Organisation), which advocates a broad economic boycott of Israel.
Veiteberg's stance sparked strong reactions, including accusations of anti-Semitism.
“I don't think Oslo Bishop Kari Veiteberg belongs in the Church of Norway. She believes we should boycott the state of Israel, which is obviously anti-Semitic. The left has called for a boycott from what they believe are occupied territories, but Veiteberg believes the entire state is illegitimate,” national-conservative Progress Party heavyweight and Oslo MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde told the newspaper Dagbladet.
Tybring-Gjedde argued that Kari Veiteberg's views are incompatible with her position as a bishop.
“I think she should be a left-wing political activist rather than a bishop. I myself no longer go to church. You only get admonitions about how much pity there is for other people and that we should be ashamed. <...> It is a great provocation what she is doing, which is far from the view of the church members,” Tybring-Gjedde elaborated.
In 2015, the current Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru resigned from the Church of Norway in protest after Bishops Tor B. Jørgensen and Olav Øygard argued that Norway should slow down oil production.
Christian Tybring-Gjedde argued, on the contrary, that it is the bishops who should opt out.
“Kari Veiteberg's proposal frightens me, she has nothing to do in the Church of Norway. It is a coup within the Oslo church, and there are plenty of arenas she can be a left-wing activist. The church should be a place where you shouldn't have a bad conscience,” Tybring-Gjedde said.
Addressing Tybring-Gjedde's criticism, Preses Olav Fykse Tveit, the first among equals within the Church of Norway, emphasised that it has in collaboration with other churches across the globe for many years worked for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine.
“The Church of Norway has, together with these churches, called for a boycott of goods from the occupied territories, which under international law have been illegally produced and sold. The Bishop of Oslo, the Episcopal Conference and the bishops are engaged based on the church's mission in important societal issues for peace and justice in the world,” Fykse Tveit emphasised.
The YMCA-YWCA acknowledges on its website that they recognise Israel as a legitimate state in accordance with international law. According to the organisation, the position on having a broad economic boycott of goods and services that contribute to the occupation of Palestine is fully compatible with this recognition.
The recent bout of hostilities between Gaza-based Hamas militants and Israel broke out on 10 May after days of violent clashes between local Arabs and Israeli police in East Jerusalem, which were triggered by court verdicts to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of the city and a ban on Palestinians visiting certain holy sites during Ramadan.
As a result, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel, which retaliated with deadly airstrikes of its own, before an Egypt-brokered ceasefire was struck.
Overall, the hostilities lasted 11 days and left 243 people in the Gaza Strip dead, as well as 12 Israelis.