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UK >

Bishop avoids conference after Jewish complaints

Ed Thornton

by Ed Thornton

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 @ 12:54

THE Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Martin Wharton, has cancelled an appearance at a conference on the Holy Land, after strong objections from the north-east's Jewish community.

Bishop Wharton had been scheduled to speak at a conference taking place in Gateshead tomorrow, "Peace & Justice in the Holy Land". The event has been organised by a group of people who have taken part in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Its sponsors include Christian Aid, CAFOD, and Friends of Sabeel UK.

Bishop Wharton said in a statement that he had decided not to attend the conference "for the sake of good relations between all the faith communities in Newcastle".

A spokesman for Newcastle diocese said that Bishop Wharton's decision not to appear was "not a boycott"; it was because his attendance "seemed to have become a point of issue between faith communities within Newcastle".

The Representative Council of North-East Jewry wrote to Bishop Wharton in August, to protest at his voting for a motion at the General Synod which supported EAPPI ( Synod, 13 July). The letter said that his vote "makes any further contact with the Jewish community in the north-east impossible". The Board of Deputies of British Jews has said that EAPPI is "partisan" and "anti-Israel".

Pat Devlin, one of the organisers of the conference, said that there was "no ill-feeling" between Bishop Wharton and the conference organisers, whom he had met to explain his decision. "We know that he supports the overall aims of the conference," she said.

The chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the Revd David Gifford, said that the conference "has the potential of becoming yet another anti-Jewish meeting, creating more anxiety and distrust between the north-east Jewish community and the Church". He suggested that the organisers postpone the conference, "and reconsider a new way of openness, sensitivity, and listening".

Ms Devlin said that the conference was not "anti-Jewish. It is coming from a peace and justice and human-rights perspective."

The RC Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, the Rt Revd Seamus Cunningham, was scheduled to attend the conference, but also decided not to attend. He told the Jewish Chronicle that he had become aware "that many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset".

A report published on Tuesday by a coalition of NGOs, including Christian Aid, Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements, calls on the EU governments to ban the import of products from Israeli settlements, such as fruit and vegetables, textiles, and cosmetics. It says settlement products should be labelled so that consumers can make "an informed choice".

Complaint. The Board of Deputies of British Jews announced on Wednesday that it had "lodged a formal complaint" under the Clergy Discipline Measure against the Revd Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, in Surrey. The Board of Deputies said that the complaint was "based on statements made by Revd Sizer that the Board regards as anti-Semitic".

Mr Sizer was accused earlier this year of linking to anti-Semitic material online. A review by the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that he had not committed any criminal offence (News, 4 May; 16 March).

 

 

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