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Posts

Board of Deputies launches attack on Christian churches’ programme

This posting has 5 items:
1) Ben White’s report on Board of Deputies campaign;
2) We Believe in Israel petition;
3) Excerpt from paper by Dr John Dinnen;
4) Jewish Chronicle  spots one of Board’s deliberate mistakes;
5) Ben White introduces Statement from JfJfP



Board of Deputies of British Jews misleads supporters in attack on human rights observers

By Ben White, Electronic Intifada
June 20, 2012

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, a 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.

Defending Israel

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 [below,1] 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. [A statement circulating among synaogue leaderships urging support for the petition says:]

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 [below 2]. 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).



PETITION TO OVERTURN THE CO-OP BOYCOTT OF FOUR ISRAELI COMPANIES

Petition against the Co-op’s boycott decision by We Believe in Israel
I, the undersigned, call on the Co-Op Group Board to reverse its decision to boycott all produce from Israeli companies Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin. I believe that boycotts are negative, divisive, discriminatory, over simplistic, ineffective and deeply offensive to many members of the Jewish community and friends of Israel, because of the historical connotations with the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, and because Israel is central to the self-identity and community identity of the vast majority of Jewish people in the UK. I call on the Co-Op to drop the boycott and instead to give positive support for practical development and bridge-building initiatives that could improve the economy, living standards and sense of well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.



Background Paper from Dr John Dinnen
Excerpts [To read whole paper, click on headline above]

Introduction

1. For more than sixty years the lives of Palestinians and Israelis have been blighted by fear and conflict. Israelis fear attack by suicide bombers and threats to the existence of a Jewish state. Meanwhile citizens of the West Bank and Gaza endure the devastating social and economic effects of occupation or blockade, with Jewish settlements (illegal under international law), hundreds of barriers to movement and the separation wall built largely on Palestinian land.

2. The Holy Land, Israel and Palestine, is the birthplace of all three Abrahamic faiths. In his Easter sermon Archbishop Rowan drew attention to the deep sense of despair felt by many at the lack of progress in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Holy Land. He urged Christians to support those organisations that encourage cross-community reconciliation. Earlier in the year, Archbishop Rowan made a personal pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine. He spoke to the Christian Palestinians in Zababdeh, in the occupied West Bank, of how we longed and prayed for there to be a future in Palestine for all its citizens in justice and equality. Many Israelis who seek peace say that it is in the long term interest of both Israelis and Palestinians for there to be justice and full human rights for all in the Holy Land.

3. There is a temptation to shy away from the problems of the Holy Land as too difficult or too controversial. However, there are many local Israeli and Palestinian groups working tirelessly for peace. I feel that we must not pass by on the other side, but seek to support organisations both here and in the region that work for peace. It is not for us to prescribe a particular solution, whether two state or one state, but to help those who strive for a viable solution with peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme
4. The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is a World Council of Churches (WCC) initiative which was established in 2002 in response to a request made by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem ‘for the protection of our people’. Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs were also calling on the United Nations to send a human rights monitoring force at that time, which was denied. The WCC gathered churches all over the world and, inspired by their successful Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in South Africa, sent the first Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in 2002. Ecumenical Accompaniers are carefully vetted and trained before they go to Israel-Palestine. Since then nearly 1000 EAs have been sent from more than 20 nations. There have been many Anglican Ecumenical Accompaniers, including Bishop Richard Llewellin, former Bishop of Lambeth, and at least 5 priests. The volunteers spend about 3 months in Israel and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. In Hebron they escort Palestinian girls to Cordoba School which lies between two Israeli settlements in the heart of this Palestinian town and the girls often suffer threats and attacks by extremist settlers on their way to and from school. Across the West Bank they monitor checkpoints at the separation barrier, where people queue for up to four hours every morning in order to get to work, school or hospital. The International Red Cross and UN humanitarian and human rights agencies rely on the statistical data and eyewitness accounts collected by the EAs at check points or house demolitions. Local people, say they feel safer, and that the world is watching, when they see EAs at work. Israeli peace activists, such as Rabbis for Human Rights call EAs to join them in providing a protective presence to Palestinian farmers trying to harvest their olives but experiencing attacks from settlers.

EAs also worship with the members of the local community from a wide range of
denominations.

5. On returning from the Holy Land the EAs speak to churches and other local groups and have been invited to speak to EU Middle East policy groups and the UN Human Rights Council.

6. EAPPI is already supported by many of the other major Christian Denominations and organisations (Scottish Episcopal Church, Church of Scotland, Methodists, URC, Quakers, Baptists, Christian Aid, USPG-Anglicans in World Mission, CMS, Pax Christi UK. CAFOD).



‘Partisan’ Christian project in Israel-Palestine angers Jewish leaders

By Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle
June 21, 2012

The Board of Deputies has urged members to lobby the Archbishop of Canterbury over a project which it says promotes hostility towards Israel among Christians.

A resolution calling for support of a volunteer programme in the West Bank is to be discussed by the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly, at its meeting next month.

But the Board says that the scheme — known as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) — produces “very partisan but very motivated anti-Israel advocates who have almost no grasp of the suffering of normal Israelis”.

