Board of Deputies slams Synod debate on Palestine-Israel

13 July 2012

SAM ATKINS

Speaking to his motion: Dr John Dinnen, at General Synod on Monday

Speaking to his motion: Dr John Dinnen, at General Synod on Monday

A SENIOR Jewish leader has described the language used in Monday's General Synod debate about Israel and Palestine as evoking "nothing but simple anti-Semitic themes from history".

The Synod (Synod, page 6) approved a Private Member's Motion moved by Dr John Dinnen (Hereford), endorsing the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), despite objections from Jewish groups who say that EAPPI is biased and anti-Israeli ( News, 29 June).

The voting was decisive: Bishops: 21 to 3, with 14 recorded abstentions; Clergy: 89 to 21, with 44 recorded abstentions; Laity: 91 to 30, with 35 recorded abstentions.

The vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD), Jonathan Arkush, who observed the debate from the public gallery, said: "I thought the debate was sadly ill-informed, very one-sided, and at times inappropriately emotive. Nothing was said at all about the simple facts behind the Jewish community's deep concerns about the bias shown by EAPPI."

The president of the BOD, Vivian Wineman, later said: "To hear the debate at Synod, littered with references to 'powerful lobbies', the money expended by the Jewish community, 'Jewish-sounding names', and the actions of the community 'bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust', is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about the motivation of those behind this motion."

The Archbishop of Canterbury unsuccessfully urged the Synod to remove reference to EAPPI from the motion. He said that he was concerned about the effect the motion would have on dialogue with Jewish communities. "That, as a president of CCJ (Council of Christians and Jews), is something that I feel personally bound to weigh. I want to understand exactly why it is that local Jewish communities are so worried by EAPPI."

But Dr Williams was extremely critical of what he called "forms of security that are indefensible and unsustainable". He said: It is because we want a secure Israel that we are concerned about behaviour that alienates and de-humanises Palestinians."

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The chief executive of the CCJ, the Revd David Gifford, said that the motion was "probably not the Synod's most considered decision in recent years".

The Embassy of Israel in London said that it was "disappointed" that the General Synod had "endorsed the work of a highly partisan organisation".

But other groups welcomed the motion. The general secretary of Quaker Peace and Social Witness, which co-ordinates EAPPI in the UK, Helen Drewery, said: "We see Synod's affirmation of EAPPI as strengthening its nonviolent efforts to bring peace to the region."

The co-ordinator of Friends of Sabeel in the UK, Anne Clayton, said that the organisation wanted to "commend Synod for taking this clear stand".

AS THE General Synod debated the motion on Palestine and Israel, EAPPI was circulating a briefing to its supporters about an incident that occurred near the West Bank town of Nablus last Saturday.

EAPPI reported that six Palestinians were injured in the incident, and five of them needed hospital treatment. EAPPI said that a group of settlers from Itamar, armed with knives, attacked three Palestinian farmers in Yanoun. "A clash then ensued, in which the settlers and farmers began throwing stones at one-another. When [EAPPI volunteers] arrived at the scene, three fires were ablaze in the fields, but it was not known whether the flames were intentionally lit by the settlers or were started by tear-gas canisters that the Israeli military fired at the farmers."

EAPPI reported that other Palestinian farmers, who arrived to put the flames out, were prevented from reaching the scene by Israeli soldiers and police, who were using tear gas. One Palestinian was beaten and stabbed many times by settlers before being shot in the face and foot by Israeli soldiers; another was beaten by a soldier on his head with a rifle.

The briefing highlights the difficulties of verifying accounts of incidents that occur in the Palestinian territories. A spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said: "A violent confrontation erupted between a number of Israeli residents and a large number of Palestinians, in which both parties hurled rocks at one another.

"Security forces acted to defuse the confrontation, using riot dispersal means. During the course of the confrontation, two Palestinians and one Israeli were lightly injured, and received medical attention from IDF medics on scene. The two Palestinians were transported to a local hospital."

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