archbishop of canterbury.
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Although he was here for just 24 hours for a meeting with Israel's chief rabbis, the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, managed to find the time to voice sharp criticism of the security barrier.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Williams, the spiritual head of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion, blamed the ongoing exodus of Arab Christians from the Holy Land on "the daily burdens caused by the fence faced by Christians in Bethlehem and other cities."
Williams's comment, whether a consequence of misinformation or of bias against Israel or both, was a distortion of the facts. The unfortunate phenomenon of Arab Christian emigration from the Holy Land to the US, Europe and other advanced countries has been going on for decades and is the result of a multitude of factors - educational, social, cultural and political.
The high level of education that Christian Arabs receive in Anglican, Lutheran and other Christian schools makes them attractive candidates for emigration. With no language barriers and the prospects of a comfortable lifestyle awaiting them, Arab Christians are disproportionately tempted to try their luck outside the strife-filled Middle East. Family members who have already settled abroad make the move easier.
But radical Islam is the most decisive factor in the exodus. Its intolerance of Christianity has made life unbearable here, as in other places in the Middle East such as Iraq. If in the past Arab Christians could find a common ground with their Muslim brothers on nationalist and other bases, today, with increasing Islamic radicalization, this is no longer the case. That Islamic extremism and the anti-Israeli terrorism it generates - particularly suicide bombings - was the main impetus for Israel's decision to build the security barrier. Willliams ignored these factors and instead focused on Israel's desperate attempt to defend itself in the face of an enemy that refuses to recognize its right to exist.
Coincidentally, Williams's misplaced criticism of the security barrier was made almost 90 years to the day after a fellow Anglican, Britain's foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, set the groundwork for the creation of the Jewish state. On November 2, 1917, in what would become known as the Balfour Declaration, Britain, strongly influenced by Christian Zionism, voiced support for "a national home for the Jewish people."
Balfour and other leading British politicians, such as prime minister David Lloyd-George, saw the return of the Jews to Palestine as a way of righting the wrongs perpetrated by Christianity against the Jews over the ages. "They [the Jews] have been exiled, scattered and oppressed," Balfour once reportedly said to a friend. "If we can find them an asylum, a safe home in their native land, then the full flowering of their genius will burst forth and propagate."
Sadly, Anglican support for Israel has wavered since then. In July 2006, for instance, the Church of England, with the support of Williams, called to suspend all investments in companies "profiting from illegal occupation of Palestinian land." Caterpillar, a firm that makes tractors reportedly used to build the security barrier, was singled out for divestment.
Perhaps present Anglican censure of Israeli policies has its source in the Church's expectations that the Jews, God's chosen people, live up to higher moral standards than others. (We would argue that Israel does indeed strive to maintain the moral high ground even as it battles enemies that indiscriminately target its civilian population.) Perhaps it is the Christian tendency to come to the aid of the underdog, who, in the present geopolitical situation, is often mistakenly perceived to be the Palestinians. (Israel is indeed the mightier power, but strives to minimize the use of such force, and is outnumbered in the region demographically dozens of times and territorially hundreds of times.)
But Williams's attitude does not reflect the best interests of his flock in this area, who benefit from the security Israel is seeking to attain and are vulnerable to the same ruthless violence that targets the Jewish state. Israel, with the security barrier, has taken essential steps to safeguard precisely the "asylum," the "safe home" for the Jewish people "in their native land," that Balfour envisaged. And, hopefully with the support of intellectually honest allies, "the full flowering of their genius will burst forth and propagate."