EAPPI, a joint project of the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and Christian Aid, sends around 20 participants a year to the West Bank. According to the programme’s website, its mission is “to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and to carry out concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation”.

Administered by the Quakers, EAPPI is supported by other churches including the Methodists. But the Board says that EAPPI participants spend only a single day in Israel out of three to four months in the region, while a preparatory two-week training programme includes just two hours on Israel. Volunteers have “virtually no contact” with mainstream Israelis, it says.

According to the Board, it would be inappropriate for the Synod to endorse a project which creates “partisan” spokesmen whose “narrow” experiences help generate a climate of hostility to Israel in the churches.

The resolution is being proposed by Dr John Dinnen, a Synod member for Hereford, who several years ago backed an attempt to force the Church to divest from companies said to be profiting from Israel’s occupation.

He told the JC that EAPPI was “not a biased organisation. It is one that is working for peace and justice and observance of international law”.

The purpose of his resolution, he said, was to “encourage the Church of England to study the situation in Israel and Palestine” and “support those who work for peace and justice”.

Dr Dinnen said that he had been told by one participant on EAPPI, Stanley Rowe, that the Israeli point of view had been explained to those on the programme “on many occasions.”

Mr Rowe, he said, “visited Israel many times and spoke to other Israelis… Stan and I are not anti-Israeli. He condemns Palestinian transgressions such as suicide bombs and rockets, as well as infringement of international law and human rights by the Israeli authorities.”

He noted that his resolution also called for support for the Parents Circle-Family Forum, which brings together Palestinians and Israelis who have lost children in the conflict.

Dr Dinnen said that growing up in Northern Ireland had led to a concern to support those who work for reconciliation in divided communities.

David Gifford, chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, said that EAPPI volunteers would “need to be ever mindful of the danger of whipping up anti-Israel and anti Jewish sentiment in British churches and Christian communities”.



Jewish support for Church of England Synod motion

By Ben White, Electronic Intifada
June 25, 2012

The Palestine and Israel motion tabled for next month’s Church of England General Synod has received strong support from British-based group Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP).

In an official statement, the network of Jews in Britain supportive of Palestinian rights slammed the “misleading and biased attack” launched by the Board of Deputies of British Jews on the motion and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) in particular.

The full text is as follows.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ statement

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has launched a misleading and biased attack on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), in response to news that Church of England General Synod is due to debate and vote on a Private Member’s Motion (PMM) put forward by Dr John Dinnen. This PMM includes a call for the Synod to affirm its support for EAPPI.

The Board of Deputies accuses EAPPI of creating “a cohort of very partisan but very motivated anti-Israel advocates who have almost no grasp of the suffering of normal Israelis”. But EAPPI seeks a just solution to the Israel/Palestine issue that will benefit both Palestinians and Israelis. It operates in term of what it calls “principled impartiality”, its Code of Conduct stating: “We do not take sides in this conflict and we do not discriminate against anyone but we are not neutral in terms of principles of human rights and international humanitarian law. We stand faithfully with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. We want to serve all parties in this conflict in a fair and unbiased manner in word and action.”

Dr Dinnen’s PMM also includes a call for the Synod to affirm its support for “Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area, such as the Parents Circle-Families Forum”. This is an organization enthusiastically welcomed in advance of its 2007 UK visit by Flo Kaufmann, Board vice president and chair of its international division. Its UK supporters’ organisation lists Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks among its patrons.

In our view, it is the Board that is partisan, whereas Dr Dinnen’s PMM is balanced in its support for Israeli, Palestinian and international organisations working for reconciliation.

The Board claims that Ecumenical Accompaniers receive only two weeks of residential training beforehand and do not learn about the views of the majority of Israelis. In fact the training takes several months, with many explanations of the mainstream Israeli point of view. While in the region, the Ecumenical Accompaniers visit Israel many times. The Ecumenical Accompaniers are not only Christians but include Muslims and Jews (some of whom are signatories of Jews for Justice for Palestinians).

We cannot help but feel that the Board’s objection is to the core of the EAPPI mission itself, which is “to provide up-to-date, reliable information on the occupation”. Perhaps the Board thinks that the only problem with the occupation is that human-rights organisations like EAPPI insist on witnessing and talking about the injustices they witness.

The Board of Deputies claims to represent the British Jewish community, but fails to take into account the growing concern among British Jews – a concern extending far beyond our signatories – about the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. JfJfP recently wrote to the President of the Board of Deputies, Vivian Wineman, to ask him what the Board of Deputies is doing to represent and respond to the increasing anxiety within the British Jewish community about the Israeli government’s policies. We cited as just a few examples: a) child prisoners; b) administrative detention; c) house demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; d) the Supreme Court’s recent upholding of the 2003 law that prevents Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel from obtaining Israeli citizenship or residency; e) the relentless growth of settlements in the Occupied Territories. Mr Wineman’s letter in response never answered this question or addressed the issues raised.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians exists to give voice to this increasing concern within the Jewish community about the Israeli government’s destructive and self-destructive policies. JfJfP applauds the monitoring and protective activities of EAPPI and the efforts of all Israelis and Palestinians working for justice and peace, and very much hopes that the Synod will vote in favour of Dr Dinnen’s PMM.

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