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The banality of Methodist evil
By ROBIN SHEPHERD
07/04/2010
Boycott against goods emanating from settlements shows where the rancid, global campaign against the Jewish state is heading.
 
The decision last week by the Methodist Church of Britain to launch a boycott against goods emanating from settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem will send a shiver down the spine of anyone with a feel for where the rancid, global campaign against the Jewish state is currently heading.

The boycott will involve transactions of the church itself, and extends to encouraging all affiliated Methodists to follow suit. The Methodists boycott no other country.

The fact that an institution professing allegiance to values of love, truth and justice should have succumbed to an agenda of hatred, hypocrisy and barbarism is sadly emblematic of the degraded spirit of our times, and of the moral inversions which blow through them.

But who, these days, can really be surprised about such happenings in modern Europe? It is only the banality, to appropriate Hannah Arendt, of this particular evil that still has the power to shock us. For, in watching the discussions at the Methodist Conference which approved the boycott, there was little in the way of the visceral hatred of Israel which we have become so accustomed to seeing in academic settings or in the trade unions. Here was a group of almost stereotypically ordinary, middle-class, English Christians calmly reciting every hackneyed anti-Israeli calumny in the book.

“What is happening in Palestine today is what was happening in South Africa in the recent past,” one delegate said. Another spoke of the “66 percent of 9- to 12-month-old babies [that] are anemic in Gaza.”

Yet another described a picture, which she held up in front of her, of a small boy “with large eyes” and “deep pain” in those eyes. “This little boy lives in Gaza,” she said ominously, adding (without irony) that the conference should “speak and act for those whose voices are not heard.”

Later, the point was repeated with one speaker lamenting the position of the Palestinians who have “no one to tell of what they’re going through.”

There was a lecture on the Old Testament, the Jews as “the chosen people,” the children of Abraham, and the revelations of Jesus: “Jesus... never speaks of the land or owning it; he speaks of the kingdom and joining it,” said the delegate joyfully. “...He teaches us God is not a racist God [her emphasis] who has favorites. God loves all his children [her emphasis] and blesses them.”

A student of archeology from the University of Manchester protested against accusations of one-sidedness in a report on the conflict which underpinned the boycott resolution: “No conflict is ever one-sided, “ he said before concluding, literally seconds later, that “perhaps it is not the report that is one-sided, but simply the conflict.”

IF TOTAL illogicality, intimations about the dangers of Jews worshiping a racist God, preposterous assertions about the Palestinian cause not getting an airing in the outside world and depraved and asinine comparisons with apartheid South Africa were the stock in trade of the ordinary delegates, the church’s sophisticates were not to be outdone.

Here is the Rev. Graham Carter, the chairman of the working group that produced the initial report. He is speaking at the end of the first debate, just after having made his (pro forma?) reference to upholding the right of Israel to exist: “We didn’t go through the list of criticizing other governments, because there was no place to stop,” he said. “We could have criticized the United States for its past unquestioning support of the government of Israel. We could have questioned our own government for the equivocality of its approach. Where would we stop? So we concentrated simply on the situation in Palestine itself.”

In referring to criticism of governments around the world other than Israel, one might have expected that this was his cue to explain why Israel had been singled out. Not a bit of it. It never appeared to occur to him that the question of gross hypocrisy might be an issue. His only thoughts about other governments concerned the sense in which they might have been criticized for complicity in Israeli behavior! But it is when he comes to the question of anti- Semitism that he meets his undoing. “I want to state quite clearly and categorically that there is no hint of anti-Semitism in what we have said or in what we intend,” he stated boldly. “If other people want to do things like that, that is their problem. It is not our problem as a Methodist church. We need to be honest about where stand and what we feel. And if we are concerned about anti-Semitism, why don’t we talk about the anti-Islam approach?” I leave it to others to judge whether there is a “hint of anti-Semitism” in what they have said or intended.

But, in so far as his comments make any sense at all, one way of summarizing the rest could be as follows: “If this campaign against Israel results in more anti-Semitism, we in the Methodist Church wash our hands of it. We’ll act, and the Jews can take the consequences.

And what’s the big deal about anti-Semitism anyway? Can’t we talk about Islamophobia.”

I DID not have the pleasure of talking to the Rev.

Carter, who would certainly reject any suggestion of wrongdoing, let alone that he had taken his church down the road to bigotry. But I did speak to the Methodist Church’s head of media relations, Anna Drew, whose well prepared brief offered a lesson in where things have gone so badly wrong.

“Do you have any boycotts of other countries in the world, Saudi Arabia for example, where Christianity is banned?” I asked.

“Almost certainly not,” she said.

“So why have you singled out the Jewish state?” I asked.

“We have not singled out the Jewish state,” she replied, saying that the boycott was not against Israel, merely against the occupied territories.

And so the conversation went on, going round and round in circles as Drew summoned up every ounce of conceivable pedantry to argue that singling out the policy of a particular country was substantially different from singling out the country itself, even though such a boycott applied to no other country or its policies.

“Don’t you realize that you’re joining a massive global campaign against Israel?” I asked.

“There isn’t a campaign against Israel,” she replied firmly. “It’s not as simple as that.”

“You don’t accept that you’ve just jumped on a fashionable bandwagon?” I asked in amazement.

“We are the first church... to do this... so we are not being fashionable,” she replied.

At which point, what can you really say? Overall, a church that behaves in the manner of the Methodists has buried its credibility under a gigantic dunghill of intransigence, pedantry, lies and distortions.

But let us not allow this matter to rest with a mere recognition of whom and what they have chosen to become.

If the Methodist Church is to launch a boycott of Israel, let Israel respond in kind: Ban their officials from entering; deport their missionaries; block their funds; close down their offices; and tax their churches.

If it’s war, it’s war. The aggressor must pay a price.

The writer is director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London. He is the author of A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel
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