Church of England backs Palestine motion in spite of strong Israel lobby pressure

Today the Church of England General Synod — the church’s legislative body — overwhelmingly voted in favor of a Private Members Motion (PMM) on Palestine/Israel, in spite of pressure from pro-Israel organizations before and during the gathering.

In an embarrassing defeat for the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), both of whom had lobbied hard for Synod to reject the motion, members also rejected an amendment by the Bishop of Manchester which would have omitted support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

A huge majority

During the afternoon debate, speaker after speaker backed the PMM, and praised the work of EAPPI. When it came to the vote, which was done according to ‘house’, bishops voted 21 to 3 in favour (with 14 abstentions), clergy 89 to 21 (44 abstentions), and laity 91 to 30 (35 abstentions). In total, the unaltered motion received 201 votes, while only 54 members voted against.

The short motion commits Synod to support: the work of EAPPI (including making “use of the experience of returning participants”), aid agencies working with Palestinians, “Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area” (citing Parents Circle – Family Forum specifically), and “organisations that work to ensure” the “continuing presence [of Christian Palestinians] in the Holy Land”.

The proposal, authored by Dr. John Dinnen of Hereford Diocese, had received backing from groups like Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Despite that, BoD and the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argued that the church risked harming “interfaith relations” by supporting the motion.

The displeasure of Israel’s supporters was focused on the singling out of EAPPI, an initiative of the World Council of Churches that over the last decade has sent more than 1,000 volunteers to Palestine/Israel. The motion also backed bereaved relatives group The Parents Circle-Family Forum, “aid agencies”, Israeli and Palestinian “organizations working for justice and peace”, and bodies assisting Palestinian Christians.

Pro-Israel groups insinuations of anti-Semitism fall flat

Initially misleading their own supporters, the BoD sent a letter to Synod members, along with a leaflet attacking EAPPI. While in the letter the BoD said it “naturally commends those who want to protect the rights of the Palestinians living in the West Bank”, Chief Executive Jon Benjamin told The Times that to focus on “the perceived iniquities of the Israelis” also, “by implication”, points the finger at “Jews abroad.”

Aside from the Chief Rabbi’s intervention, there was an unsubstantiated insinuation of antisemitism by the Council of Christians and Jews, and weak attempts at guilt by association from JLC CEO Jeremy Newmark. Canon Andrew White released a rather bizarre statement – reprising his contribution to the 2006 divestment controversy – in which he claimed “Synod is being asked to adopt a one sided ‘NAKBA’ [sic] narrative against Israel while our fellow Christians are dying in Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and Syria”.

Those efforts were aided by sympathizers in the media, specifically The TimesRuth Gledhill, and the Church of England Newspaper. In a piece last week, Gledhill described the Chief Rabbi’s intervention as “highly unusual”; in fact, it is a repeat of (unsuccessful) efforts in 2010 to persuade the Methodists not to back a boycott of settlement products.

In an article in the Church of England Newspaper, Florida-based journalist George Conger, did not even get motion-proposer John Dinnen’s name correct, and contrary to Conger’s claim, Dinnen says he was not approached for comment. During the 2006 divestment controversy, Conger was praised by a pro-Israel campaigner as a helpful point of contact.

Both Gledhill and Conger cited NGO Monitor as an authority on the activities of EAPPI, an organisation which routinely attacks Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups, including through the use of misleading translations and disingenuous allegations of antisemitism.

Indeed, even during the debate itself, as well as after the vote, leaders of the BoD and JLC resorted to making pathetic claims of antisemitism on Twitter.

Defending the indefensible

Israel’s apologists claimed to be speaking in the name of the Jewish community – for example, BoD Vice President Jonathan Arkush said he was attending Synod as a means of the “Jewish community expressing its views.” Yet many do not share the BoD’s “views” on Israeli policies.

It is less surprising that the BoD is attacking the proposed motion when one recalls that the body repeatedly intervenes to protect Israel on a number of issues: whether lobbying the government to change universal jurisdiction legislation, opposing schools’ participation in a Palestinian literary festival, or pressuring the Co-Op supermarket chain to reverse a decision to boycott companies complicit in breaches of international law.

