This is a guest post by Daphne Anson
They’re really pulling out all the stops these days – those perverse Christians who seem to detest the existence of Israel. Last week the Quakers’ headquarters in Manchester hosted both Israel-basher Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz and – like so many Christian places of worship up and down the British Isles – Rod Cox’s notorious Israel-demonising exhibition of children’s drawings from Gaza. “Greenbelt”, a four-day musical festival at Cheltenham Racecourse that began this past weekend, organised by Christian groups with a pro-Palestinian agenda including Christian Aid and – fresh from their June call to boycott produce from “illegal” West Bank settlements – the Methodists, asks the 12,800 people attending to “confront the stark contrast” between the festival and the “day-to-day life” of Gazans.
Replacement theology and Successionism is undermining Israel, and many Christians have been seduced by Naim Ateek, founder of the Palestinian Christian organisation Sabeel, who denies that the “Old Testament” justifies Zionism and has made conflicting statements regarding Israel’s right to exist. Churches have produced one-sided reports about the situation in the Middle East that depict Hamas as a charitable organisation, completely overlooking its terrorist credentials and its antisemitic genocidal Charter. There’s even a tendency in some quarters to twist reality for political purposes and depict Jesus as a Palestinian rather than as a Judean. In London both the Bloomsbury Baptist Church and St James’s Church, Piccadilly, hold carol services in conjunction with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with the words to well-known carols altered to demonise Israel.
And so on.
Yesterday, I blogged about how certain Welsh politicians are aiding and abetting with gusto the Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch in Wales, and although I hope to blog in the future about Christian philosemitism and Christian pro-Zionism generally, today I’ll remain within the Principality (yes, there are still some of us who call Wales by that correct term, even if the BBC long ago instructed its journalists to avoid the term for fear of offending anti-monarchists!) since the behaviour of leading clergymen in the Church in Wales (the Welsh Anglicans ) is really quite outrageously biased against Israel.
David Lloyd George, that famous Manchester-born Welshman who presided over the Cabinet that promulgated the Balfour Declaration in 1917, once noted that “I was brought up in a school where I was taught far more about the history of the Jews than about the history of my own land. I could tell you all about the kings of Israel. But I doubt whether I could have named half a dozen of the kings of England and not more of the kings of Wales …. On five days a week in the day school, and … in our Sunday schools, we were thoroughly versed in the history of the Hebrews.”
Like other members of his Cabinet, Lloyd George was a philosemite. Although he joked that “Acetone converted me to Zionism” (a reference to Chaim Weizmann’s discovery of that substance, which so crucially aided the British war effort), Lloyd George’s receptivity to the idea of a restored Jewish Homeland in Eretz Israel was embedded in his religious upbringing. Of the Jews, he said:
“You belong to a very great race which has made the deepest impression on the destinies of humanity …. Your poets, kings and warriors are better known to the children and adults of Wales than are the names of our own heroes!… You may say you have been oppressed and persecuted – that has been your power! You have been hammered into very fine steel, and that is why you can never be broken.”
To Lloyd George, the Balfour Declaration was ‘”a charter of of equality for the Jews…. They belong to a … race that has endured persecution which for the variety of torture – physical, material, and mental, inflicted on its victims, for the virulence and malignity with which it has been sustained, for the length of time it has lasted, and, more than all, for the fortitude and patience with which it has been suffered, is without parallel in the history of any other people. Is it too much to ask that amongst them whose sufferings are the worst shall be able to find refuge in the land of their fathers made holy by the splendour of their genius, the loftiness of their thoughts, by the consecration of their loves, and by the inspirations of their messages to mankind?”
Another Welsh philosemite, the Calvinistic Methodist minister Rev. John Mills, whose book The British Jews (1862) remains an invaluable historical resource, was among the small group of Jews and non-Jews who in 1852 founded the Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine. They aimed at establishing a self-administering Jewish colony between those sacred cities, Safed and Tiberias, with livestock and equipment funded by public subscription. In seeking such support, they remarked that “whilst Palestine has such significance in the eyes of the Christians, with how much greater interest must it be regarded by the Jew? … towards it he yet gravitates as to his natural centre.” And at a meeting of Welsh ex-pats held in London in 1854, Mills declared: “To speak my whole heart, I believe Palestine belongs to the Jews. The Almighty promised it to Abraham of old … and have it they shall.”
Fast forward to our own day, and although I’m sure that Wales still has pro-Zionists a-plenty, some very disturbing developments are gathering pace in that section of the Anglican Communion known as the Church in Wales.
A claim that “the Jews are cowards” made on the Church in Wales’s Jubilee Fund website in 2002 remained there for a year despite innumerable objections, including a complaint from Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, himself a Welshman, about the “deplorable” and “inflammatory language about Jews”. In brazen contrast, complaints regarding the publication of an “Irish joke” in a parish magazine was followed by an official apology from the vicar of the parish concerned. And when the Church in Wales’s Welsh-language magazine carried a cartoon offensive to Muslims, the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, gathered up all available copies himself and went on television to apologise to Muslims. But when the same magazine printed a questionable spoof concerning Jews no such action was forthcoming.
