Methodists set to clash with Jewish community in UK

Board of Deputies of British Jews says Methodist document could damage relations.

LONDON - The Methodist Church of Britain is on a collision course with Jewish community leaders after being accused of producing a document against Israel to debate the conflict at its annual conference in Portsmouth later this month.
The church, the fourth largest Christian denomination in Britain, is set to have a “debate on Israel-Palestine” then vote on whether to implement a boycott of products and services from the West Bank. Written by group of Methodist clergy, academics and peace activists, the document, titled “Justice for Palestine and Israel,” has been accused of being selective and “full of historical distortions and bias.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has expressed concern saying the document could damage Jewish-Methodist relations in the UK. Board chief executive, Jon Benjamin, has written to the president of the Methodist Conference to ask for an urgent meeting.
“This deeply disturbing paper is full of historical distortions and bias,” Benjamin told The Jerusalem Post. “That's unsurprising, given that its main sources appear to be anti-Zionist campaigners. Especially troubling is the suggestion that the Methodist Church will investigate expelling Zionists.
“If it passes, the paper will be damaging to Jewish-Methodist relations. We are seeking an urgent meeting with Methodist leaders to make our objections clear and to seek a resolution.”
The 54-page document has been distributed to all Methodist churches, circuits and regions throughout the UK in order to “resource them in their understanding of and engagement with the issues,” the document described.
Almost all the sources used in the document are controversial. It includes anti-Zionist and anti-Israel activists such as scholars Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim; Jeff Halper from the fringe group ‘Israeli Committee against House Demolitions’; Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer and journalist Robert Fisk.
There are also testimonies from Breaking the Silence and 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.
Jerusalem-based research organization NGO Monitor said EAPPI uses a biased Palestinian narrative using demonizing terms such as “apartheid” and “war crimes” to describe Israel and said that most volunteers become active in anti-Israel campaigns on returning to their hometowns.
The report says that 12 volunteers from the Methodist Church in the UK have so far volunteered with EAPPI and spoken at numerous church gatherings.
“EAPPI members have a history of promoting anti-Israel agendas under the facade of peace,” NGO Monitor president Prof. Gerald Steinberg said.
“Christian groups that promote anti-Israel demonization and international isolation display a very disturbing insensitivity and fuel the conflict. The report reflects the distortions of the World Council of Churches, Amos Trust, KAIROS, EAPPI and other groups in this one-sided and biased document. The exclusive emphasis on "occupation" strips away the context of Palestinian terror and rejectionism for seven decades, which forced Israel to response in defense of its citizens.
“This document entirely ignores the rights of Israelis including Gilad Schalit, who was kidnapped and held in Gaza for four years, in violation of all moral principles. If the Methodist leaders and their allies were really concerned about justice, they would not ignore the suffering of Jewish victims of Palestinian terror,” Steinberg added.
In the recommended reading section, the document recommends the Goldstone Report; a 2008 report on Gaza by Christian Aid, Amnesty, Oxfam and other charities. Apart from Herzl’s Jewish State, other recommendations include Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid and books by Fisk, Pappe and Shlaim.
“The report is amateurish and one-dimensional in its depiction of the history of the tortuous Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Prof. Colin Shindler, senior lecturer in the Department of the Near and Middle East at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“Its recommended sources are highly selective - presumably to produce a narrative which would reinforce an intended outcome. For example, in the recommended ‘books on background history’, the names of Benny Morris, Anita Shapira, Martin Gilbert and Howard Sacher - all well-known historians of Israel - do not appear.
“There is no suggested book for understanding the evolution of Zionist ideology. No interested student of this complex conflict would treat this seriously. While it is understandable that the Methodists would wish to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians, this skewered account will be viewed as simplistic and partial,” Shindler added.
Among the Israeli groups the documents recommends are Machsom Watch, Women in Black, Physicians for Human Rights and Zochrot.
David Gifford, chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) also raised his concerns with the document.
“We all agree the Palestinians need to be heard but Methodist church has fallen into this chasm of listening to one voice,” he told the Post. “It is sad that the Methodist Church’s document is so unbalanced, appearing to completely ignore other cries of frustration, desperation and confusion.
“A closer examination by the authors of the Methodist document, of projects of reconciliation and community and economic development in Israel and the West Bank would have revealed opportunities for investment in hope. Instead all we are left with is a call for disinvestment again and no real solutions. Instead we are all thrown into even greater desperation,” he added.
Gifford said that reconciliation over “fertilizing discontent” was the way forward.
“The way forward is to water the seeds of reconciliation rather than fertilize discontent by hearing one narrative and seeing only what one wants to see,” he said.
In a statement, Rev. Graham Carter, chair of the working group that produced the report, said: “The report is not a doctrinal statement but is designed to facilitate a stimulating and wide-ranging debate at the Methodist Conference concerning justice for Israel and Palestine.
“We are sure that the discussion at the Methodist Conference will be open and balanced, addressing the report in a spirit of discernment and with a commitment to hearing, as well as expressing, a variety of perspectives on the issues. Conference members will make the final decisions on the resolutions in the report following this discussion.
“We are committed to seeking ways of achieving a lasting and just peace for all people living in the region, regardless of religious affiliation. We remain deeply committed to working with people of all faiths and none and hope to seek a way forward that will both honour and learn from these relationships,” Carter said.