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 Times’ Ruth 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.
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.