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Church of England backs work of ecumenical programme in Palestine and Israel

Church of England

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

By Ben White, Electronic Intifada
July 09, 2012

Today the Church of England General Synod — the church’s legislative body — overwhelmingly voted in favor of a Private Member’s 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 [see below] 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.

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.

Private Member’s Motion, Palestine and Israel
Moved by Dr John Dinnen, Church of England Synod
10 July 2012

‘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.’

Statement from the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
By Press Office, BoD
Undated, July 2012

The UK Jewish community is dismayed by the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod to pass a motion endorsing the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The Church of England has a duty to examine the situation in the Middle East in a balanced way. Instead, by passing this motion, it has chosen to promote an inflammatory and partisan programme at the expense of its interfaith relations.

Justifying its decision by using the views of marginal groups in Israel and the UK, the Synod has ridden rough shod over the very real and legitimate concerns of the UK Jewish community, showing a complete disregard for the importance of Anglican-Jewish relations.

As has been repeatedly stated, whilst EAPPI’s aims may appear admirable, its programme lacks any kind of balance and shows nothing of the context of a hugely complex situation. Unsurprisingly its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives, giving talks against Israel which do nothing to promote an understanding of the situation in the Middle East, much less promote a peaceful and viable solution to its problems. Members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings and yet Synod has completely dismissed their experiences. It is noteworthy that even yesterday, as the motion was being debated, it came to light that EAPPI had issued a publication, entitled ‘Chain Reaction’, which calls on supporters to stage sit-ins at Israeli Embassies, to hack government websites in order to promote its message and declares EAPPI’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace, themes which originated in our tradition. Moreover, to hear the debate at Synod littered with references to ‘powerful lobbies’, the money expended by the Jewish community, ‘Jewish sounding names’ and the actions of the community ‘bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust’, is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about the motivation of some of those behind this motion.

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