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Comment > Letters to the editor >

When does criticism of Israel become an expression of anti-Semitism?

From Jane Clements
Sir, - Before readers dismiss Dr Irene Lancaster's astonishing article ( "Anglicans have betrayed the Jews", 19 August), permit me to point out that Dr Lancaster is by no means alone in her views.

Countless articles have been written and emails exchanged from this perspective recently, and, as an Anglican working in this field, I have  frequently been told that the Anglican Consultative Council is inherently and totally anti-Semitic. This is, of course, absurd, as well as offensive. But we ignore these sentiments to our own detriment.

We must hear, beneath the tones of outrage and accusation, the expression of a very real sense of fear. Many Jews who would not agree with all Dr Lancaster' s assertions admit that the fact of increasingly racially motivated attacks and graveyard desecrations are making them wary of society as a whole. Quite rational Jews have been shocked at how the climate of fear has changed for their community over the past decade. It is easy to dismiss this as unfounded or irrational, but working to allay the fear seems a much more positive response.

The whole situation of Israel adds an extremely complex dimension for relations with British Jews. Criticism of Israeli governments and concern for the plight of Palestinians is not anti-Semitism, and we have to reiterate this. But if we really want to be heard, we have to do this sensitively. Anglicans have produced many documents, reports, and even liturgies designed to stir up righteous anger at Israeli policies and actions. A single sentence condemning suicide bombings buried somewhere therein will not reassure many British Jews that we also care about their own families, friends or co-religionists - many of whom are also afraid.

Furthermore, if British Jews, as part of the wider society, are unaware that Anglicans speak out about problems in other parts of the world, then that is clearly our own fault.

There have been many positive initiatives over the years, but currently Anglican-Jewish relations have reached a nadir. Unless we can make it clear that we do not consider Jews to be irrelevant or worse, there is a danger of further estrangement from those who were first, in Paul's words, "entrusted with the oracles of God".
JANE CLEMENTS
The Council of Christians and Jews, 1st Floor, Camelford House
89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TP

From Canon Paul Oestreicher
Sir, - Not even the Holocaust has sufficed to put an end to 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism. Its remnants continue to plague our society. The Churches have good reason to hang their heads in shame. That has always been a betrayal of the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr Irene Lancaster is right to remind Anglicans of this on-going tragedy (Comment,  19 August). For me, as an Anglican priest, this has a profoundly personal dimension. My much loved Jewish grandmother was a victim of the Holocaust. So were my wife's grandparents.

Our marriage was blessed by my  closest friend Rabbi Albert Friedlander, closer to me than any Anglican colleague. When Jews are hated, it is not they but we. I was the Jewish child in Hitler's Germany with whom other children were not allowed to play.

But Dr Lancaster is profoundly mistaken in her denunciation, claiming that rejection of anti-Judaism by today's Christian leaders is so much eye-wash. To reject the unjust policies and actions of the state of Israel, which tragically provide the real anti-Semites with so much ammunition, has nothing whatever to do with hatred of the Jewish people. Quite the opposite. It is to support the courageous Jewish minority who, in the spirit of the prophets, themselves challenge Israeli violations of human rights, and do so at the cost of being treated as traitors by many of their fellow Jews.

Even today, I stand by the three BBC programmes I made in Israel in the 1960s. Despite the terrorism and ethnic cleansing that accompanied the creation of  modern Israel, I rejoiced at its achievements, and passionately affirmed the right of its people to live within secure borders.

Sadly, the policies of successive governments and the racist sentiments of many Israelis are the greatest threat to Israel's security and, more importantly, to its very soul. The perverse suicide bombers are a tragic product of a cruel occupation. It is my love of the Jewish people that forces me, with an increasing number of Jews inside and outside Israel, to protest.

To regard the affirmation of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as anti-Semitism is as understandable, given Jewish fears, as it is untrue. The admirable organisation Jews for Justice for Palestinians is an effective answer to this charge.

The desecrators of Jewish graves will not be found among the Anglicans Dr Lancaster charges with betrayal.
PAUL OESTREICHER
The Chaplaincy, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RH

From Dr Martin Henig
Sir, - I cannot let Dr Lancaster's article go without voicing a protest. I am now proud to be an Anglican, but I was born and brought up as a Jew, and I have a deep, lifelong respect for both faiths.

I have never in my life encountered real anti-Semitism, and I now have a pretty extensive church acquaintance; indeed, the case is very much the opposite. The Jewish  background of Jesus, his family, and all of his disciples is stressed both from the pulpit and in study groups.

Jewish cemeteries and other buildings are from time to time desecrated, but so are Anglican churches - often, in inner cities, with alarming frequency. The reason is surely the vandals' lack of any religious knowledge and faith. The answer lies with all of us whose task is to proclaim the love of God. It is primarily a matter of education.

As for Israel and Palestine, surely we have to empathise with both sides, but neither as a Jew nor now as a Christian am I prepared to endorse Israel's actions "right or wrong" in face of the suffering of ordinary Palestinians. As a human being, not as a Jew or a Christian, I have to agonise over the rights and wrongs of boycotts. I think the AUT and the Anglican Peace and Justice Network were probably misguided in their proposed actions at this time, but these will always be matters of opinion. As far as I can see, the basic Anglican position will now and ever be to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem".

