Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Chief Rabbi "distressed" by Methodist Conference report

A few weeks ago I attended a District "vision" day. One of the workshops was led by the present Vice President of Conference Dr Richard Vautrey, who, after a week in the Holy Land had emerged as an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We had a brief few words of "background history" that started in 1948. I found the content very shallow and it was clear that the Vice President and others had made little serious attempt to understand the wider picture. I was a little disturbed when one of the participants (not the VP) started denouncing "The Jewish Lobby". I did not expect to hear such an  obviously anti-Semitic remark at a Methodist event. 

Having made three visits to the Holy Land, and met many people from both sides of the conflict, and been involved in discussions at a senior level*, I am far less confident than the Vice President in attaching blame and coming up with simple solutions. I still believe the best hope for the Holy Land lays in renewing the bold initiatives of the Oslo Accord. Sadly that is not a simple nor simplistic process and therefore not an option for those who would want to see the world in black and white.

At our next Methodist Conference our delegates will be discussing a lengthy but extremely biased report. Once again, like so many documents that fly around the Connexion only the favoured few were consulted and the result is predictably one sided.

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has made his views clear through the Jewish Chronicle:

The 54-page report states that Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian territory” is the "key hindrance to security and a lasting peace for all in the region,” and fails to mention Hamas’ desire to eliminate Israel.

The Chief Rabbi, one of five Jewish CCJ presidents, warned it will damage interfaith relations in Britain.

Lord Sacks said he was distressed that the Methodist Church considered the report, entitled “Justice for Palestine and Israel”, an acceptable publication.

He said: “It failed completely to present Israel’s case in an even handed manner, and represents a one sided judgement of one of the most complex conflicts in the world. 

“The report will do nothing to advance the cause of peace”.

Liberal Judaism’s chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich urged the Methodist Conference to cancel the report, which he said he had studied in detail. 

He said: “Whilst there are some aspects of the report which require a reflective response, the balance will not, in our view, meet its objective.”

He said they should “explore ways of creating a document which will garner widespread support amongst Jews, Christians and others who seek a just settlement in the Middle East, based upon the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to live in secure national entities.”

Rabbi Tony Bayfield and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, respectively the Reform and Masorti Presidents of CCJ, said that while they were not enthusiasts for the settlement movement, they were "deeply concerned" about the impact of the report on Jewish-Christian relations in Britain.

Urging the Methodist Church to reconsider they added: "This document goes far beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli actions and policies and appears to attack the very legitimacy of the Jewish state. 

"It seeks to begin a theological process that would demonise supporters of Zionism in both the Jewish and Christian communities." 

But Ed Kessler, executive director of the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge, said the document might strain relations but it would not cause long-term and tangible damage. 

He said: "There is more a general feeling of annoyance and sadness at its lack of balance and ignorance." 

I hope that this concern among our Jewish neighbours is reflected during the Conference debate. At the very least someone from the platform should read the Chief Rabbi's comments and a previous report that has appeared on the Chronicle website. We are not noted as a bigoted and close minded denomination and we should not be on this occasion.

Update: It is well worth putting a search engine onto each of the authors of this report:
Revd Graham Carter (Chair) – former President of the Methodist ConferenceRevd Alan Ashton – over 32 years experience of the situation, has family living in East Jerusalem. A frequent traveller to Palestine and IsraelRevd Warren Bardsley – returned accompanier with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and IsraelDr Elizabeth Harris – Senior Lecturer in Comparative Study of Religion, Hope University Steve Hucklesby – Policy Adviser, Joint Public Issues TeamRevd Nichola Jones – member of Friends of Sabeel and frequent traveller  Revd Marian Jones – frequent traveller with contacts in Israel/PalestineDr Stephen Leah – Peace campaigner with contacts in UK peace and justice community and in Israel/Palestine  Revd Samuel McBratney – Lecturer
in Religion and Social Ethics

The majority are clearly anti-Israeli activists of several years standing. This explains the extraordinary bias.

 * For five years I served as a member of the European Parliament's Standing Delegation on Israel. In 1999 I attended the Prince of Peace Conference in Amman and subsequently spent Christmas Day as a guest of the Palestinian Authority.


Anonymous said...

If the leadership of Methodism is anti-semitic/zionist/whatever, then Mthodism is doomed.

Anonymous said...

No, Methodism is stronger than that. If some of the leadership -- British, American, or whatever -- are out of touch with what is right, the laity is not. The American United Methodist laity are slowly swinging more conservative by no longer being blindly lead by agenda-driven national figures. By that I mean, we are moving the church to a place where it should be spiritually and not where some lib-lefties think it should be politically.

Rick in Texas

Anonymous said...

We, the undersigned, are Christians and Jews who have invested our energies and hopes in working for a just peace in Palestine/Israel. We write to offer our wholehearted support for the ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’ report being submitted to this year’s Methodist Conference.

Disappointingly, the working group’s humane and principled conclusions have been misrepresented and attacked by those who empty powerful terms like ‘coexistence’ and ‘reconciliation’ of their true meaning.

Coexistence is not advanced by the bulldozer’s blade as it demolishes Palestinian homes and uproots olive trees; nor is reconciliation furthered by segregation and a decades-long militarised regime of control. In opposing such injustices, the resolutions simply affirm international law.

The illegality of the settlements, for example, is a consensus issue affirmed by the United Nations, the UK government, and countless NGOs like Amnesty International; boycotting their produce is thus a refusal to aid a gross breach of human rights and an obstacle to a just resolution.

