LONDON - Jewish and Christian community leaders have expressed widespread
concern that the Church of England, the country's officially established
Christian church, is next week set to discuss formally deepening links with a
politicized anti-Israel group.
On Tuesday, the General Synod in York, the
Church's national assembly and highest legislative body, will vote on a motion
that seeks to formally adopt the Church's links with the Ecumenical
Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
encourages parishioners to take part in the program - which brings
internationals to the West Bank to experience "life under occupation," according
to its website - and urges churches to make use of the experiences of returning
However EAPPI - founded by the World Council of Churches
and supported in the UK by Christian Aid and the Quakers - are considered to be
a controversial group and stand accused of being anti-Israel advocates whose
work "runs the risk of leading to anti-Jewish sentiment." "EAPPI is a one-sided
advocacy group promoting the Durban strategy of boycotts, divestment and
sanctions against Israel, supporting the Palestinian claim of a 'right of
return,' which is code for ending Israeli sovereignty, and systematically
ignoring continuous Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians - each
one a war crime," Yitzhak Santis, chief programs officer at the Jerusalem-based
NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post.
The decision to discuss the motion
has led to an outcry in the Jewish community, with British Chief Rabbi Jonathan
Sacks and the Board of Deputies of British Jews leading protests.
that it could raise the group's profile and legitimacy, the Board of Deputies
has sent a letter to all synod participants outlining their
"The Board naturally commends those who want to protect the
rights of the Palestinians living in the West Bank. As a result we support any
organization which encourages reconciliation, but it appears to us that EAPPI
does not promote this," wrote board president Vivian Wineman. "I fear the
negative impact which the passing of this motion could have on that work and on
relations between the two communities." Warning that the motion could do
"serious damage" to relations between Christians and Jews, Sacks said it
presents a one-sided narrative on a complex and difficult issue.
deeply concerned about the private members motion being debated. Were it
to be passed it would do serious damage to Jewish-Christian relations in
Britain, which have been so positive in recent decades. But that is not
my only concern.
"The work of EAPPI does not provide its participants
with a full reflection of the conflict. It presents a one-sided narrative on a
complex and difficult issue. It thus fails the test of natural justice: 'Audi
alteram partem - Listen to the other side.' By minimizing Israel's well-founded
fears, it will not advance the cause of peace or an end to the conflict," the
chief rabbi added.
EAPPI takes about 20 "Ecumenical Accompaniers" to the
region every year, where they volunteer in Hebron, Jayyous or Yanoun to
accompany Palestinians through checkpoints, while monitoring any perceived
abuses. They have no contact with mainstream Israelis and on their return are
expected to fulfill 10 speaking events, with most doing many more.
Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK's oldest interfaith organization,
said its members have been at EAPPI meetings in which accompaniers who have
returned from the Palestinian territories have given
"Unfortunately the speeches and presentations can appear to be
anti-Israel and run the risk of leading to anti-Jewish sentiment. This is a
worrying situation for those of us dedicated to Jewish-Christian relations and
the fight against anti-Semitism," the CCJ told the Post.
The Board of
Deputies said the volunteers receive two weeks of residential training
beforehand, with just two hours dedicated to the Israeli perspective. All of the
Israeli groups they come into contact with are of the fringe Left or
"The result is the creation of a cohort of very partisan but very
motivated anti-Israel advocates who have almost no grasp of the suffering of
normal Israelis. They are considered experts on the overall situation, despite
having a very narrow experience which takes almost no account of the suffering
of Israelis. This helps generate a climate of hostility to Israel in the
churches," the Board said in its letter to synod participants.
said that the EAPPI uses the language of morality to promote highly immoral
activities, which has contributed to obstacles to a peace based on mutual
understanding and acceptance.
"Its program of bringing volunteers to the
territories, and then sending them home to act as pro-Palestinian advocates,
makes EAPPI an active participant in the conflict. Western governments that fund
the World Council of Churches have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers'
money is not being used to fund EAPPI's activities," Santis said.
Andrew White, an Anglican vicar based in Baghdad, said the motion is "unjust."
He asked why the synod is being asked to adopt "a one sided 'Nakba' narrative"
against Israel - referring to the term many Palestinians use when referring to
the "catastrophic" events of the founding of the State of Israel - while fellow
Christians are dying in Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and Syria.
"It neglects the
wars against Israel's very right to exist. It overlooks the persecution of Jews
in the Middle East that preceded the establishment of the modern State of
Israel. Israel - like all countries - is not perfect, but she sincerely wishes
to find peace." White said there are many peace-loving people in the Palestinian
territories who are entangled in a conflict they do not endorse, "but the
culture of incitement against Jews and Christians as well as the continuing
rocket bombardments on Sderot are factors that the synod is being asked to
ignore or at best discount." "As someone who has spent many years living in the
Middle East, the land of the Bible, risking life and limb for peace and who is
proud to be a friend of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims,
I do hope the synod will reject the motion calling for endorsement of EAPPI,"
The CCJ also said it hopes the General Synod does not
support the motion.
"CCJ is troubled by some of the actions and behavior
that goes on around the settlements and at crossings. This concern is shared by
both Jewish and Christian members. The work of the Ecumenical Accompaniers to
document incidents is well understood. However, CCJ fears that the EAPPI
program, rather than being a conduit for understanding, peace and
reconciliation, can portray a picture of an intolerant Israeli society with
little sympathy towards the Palestinian plight and ignore the deep desire of
many ordinary Israelis for a just resolution to the conflict." In a statement to
the Post, a Church of England spokesperson said: "A Private Member's Motion is a
motion moved by an individual member of the synod. Unless and until it has been
passed by the synod, it is simply an expression of the opinion of the member who
has moved it.
Synod members sign Private Member's Motions in order to
express their view that the motion should be debated. Those with the most
signatures are debated. The signatures do not necessarily indicate that the
members concerned agree with the motion as drafted. Motions can be, and often
are, amended by the synod."