Israel is a nation at war, which
treats neutrals with a wary contempt because they don't share
Israel's risks. Neutrals dislike this treatment. What is worse is
that Israel is also engaged in a propaganda war. The brutal
necessities of military occupation are constantly glossed over, or
lied about; so they come as a shock when first encountered.
But it is not enough, in a propaganda war, to maintain the
horrors of the other side. You need also to convert people to the
merits of your own cause, and this is a whole lot harder in the
case of Israel. You will certainly have to try a bit harder than
Melanie Phillips, in the Daily Mail:
"Decent Christians are extremely upset, and rightly so, about
the resolution passed at the General Synod a few days ago endorsing
the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel."
Nice start - anyone not upset is therefore an indecent Christian.
"The EAPPI is a one-sided organisation which presents Israel
entirely falsely as the regional aggressor, and the Palestinians as
its victims, whereas the opposite is the case."
Do we really want to take that sentence literally? The
Palestinians are the aggressors, and Israel the victim? If Melanie
Phillips were (which God forbid) a taxi-driver, she would have to
grumble about "Bloody Palestinians, stay over there, living in
their own country . . . "
But this was nothing to the poisonous dishonesty of the
Jewish Chronicle's report: "In his speech, the Archbishop
of Canterbury drew a parallel between the Holocaust and Israeli
checkpoints: 'Half an hour at Yad Vashem will persuade you, if you
need persuading, why the state of Israel needs to exist securely.
Half an hour at a check-point will persuade you, if you need
persuading, that there are forms of security that are indefensible
Giles Fraser, in The Guardian, was more measured. "The
specific beef that many in the Jewish community have with EAPPI is
that those who return from the volunteer programme can end up with
a one-sided view of the conflict." This has to be right. But it is
hardly a criticism of the organisation.
No doubt the other side are worse: I'd rather be an Arab
civilian in Israel right now than one in Syria; I would also rather
be an exploited Somali refugee in Tel Aviv than one enslaved for
ransom by the Bedouin in Sinai. But what does undercut a great deal
of pro-Israel propaganda is one fact on which everyone agrees: that
there is no more effective means of producing pro-Palestinian
activists than a few weeks spent living alongside the Palestinians
under Israeli occupation.
When you think how Londoners are going to react to the mere
inconvenience of our city's occupation by the Olympics for a couple
of weeks, it's surprising that so few of the EAPPI volunteers come
back with unbalanced views on Israel v. Palestine.
There was no other correspondingly interesting row in the
British press this week, but a piece by Ross Douthat in
The New York Times rehashed entertainingly the
standard conservative accounts of why the Episcopal Church in the
United States is failing:
"If conservative Christianity has often been compromised,
liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every
denomination - Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian - that has tried
to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an
Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the [Roman]
Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders
have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain
The unwary reader might suppose from this that there are legions
of thriving conservative RC orders like - oh, I don't know - the
Legion of Christ.
What is new and remarkable here is that Douthat, himself a
conservative Catholic, doesn't simply crow over the death of
"liberal" Christianity. He sees it as socially engaged in a way
that most American consumerist Christianity is not. Conservative
Christianity has lost the culture wars in America, and will
continue to do so. Worse than that, it might be dawning on
thoughtful conservatives that they, too, should be at war with the
culture, and with sins that aren't wholly sexual. This raises the
interesting question whether liberal Churches have failed because
they stand too far outside the prevailing culture, with all their
nonsense about justice and equality.
Enough of these trivia. I am grateful to the reader who sent in
a picture of "Grilled Cheesus", a device to imprint a bearded,
"soulful" face on a toasted sandwich. A portion of the profits go
to charity. What is mocked here: Christianity or idolatry?