We do nothing to advance a just peace without being realistic about the structural imbalance between Israel and the dispossessed, stateless Palestinians. In 1963, Martin Luther King wrote that the greatest ‘stumbling block’ to freedom was the ‘moderate’ who preferred ‘a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice’.

The Methodist church has the opportunity to listen to the cry for solidarity of the Palestinian Church as expressed in the Kairos document and respond. A just peace for Palestine will mean peace and security for Israelis – now is a time for action.


Nader Abu Amsha, Director, East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Programme and Beit Sahour YMCA

Nidal Abuzuluf, Program Manager, YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), Beit Sahour

Rev Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College/Pastor, East Jerusalem Baptist Church

Bishara Awad, President, Bethlehem Bible College

Sami Awad, Executive Director, Holy Land Trust

Constantine S. Dabbagh, Executive Secretary, Near East Council of Churches Committee for Refugee Work, Gaza Area

Aaron Dover, Deborah Maccoby, Diana Neslen, Naomi Wayne, on behalf of Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Rev Ray Gaston, Inter Faith Enabler, Birmingham District Methodist Church

Abe Hayeem, RIBA, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine

Rev Canon Garth Hewitt, Canon of St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem/Director, Amos Trust

Rifat Kassis, General coordinator, Kairos Palestine

Rami Kassis, Executive Director, Alternative Tourism Group - Study Centre, Beit Sahour

Jennifer Oldershaw, on behalf of Friends of Sabeel UK

The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People, Beit Sahour

Pat Price-Tomes, on behalf of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) UK

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, President, Diyar Consortium, Bethlehem

George S. Rishmawi, Coordinator, Siraj, Centre for Holy Land Studies, Palestine

Dr. Walid Shomaly, Executive Director, Palestinian Centre for Research & Cultural Dialogue (PCRD), Bethlehem

Michael Warschawski, Sergio Yahni, Avital Mozes, Tania Kepler, Yossi Bartal, Connie Hackbarth, Shir Hever, of the Alternative Information Centre, Jerusalem

Ben White, Campaign coordinator, ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’

Mr. Ramzi Zananiri, Executive Director, Near East Council of Churches-Jerusalem

David said...

That there are injustices in any conflict situation is beyond doubt. I have spoken with both Israelis and Palestinians and know that there is a desire for peace, if not reconciliation.

This report was not written with an open mind. The intruction makes it clear that no contrary voices were to be heard on the "working party":

"Working group
members will be asked to affirm
that they are in agreement with
previously stated Conference
positions on the occupation"

The aspect of this report which is particularly sinister is that it effectively questions the right of any Jew to be in the Holy Land. Section 4 for example questions whether there is any legitimacy for the migration of Jews to Palestine during the 19th century.

The danger here is obvious to any Jew - if they have no basis for living in the Holy Land then it is equally legitimate for others to seek to expell them. For this reason scarce Connexional resources are to be expended on a study of "Christian Zionism", whatever that is, and something I have never heard discussed within the British Methodist Connexion (see recommedation 14/5).

In their hearts of hearts the authors of this report would clearly like to see the Israeli State dismantled and the Jewish population deported. The mispalced quote of British Foriegn Secretary Ernest Bevin (par 4.3.3) is a clear indicator of the working party's point of departure.

The report acknowledges but does not explore the "competing narratives". On occasions there is copious detail about the harrassment of individual Palestinians and communities, but there is the handy get out clause which says "It is not the purpose of this report
to offer more than a brief insight
into the very complex set of
theological issues thrown up by the
current situation in the Middle East".

This briefness and bias is particularly marked in the descriptions and denounciations of Israeli military activity - which on many occasions has been heavy handed - but the tiniest acknowledgement that daily suicide bombings by Palestinians (for example sending teenage children on school buses to blow themselves and Israeli children to pieces) and virtually no acknowledgment of the Hammas rocket attacks from Gaza. (Look carefully and you will find both factors dismissed in a single sentence in paragraph 5.3.1) Even then the assumption is that these are legitmate reprisals for Israeli misdemeanours.

Nor does the report explore the real problems that come when a sovereign state such as Israel has a next door neighbour such as Hammas which is committed to the destruction of that sovereign state.

Having read the report my conclusion is that the report is simply the statement of a particular pressure group within the British Methodist Church. Nowhere, absolutely nowehere, is there evidence of discusssions with Israelis.

The Jews have found over many centuries that there will always be those who critise and attack them. For that reason they have had to learn the harsh lessons of defence and survival.

What starts as mild and sanitised anti-semitism ends in the holocaust. There is no way that the Methodist Church should be acting as an apologist for Hammas.

Yes there are injustices, but we need to be very careful of jumping into a complex situation and find ourselves supporting Hammas and their fellow travellers.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend that David calms down a bit steps back from hysterical unfounded claims about the report and takes a deep breath and opens his heart to the voice of Palestinian Christians who have called for solidarity.

David said...

Don't be so bloody patronising!

Felonious Monk said...

Palestinian Christians who have called for solidarity.

With whom? Would that be with Jewish (Messianic) Christians?

Thought not. There are ARAB Christians who love Israel but they risk their lives.

A Christian Zionist believes in Israel's right to exist within its historic borders and that we are seeing a fulfillment of prophecy.

Such a one would support your current position but think it lacks coherence.

Felonious Monk said...

your current position

I.e David's.