Church of England weighs link to anti-Israel group

Assembly, highest body to vote on motion formally adopting links to Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine.

The Church of England General Synod in London 370 (R) (photo credit: Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters)
The Church of England General Synod in London 370 (R)
(photo credit: Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters)
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).
The motion 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 participants.
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.
Alarmed that it could raise the group's profile and legitimacy, the Board of Deputies has sent a letter to all synod participants outlining their concerns.
"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.
"I am 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.
The 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 talks.
"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 Right.
"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.
Santis 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.
Canon 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," White added.
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."