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St. James Church creates a barrier to peace
By ELANA SHAFRAN
01/01/2014
"The faux wall is part of a “Bethlehem Unwrapped” Christmas festival produced in association with an assortment of NGOs that are one-sided and dogmatic in their hostility toward Israel."
 
In the courtyard of St. James Church in Piccadilly, London, stands a replica of Israel’s West Bank security barrier so colossal it almost blocks the church itself.

The faux wall is part of a “Bethlehem Unwrapped” Christmas festival produced in association with an assortment of NGOs that are one-sided and dogmatic in their hostility toward Israel.

Misrepresenting Israel’s security barrier, the festival overlooks the reason it was built in the first place: to stop suicide terrorists attacking civilians in Israel. It also ignores the precipitous decline in terror attacks following the barrier’s construction.

The festival features anti-Israel campaigners including comedians Jeremy Hardy and Ivor Dembina débuting the film Jeremy Hardy vs. the Israeli Army and the “Stand Up Against the Wall” comedy show. There’s also performances by musician Nigel Kennedy, columnists Mark Steel and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, War On Want’s poet Rafeef Ziadah, and Jeff Halper of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, who once said, “I think it is impossible to have a Jewish state.”

A search of the church’s website shows that regarding some of the most horrendous human rights violations in the Middle East, St. James has little or nothing to say. The 5,000 Syrians killed monthly in a civil war where the number of fleeing refugees has not been paralleled since the Rwandan genocide? No condemnation. Not even the chemical attack in August that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians could bring St. James to find moral indignation.

The epidemic of “honor killings” of women in Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Lebanon? St. James is mute. The persecution of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Gaza? More silence.

Instead, St. James chose to advance its “human rights agenda” by dedicating the Christmas season to this Bethlehem Unwrapped event, co-produced with a coterie of organizations that are dogmatically biased against Israel.

ICAHD, War on Want, Amos Trust and Holy Land Trust are all strong proponents of anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns. Their rhetoric includes demonizing portrayals of Israel as an “apartheid” or “racist” state, which is part of the ongoing efforts to strip Israel of international legitimacy. Another co-producer, Interpal, is listed by the US Department of Treasury as being subject to Executive Order 13224, “blocking property and prohibiting transactions with persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism.”

How can a church be associated with such groups and still claim a moral high ground? “All net proceeds” will be “donated to Amos Trust’s ‘Future Peacemakers’ Appeal, supporting the ‘non-violence training program’ of the Holy Land Trust (HLT) in Bethlehem.”

This sounds positive, until one looks a little further. Sami Awad, HLT’s executive director and founder, has stated that non-violence is “not a substitute for the armed struggle.”

This term, “armed struggle,” is a euphemism used by Palestinian terror groups and their supporters for murderous attacks on Israeli civilians.

How much money was spent to create this pillory-Israel festival? St. James does not say.

However, Bethlehem Unwrapped should be placed within the much larger context of how this alliance of churches, Christian aid societies, and faith-based NGOs are promoting blatantly hostile political campaigns against Israel.

Taxpayer money, mostly European, is disbursed through the funding mechanisms of each country’s international aid framework.

In turn, these government agencies allocate grants to various Christian aid societies, which then distribute funds to a broad range of humanitarian projects. In the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, however, they often transfer funds to highly politicized NGOs, many of which exploit moral principles for immoral objectives.

The BDS movement long recognized the value of co-opting churches to amplify and legitimize their radical anti-Israel message.

Their website declares, “Religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles... Not only will successful divestment campaigns [in the churches] financially weaken the Occupation, but they will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.”

This Bethlehem Unwrapped festival is the latest manifestation of the process by which churches have been conscripted by anti-Israel activists to further their agenda, singling out the nation-state of the Jewish people in a manner that makes a mockery of universal human rights principles. As a result, St. James has also set back the historic Christian-Jewish post-Holocaust rapprochement.

St. James Church and its associated NGOs may see themselves as peacemakers. Paradoxically, HLT’s Sami Awad said it best: “The most unhelpful thing you can do is be pro one side; it just adds to the conflict.” Awad’s statement is found, without irony, on the homepage of this exceptionally one-sided festival’s website.

In all respects, the St. James festival is a failure and has indeed added to the conflict.

These moral failures suggest that those who are responsible should focus on their own need for soul-searching before preaching to others.

The author is a 2013-2014 Research Fellow for the BDS in the Pews Project at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem.
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