The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) has launched a campaign to pressure the Church of England to reject a proposed motion expressing support for the well-respected Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
EAPPI, an initiative of the World Council of Churches supported by different organizations internationally, has over the last decade sent more than 1,000 volunteers to Palestine/Israel.
In recognition of its work, a private member’s motion has been tabled for the July gathering of the Church of England’s General Synod (the church’s legislative body). This has panicked the BoD who, in a campaign call, express concern that such a motion would “significantly raise EAPPI’s profile and legitimacy.” And why is EAPPI problematic? Because by going to places like Hebron and Yanoun to monitor “perceived abuses,” EAPPI’s volunteers return home and “generate a climate of hostility to Israel in the churches”.
With two weeks to go until the General Synod, the BoD has stressed that “the Church of England should be aware of the strength of feeling regarding this issue within the Jewish community.” Ideas include leaving comments on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Facebook wall, and writing to church leaders and the church press. In the comments, a former Union of Jewish Students officer suggests sending “hundreds” of carbon copy letters.
Misrepresenting the motion
On their website, the BoD chose not to reproduce the text of the motion, or even link to it – presumably because they are not being entirely honest about what’s at stake.
The motion is as follows:
22. ‘That this Synod affirm its support for:
(a) the vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants;
(b) mission and other aid agencies working amongst Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region;
(c) Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area, such as the Parents Circle – Families Forum; and
(d) Palestinian Christians and organisations that work to ensure their continuing presence in the Holy Land.’
So support for the work of EAPPI is one element in a four part motion that also expresses support for renowned, um, ‘extremist’ groups like “aid agencies,” “Israelis and Palestinians organisations working for justice and peace,” and those working to ensure the “continuing presence” of Palestinian Christians “in the Holy Land”.
The BoD has also neglected to inform their supporters that they are being asked to lobby against a motion praising, among others, the Parents Circle-Families Forum – an organization previously hosted by the BoD themselves, and whose UK supporters’ organization lists Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks among its patrons.
Thus while the BoD urges Israel advocates to “encourage the Synod to lend support to organizations which encourage dialogue and reconciliation” – this is in fact, what the motion already does.
Attacking human rights defenders
The misrepresentation does not stop there. In their attempts to smear EAPPI, the BoD claim that “all of the Israeli groups they come into contact with are of the fringe left or right.” Yet EAPPI’s partners include the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem (they also work with international bodies like the UN and Red Cross).
Last night, Jewish Leadership Council CEO Jeremy Newmark went further, suggesting on Twitter that there are serious “charges” against EAPPI, who should be subjected to an “independent inquiry.” Israeli human rights groups, like EAPPI’s partner B’Tselem, would sympathize.
In a statement, representative of EAPPI told me:
There is nothing ‘political’ about trying to provide protective presence to children who are attacked by extremist settlers on the way to school, as often happens in the city of Hebron. EAPPI is surprised and disappointed at being described as ‘anti-Israel’ when we work closely with many respected Israeli NGOs. We campaign for a just peace based on international law that would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.
This is not the only recent attack on support for Palestinian human rights by a body that advocates, it says, in the name of “the Jewish community.” The BoD is also supporting a petition organised by Israel lobby BICOM’s “We Believe in Israel” project, appealing to The Co-op supermarket chain to reverse a decision to boycott Israeli companies complicit in breaches of international law.
The Board of Deputies cannot overestimate the importance of the campaign to our community. If we fail to stand up at this point we cannot complain if boycotting Israel escalates both within the Co-Op and amongst other retailers, and manifests itself in increasingly ugly ways.
The petition itself refers to “the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses” in order to make an argument for reversing a decision about ethical product sourcing. That’s how desperate it has gotten for those seeking to shield Israel from accountability, and deny Palestinians their basic rights.
UPDATE, 21 June
Since publishing this post, I have found two supporting documents for the Palestine/Israel private member’s motion. One is a “Background Paper” by Dr. John Dinnen (author of the motion) and is available here. It concludes with: “Please support this resolution so that we may stand alongside the Israelis and Palestinians who seek a just peace”. The motion also has a “Briefing Paper” from the Church of England’s “Mission and Public Affairs Council”, which provides background information on both EAPPI and the Parents Circle Family Forum (available here).