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Britain's Jews and the Israel-Palestine debate

09 November 2012


From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, - That the Bishop of Newcastle and his Roman Catholic colleague cancelled their attendence at a meeting on "Justice and Peace in the Holy Land" (News, 2 November) organised by members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme was a predictable, but very sad, sign of the times.

The Board of Jewish Deputies, supported by the Council of Christians and Jews and equivalent bodies in the United States and across Europe, has seen to it that any public criticism of Israel's policy is decried as proof of a revival of anti-Semitism. It is usually, as in this case, nothing of the kind.

A whole series of German churches have recently been leaned on to cancel their support for an exhibition that shows the past and present suffering of the Palestinian people. Only one version of a complex history is deemed to be fit for public consumption.

No charge is more painful to sensitive Christians than that of anti-Semitism. It is a highly effective weapon, silencing even those with a proven record of fighting against anti-Semitism. The two Bishops, with the best intent in the world, were intimidated, not to say blackmailed, because they had been told that "many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset."

What they were not told is that other Jewish people in Britain and in Israel with no official voice are deeply ashamed of many aspects of Israeli policy. They are usually dismissed by the Jewish establishment as self-hating Jews, a ludicrous charge.

History repeats itself in strange ways. When Hitler's persecution of the German Jews began in the 1930s, their best friend in our Church was Bishop Bell of Chichester, who roundly condemned Nazi policies. Even some of his fellow bishops then accused him of being anti-German. Later events proved him to be the very opposite, when he was a lone voice protesting against the blanket bombing of German civilians.

Why will this issue not leave me alone? Because of my Jewish heritage, because of my grandmother, who was one of Hitler's victims. I care passionately for the future of the people of Israel, but, if that future is to be bought at the price of the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people, then it flies in the face of all that is good in Judaism.

Critical solidarity with both Israelis and Palestinians need be no threat to Christian-Jewish friendship. On the contrary, it should strengthen our common struggle against the dual poisons of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

97 Furze Croft, Furze Hill
Brighton BN3 1PE


From Mr John Pearson

Sir, - Last Saturday, I attended the event referred to in your article (2 November). It attracted some 140 or so members of the public, together with a number of clergy. We were served a diet of most informative main sessions and workshops, addressing the treatment of Palestinians and their property within the Occupied Zone.

We were shown, together with some historical data and current evidence, visual images, both videos and still. For me, one shot was particularly poignant. Palestinians wishing to cross frontiers are herded through a tight corridor made of steel bars, a kind of elongated cage, for inspection purposes. The faces of the people in the photograph, apprehensive, oppressed-looking, reminded me strongly of similar photos of 70 years ago, showing the vast armies of the innocent being herded into captivity, and worse.

In these over-PC times, there is the ever present suggestion that those who dare to criticise such treatment of Palestinians, thus criticising Israelis, are being anti-Semitic. I am not. I greatly admire the work being done by, for example, Rabbis for Human Rights. I suggest, rather, that the situation in Palestine is an affront both to international law (which appears to be flouted daily) and to common humanity. I am appalled to see the people of any nation, whoever they may be, so mistreating those of any other.

A strong theme underlying the conference was that we avoid "blame" on religious or sectarian grounds, looking instead for a just humanitarian solution. The fact that three mainstream religious leaders, Jewish, Church of England, and Roman Catholic, were absent was the only negative feature of the day, as remarked upon by Nora Carmi, a Palestinian Christian speaker. Those who chose not to attend missed the opportunity to help further an urgent cause.

Chair of Trustees, The Sea of Faith
Network (UK)
3 Belle Grove Place
Spital Tongues
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4LH


From Frances Waddams

Sir, - The Bishop of Newcastle's withdrawal from the EAPPI-organised conference to be held in his diocese is to be welcomed. At last, an Anglican leader has listened to the concerns of local Jewish communities.

Your report (News, 2 November) omitted crucial context, however. The Bishop of Hexham, the Rt Revd Seamus Cunningham, who also withdrew from the conference, told The Jewish Chronicle that Jewish community leaders felt that "EAPPI speaks for only one side of a complex situation and that, as the conference is to be held on a Saturday, they could not attend and present an alternative view."

The failure of the Church of England to recognise that the Palestinian narrative of the Middle East conflict is highly contentious, together with a reluctance to afford opportunities for alternative views to be heard, has caused widespread dismay within the UK Jewish community.

Since the Synod's decision to adopt EAPPI, Anglican Friends of Israel has been contacted by Jewish individuals and organisations frustrated at being excluded from conversations about Israel, to which many are deeply linked by faith and family ties. Many of them are hurt and angered by a perception of increasing Anglican hostility towards Israel, which has occasionally spilled over into wider hostility towards Jews.

They are baffled that Anglican leaders have remained silent about (or in some cases defended) inflammatory language and methods used by some Anglicans campaigning against the Jewish national home in the name of peace and justice for Palestinians.

Seventy years after the foundation of the Council of Christians and Jews - formed in reaction to the last great assault upon European Jewry - will we now see all that has been achieved between Jews and Christians through interfaith dialogue founder on the rocks of Anglican disdain and indifference?

Anglican Friends of Israel
27 Old Gloucester Street
London WC1N 3XX

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