Attack on EAPPI is exposing Board of Deputies’ hypocrisy

Earlier this week, I blogged about efforts by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) to pressure the Church of England to reject a proposed motion supporting human rights workers and peacemakers in Palestine/Israel.

While the focus of their lobbying is the motion’s support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the BoD did not tell their supporters that the text also expresses support for the Parents Circle – Families Forum, as well as “aid agencies” and “Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area”.

The hypocrisy has deepened further with an opinion piece in this week’s Jewish Chronicle by BoD chief executive Jon Benjamin, in which he attacks the author of the motion, Dr John Dinnen, as “the same Dr Dinnen who campaigned for Synod to support divestment from Caterpillar, due to their alleged complicity in Israeli ‘crimes’.”

Yet in an effort to cast aspersions on the motivations of the motion’s author, Benjamin does not tell the whole story – ironic, given that the BoD insists the problem with EAPPI is their “lack of balance” and “one sided-view of a situation”.

For the BoD chief executive neglects to share that Dinnen organised a General Synod fringe meeting in February this year focused on the Parents Circle Family Forum, inviting two of its patrons – including Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, to speak.  

This is the same Parents Circle supported by the BoD themselves in a 2007 event, and praised by the then-Board vice president as an organisation who “should be fully supported”. The BoD have even previously cited the Parents Circle as an example of “initiatives that promote education, dialogue and reconciliation”.

But in their desperation to silence the stories from the Occupied Territories, the BoD are seemingly content to mislead about the nature of the motion.

Benjamin also seems unaware of the Church of England’s pre-existing support for EAPPI, when he warns of the consequences of this motion being passed. Perhaps the BoD have not yet consulted the motion’s accompanying briefing paper, prepared by the Chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council. There they would read that:

[The Mission and Public Affairs Division] has assisted in organising fringe meetings for a number of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) on their return. Several bishops have also provided direct support by meeting with EAs and by circulating vacancy notices in diocesan publications. Parishes and Church of England schools have also provided platforms for EAs to share their reflections. This level of activity and support probably exceeds that envisaged in para (a) of this PMM.

In other words, the proposed motion formalises something that is already taking place: support from members of the Church of England for groups like EAPPI and Parents Circle.

Events this week show that behind the BoD’s protestations about “balance” is an intolerance for any perspective – whether Palestinian, Israeli or international – that faithfully represents the daily reality under military occupation.

Comments

The Board of Deputies seems to be trying desperately to close the stable door when the horse has already won the race.

EAPPI, with which I've (as an Israeli peace activist) been long associated, is about as fair and balanced on this issue as they can be, remaining faithful to their title: Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine AND ISRAEL. They go out of their way to meet as many Israelis as possible, but we in the Israeli peace camp being as few and far between as we are, often the best they can do is hang out on the beach with average Israelis who do NOT see that our Occupation of and policies towards Palestinians is at the heart of the problem, and contribute to conditions in which terror thrives. The vast majority of Israelis are simply not seeking peace or combating our national predilection to blame others. This inability to seek peace and not do to others what we wouldn’t have done to us (core values of Judaism) may be part of what is locally recognised as our suicidal streak. We are NOT a confident, strong nation in our dealings with our neighbours; Yitzhak Rabin paid with his life for his belief in peace and one waits for a successor to take up his mantle and again tell Israelis we're strong enough to come out of the ghetto.

The Anglican Church has a clear idea of what the Occupation and its policies are about, but in my experience has always reached out in compassion to the Occupiers, and recognised their fears. It is we Israelis – and the wider Jewish community – who are not doing enough to rise above those fears, to fight the good fight (and move beyond militarism in so doing).

I know at least one past EA who was an English bishop. There is no secret in the Anglican church, or indeed most other churches, as to what Israeli policies are all about – demolitions, evictions, landgrabs, forced displacements, ID revocations, etc. Isn’t it time the British Board of Deputies exerted its influence to change those policies? For Israel's sake?