This time around, the pressure on Synod members failed to thwart the adoption of the motion. This took place just after the Methodist Conference, where delegates overwhelmingly backed a Christian Aid call for a government ban on West Bank settlement products. Supporting international law and human rights is becoming less ‘controversial’, and Israel’s defenders are finding it increasingly tough to defend the indefensible.

Comments

While accusing the Synod's vote as damaging inter-faith relations, it is the BOD which succeeds in doing just that, in continual attempts to silence any moves that criticise or show up Israel's breaches of international law. In effect, by their efforts, they indicate a lamentable moral blindness that does not reflect true religious values, and seem to provide attempts to cover up Israel's war crimes that in fact deflects from true reconciliation and efforts for a just peace. Well done Ben for this comprehensive article. Maybe the BOD and JLC will learn some lessons from this? By continually intervening on Israel's behalf, they are themselves implicating 'Jews abroad' when in fact they do not speak for all of the Jewish community.

Hurray!! Or Hoorah as they write in Great Britain. Finally non-Jews are overstepping the unjustified barrier of being called antisemite if they want to counteract the unjustice being continuously done as state policy in Israel. By doing that The Church of England's General Synod actually is pursuing justice which is what Jews are called to do as well in Torah: tzedek tzedek tirdof: justice justice shall you pursue; it does not say: except when you want to let your evil inclination prevail nor does it say: except when dealing with Palestinians or anyone who comes to their aid. Thank God and let others follow. But always with justice in mind.

The rabbi in question says that supporting the motion damages Jewish-Christian interfaith relations. Is he asking Christians to ignore the ideas of "Love thy neighbour" which comes from Judaism? Maybe the rabbi should read his own faith's scriptures and defend the vulnerable Palestinians. Not all rabbis and Jews support the brutal occupation and the abuse of the rights of the Palestinians. The Palestinians need to be liberated, and it's not those opposing Israeli occupation that are damaging Jewish-gentile relations, it's Israel through its abusive actions, unfortunately. We have so many Jews defending the rights of the Palestinians and universal human rights, and more will join their ranks.

My thoughts exactly. I read a commentary yesterday about a speech an Israeli author (Mr. Sami Michael) has given in which he deplores the racism and policies towards the Palestinians and Arabs in general including Mizrachi Jews (descendants of Jews who came to Israel from Arab and the Maghreb a.o.) and how this is against Torah principles. (Jewish state? I, Abigail, do not think so). He even spoke of the fear of losing the land again which has happened twice before with the destruction of our Temples at two different times. Maybe the Chief Rabbi should indeed take a better look at his own Torah or rather Tenach and learn some mussar (laws of ethics). The younger Jews in the USA are also waking up to the fact that what they have been told runs counter to what they read and see and what Israel and others in the west whose companies all benefit greatly in the Occupied Territories and thus from the occupation also within the illegal settlements do not want the world to discover. You want to know which company? Go to www.whoprofits.org.

Pro-Israeli groups talk constantly about anti-Semitism and the accusations ring hollow because those people who allege such racism say nothing about Israeli racism, which is rather blatant. Where has the chief rabbi said anything about racism against the Palestinians? It's his duty to do so. There are some Muslim imams who care nothing about what happens to Christians and Jews, and they are condemned, but a rabbi ignoring what happens to Palestinians is ignored, and those who are so pro-Zionist while ignoring what is done are definitely not people who believe in the universality of humankind. They believe in ethnic supremacy. It was done to their ancestors, and some want to do it to others to feel strong.

The reporting of the Synod vote in the Jewish Chronicle and in statements by the Board of Deputies, has cranked up the hysteria being manufactured, using all the stereotypical accusations of anti-semitism, accusations of Israel and Jew hatred, and with actual deliberate misrepresentations of the EAPPI, and what they are doing and what they will report. All this is totally outrageous, and an arrogant interference in another religion's affairs, and is bound to inflame and damage the very relations it accuses the Church of doing. Imagine how the BOD would react of the Synod tried to interfere in one of their meetings, or a meeting of the Beth Din, and make accusations about one of their groups being taken around Israel, but ignoring the plight of the Palestinians in the West bank, Gaza or the Bedouin in the Negev and the South Hebron Hills.