I might disagree with some aspects of church teaching, but not with regard to attitudes to Judaism, which seem to me to be well-nigh universally civilised, scholarly, and sympathetic.
MARTIN HENIG
16 Alexandra Road, Oxford OX2 0DB

From Wendy R. Leibowitz
Sir, - Thank you for printing the article by Dr Irene Lancaster. As an American Jew long involved in peace and reconciliation activities between Jews and Arabs, I have bristled at those who are intolerant of criticism of Israel. Israel, like any country, should be criticised when her actions warrant it.

But the silence afforded Arab human-rights violations is unfathomable. Apparently, the Anglican Church doesn't care about the so-called honour killings of women, the persecution and execution of homosexuals, the lack of freedom of expression or of the press, the virulent anti-Semitism, and the lack of democracy.

The Christian community generally is inexplicably silent about the horrible treatment of Christians in much of the Arab world. Criticism is directed almost entirely at Israel. "People just hold us Jews and the Jewish state to a higher standard," I told myself, "and that's a compliment, in a way."

The calls for boycotts and divestment, though, shook me out of my complacency. Israel and the Palestinian territories desperately need investment to bring a measure of peace and prosperity (the two are linked) to the region. There is no reason to single out Israel - the country in which, ironically, most Arabs enjoy more human rights and protections than they do anywhere else - for such condemnation.

The divestment will do no good, and could do much harm. I hope that articles like Dr Lancaster's will cause some in the Anglican community to be constructively involved in, say, Israeli-Palestinian business partnerships.
WENDY R. LEIBOWITZ
Legal Technology Columnist
1140 23rd St NW, Washington, DC 20037, USA

From Mr Gary Shapiro
Sir, - Thank you for printing Dr Lancaster's article. Not long ago, I was called by Christians to help counter what was thought would be an anti-Israel production in Exeter Cathedral. The Bishop was in attendance at a Beyond Belief roadshow - a multimedia presentation of life in the West Bank, written by Martin John Nicholls, Christian Aid area co-ordinator for Devon and Dorset. It was beyond belief. I got sick, and a Messianic Jewish lady went outside and cried.

Goebbels would have been proud of this propaganda. It was done professionally. No questions were allowed during this lengthy presentation. For effect, the lights were turned off and on. Loud explosive noises were used to drive the party line home in song and group dynamics, misinformation and half-truths. For years, I have been chasing around to meetings where this sort of activity is happening, mostly in churches.

The boycotts are not aimed at all the countries where Christians have been massacred and enslaved for years, but against the Lord's very own people and land. Do not these types of programme lead to pogroms? Aren't they inciting people to hate the Jewish people?

Why, when a Christian friend of mine and I were leaving a local synagogue, and as he was helping elderly Jewish people into his car, did I notice written on his windscreen an anti-Jewish slur? Why, two weeks later, when walking along the busy seafront with some Jewish friends, did we see two Jewish men ridiculed in public?

For centuries, villainous preaching by church Fathers against the Jewish people was aimed at their annihilation, and almost finished the job. Now we see a returning to this vomit on a worldwide scale.
GARY SHAPIRO
17 Highfield Grove, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

From Ms R. L. Hart
Sir, - The Jewish community has been getting ready to mark 2006 as a celebration of 350 years since the resettlement of 1656. I was prompted to explore the history of my own ancestors, the Mendes Coutinhos, who arrived from Portugal, via Amsterdam, in the 17th century. They were fleeing the fires and torture of the Inquisition, and finally found a safe haven in London. (Other branches of the family were not so fortunate.)

One hundred years ago, my maternal grandparents arrived, escaping the rabid and lethal anti-Semitism of eastern Europe. My grandmother would describe how, at Easter time, no Jew in her little town in Poland would dare go into the streets. Church sermons demonised the Jews, who could be beaten and killed with impunity.

I did not imagine that within my lifetime, in the shadow of the Holocaust, I would have to confront anti-Semitic activity in this country. But Dr Lancaster has got it right. Visits to local churches, for meetings and social events, have revealed horribly one-sided anti-Israel literature and films. Constant exaggerated criticism of the Jewish state cannot but influence the way Jewish people are regarded.

With regret, I am now among a growing group of Jews who feel uneasy, less secure than before. I did not expect the Church of England to be among the sources of anti-Jewish feeling.
R. L. HART
200 Falloden Way, London NW11 6JE

From Mr Neil Solden
Sir, - On behalf of the Leeds Jewish community, I have sent out letters to more than 700 local churches seeking to discuss the subject of Israel. I have had just four replies.

For Anglicans to have taken an anti-Israel stance is unfortunate. For Anglicans to refuse to engage with those concerned about that stance is shameful.
NEIL SOLDEN
Middle East Education, 311 Stonegate Road, Leeds LS17 6AZ

From Mr Ian Mordant
Sir, - Dr Irene Lancaster's article made a point too seldom made, namely, the relative silence of the BBC on negative things that go on within the Palestinian authority, such as killing of people after kangaroo court trials, and so on.

Her article, however, misses a necessary point, and that is why anti-Zionism is ultimately anti-Semitism. The Jewish diasporas outside Israel are declining and, within a generation or two, will hardly exist. Only in Israel are Jews continuing to thrive as a nation. If Israel were to be destroyed, the Jewish people would be, too.

Only a two-state solution with a viable Israel and a viable Palestine is halfway just to both peoples, who have suffered so much.
IAN MORDANT
80 Hendon Lane, London N3

 

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