LONDON – Jewish and Christian community leaders have reacted with dismay to the decision by a Manchester church to host a conference deemed to be anti-Israel in a place of worship.
Denton Methodist Church in greater Manchester is hosting a one-day conference titled “Palestine: an unsettled future?” on June 5. Speaking at the event, described in the advertising as “exploring the issues around the current occupation of Palestine and the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” are seasoned pro-Palestinian activists.
Linda Clair, from the radical fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), is talking on “Settlement building and the occupation of Palestine.” The PSC is leading players in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and advocate a one-state solution.
Also speaking is a volunteer from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a group funded and supported by the World Council of Churches, which supports the divestment campaign against Israel.
The Jerusalem based research organization NGO Monitor accused EAPPI of presenting a biased Palestinian narrative and of using demonizing terms such as “apartheid” and “war crimes” to describe Israel.
NGO Monitor says that since the program was launched in 2002, 198 activists have participated from more than 30 churches and ecumenical partners in 12 countries and upon returning home, most become active in anti-Israel campaigns.
“EAPPI members have a history of promoting anti-Israel agendas under the facade of peace and this event again demonstrates the intensity of this campaign,” said Prof. Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor president. “EAPPI is again partnering with the PSC, which targets Israel through boycotts and divestment, and falsely labels Jewish self-determination as ‘apartheid.’ For EAPPI and its partners, Israelis apparently have no human rights, and their use of the language of nonviolence is a mask, under which Palestinians are encouraged to continue the conflict, instead of encouraging the compromise necessary for peace.”
Rev. Alan Morris, from Holy Angels Catholic Church in Manchester, said the event was destructive to the quest for peace and questioned EAPPI’s credentials.
“I consider the positive quest for seeds of hope of paramount importance and meetings of the sort at Denton Church are essentially destructive of that quest for peace, especially when one of the speakers is from EAPPI. Twice I have heard speakers from EAPPI, the first occasion I was disturbed to discover that two inflammatory slide images of Jews carrying rifles, which had been passed off as being taken by the speaker during her stay in the West Bank, had not been taken by her and that, furthermore, she had no idea of their provenance,” he said.
“On the second occasion the speaker spoke in derogatory terms about the qualification for Israeli citizenship – one Jewish grandparent. I asked her if she knew why Israel had adopted that qualification and I was not surprised when she told me she didn’t know. I then told her that it was the qualification which took six million Jews to the gas chambers,” he said.
Rev. Morris said he was going to write to the church to protest.
“I intend to write both to the minister of the church and chairman of that Methodist district – the equivalent of the local bishop – to express in detail my profound disquiet at this meeting and to suggest that the way forward to peace in the Holy Land does not lie in distorted attacks on the State of Israel but in encouraging the seeds of hope to germinate and prosper.
“I also intend to say that such unbalanced meetings undermine the quest for interfaith understanding as celebrated in the recent document of the conference of the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales entitled ‘Meeting God in Friend and Stranger,’” he said.
“It is shocking that a place of worship can be used by the Israel haters in collaboration with extreme fringe elements in order to whip up hatred with a view to demonizing Israel and the Jewish people,” said Lucille Cohen, president of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester. “I call on Christians and ministers, and indeed all people of goodwill, to condemn this abuse of a religious building.”
Rev. Mark Madeley, vicar of Coley Church in Halifax, told The Jerusalem Post that the event will have an effect on interfaith relations.
“I am genuinely sorry as a Christian that this event is taking place without proper balance. I think it is inappropriate and potentially offensive. Even if we disagree with people, we are called to be civil towards them and not to fight back. Israel hatred is thus out of step with the Christian message of love and forgiveness. It is inappropriate to meet in a place of worship to foster hatred towards other members of God’s creation.
“As a friend of Israel I do not agree with everything Israel does, but I try to remain balanced and treat both sides equally, knowing that there are many innocent people on both sides who just want peace and we should not be picking and choosing who is right,” he added.
“It is clear that the planned event represents the promotion of a one-sided view of the fraught situation in the Middle East and is likely to represent a hostile platform for views on Israel,” said Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, rabbi of Whitefield Synagogue in Manchester. “It is one thing for an independent organization to be hosting such an event but quite another for a mainstream moderate organization such as a Methodist church to be aligning itself against Israel by offering their place of worship as the official host facilitating this event.”
Rabbi Guttentag said that in his capacity as joint president of Manchester Council of Christians and Jews, he would be communicating this view to senior church leaders in Manchester, hoping that “through their good offices some fair minded thinking can be brought into play here.”
“It is shocking and disgusting that a church will espouse such
anti-Semitic views that will be cloaked under the guise of anti-Israel
views – there is no balance shown and an obvious smear against Israel,”
said Rabbi Amir Ellituv of Sha’are Chaim, South Manchester’s Sephardi
Synagogue. “I hope that the church will cancel their event, or at least
give someone the opportunity to give the true Jewish perspective.”
Steve Hucklesby, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church
in Britain, said: “In hosting this event, Denton Methodist Church is
not necessarily endorsing the views held by the speakers, nor
recommending a particular solution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine.
“The Methodist Church is deeply committed to learning from and working
with people of all faiths and none, and conversations about
Israel-Palestine must not become a matter of religious affiliation.
Instead, we must strive to hear from one another, and to recognize that
in neither the Israeli nor Palestinian communities is there full
consensus on these difficult issues. We must seek out ways to achieve
peaceful coexistence for all people in the region,” he said.
Speaking to the Post
, the organiser of the conference, Gerard Crawshaw, accepted that the event had not encompassed a wide range of views and said that he did not have the resources or access to people able to share a view sympathetic to Israel.
“My motivation was to raise awareness of the issues, I accept that there are others with different views but there is scope for people to express opinions and the event is open to all,” he said.