Despite the suffering that terrorist Arafat inflicted on Israelis, Archbishop Morgan declared that he’d remember the dead leader for his perseverance and resolve. For the Church in Wales, Israel’s use of force to defend its citizens is “revenge violence” and excuses are made for Palestinian attacks on Israelis. When, during Operation Cast Lead, a mobile dental health clinic paid for by the Church in Wales and supporters including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was destroyed, Morgan took it for granted that the IDF was deliberately inhumane: “We find it incomprehensible and tragic that any armed forces anywhere in the world would want to destroy such a building, let alone the State of Israel with all its historic memories of oppression and genocide…. It does raise questions about the credibility of Israel’s values and purposes.”
Then there was the Christmas message that year from Dominic Walker, Bishop of Monmouth: “God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to be born in Palestine”. Indeed, in a series of short films made in Wales and the Holy Land in 2009 by St David’s Diocese for use in a teaching course, the word “Israel” appears only once, Arabs – not Jews – are prominently featured, and major Biblical figures, including prophets and disciples, are not identified as Jews.
This month, Canon Robin Morrison, a member of the Church in Wales’s Strategic International Affairs Group, inspired, it seems, by Prime Minister David Cameron’s description of Gaza as a “prison camp”, came out all guns – or rather computer keys – blazing, with a long denunciation of Israel (Western Mail, 4 August 2010).
“Any critical voice from the churches is condemned as anti-Semitic,” he thundered, “ and this ploy has dangerous implications for the Jewish community throughout the world. It equates all Jews with present Israeli policy and forgets that Jews aren’t the only people with a Semitic background.” Deftly done – this “the Arabs are Semites too” business; we hear it from foes of Israel, who should know – especially when they are well-educated senior clergymen – that the term antisemitism (the hyphen is frowned upon these days) was coined by a German Jew-hater specifically in relation to Jews, and to Jews alone. (Perhaps we should all prefer the term judeophobia, so that the canon and his ilk cannot resort to that particular “ploy”.) I suppose this is what over-reliance on Sabeel’s narrative does to these clergy.
He concedes that “Security, of course, is a legitimate matter for Israel and is indivisible in the wider region” but then descends into claptrap: “But, ironically, by isolating their security needs from other countries’, they decrease their chances of long-term stability and security and appear arrogantly insensitive to other people’s needs.”
And then comes the malevolent, politically charged crux of his message:
‘The blockade of Gaza, which continues, despite recent adjustments, is still defended as necessary for Israel’s security. But the argument was used to prevent the import of cement to rebuild the very buildings Israeli tanks destroyed in their last massive invasion of Gaza! If Israel continues to use this argument, there is a serious risk of moral hypocrisy. If Israel asserts its rights to prevent arms getting to Gaza, then the international community and the Palestinians should assert their rights to blockade Israel to prevent American arms arriving there. It is these weapons that not only threatened and killed thousands in Gaza and the Southern Lebanon but destroyed crucial infrastructure. Israel always asks international commentators to be even-handed. The just and fair logic of this implies we should now call for an international blockade of arms into Israel or those manufactured there.
This would include any nuclear weapons Israel has and we should call on the international WMD inspectors to now visit Israel. We should ask for even-handedness and justice. If the West objects to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capability, they must equally object to Israel’s. Being a “democratic” country, of course, Israel should welcome such inspectors and such discussion.’
(They just don’t get it, do they – or perhaps they do – that Israel is under existential threat, that Israel has a right and an obligation to defend itself?)
And then there’s this, with a snide reference to the Shoah for added effect – is this what the canon preaches from the pulpit, one wonders – this mean-spirited message?
‘There is something extraordinary about this level of moral hypocrisy. Given all that Jewish people have experienced through the Holocaust, oppression and injustice, it is hard to understand how the State of Israel has become so insensitive. More, too many statements by recent prime ministers of Israel, and their ambassadors, have included racist language about Israel as “founded for the Jews” in an exclusive way. This would be unacceptable in other democratic countries and goes against the values of multiculturalism and diversity, regardless of religious background….In any other situation, this would be named as “racism”. Israel knows how difficult it is for us to use such a word, because they were victims of Nazi racial ideology.
Yet the facts are the facts. Israel claims to be and is supported by America as being the only democratic country in the region, but democratic countries do not normally build walls, occupy other people’s territory and do not lock up people in barbed wire barriers, checkpoints and blockades. Where they do, there is usually international condemnation.
….The last invasion of Lebanon, where thousands were killed and displaced, and the airport and major infrastructure destroyed, was Israel’s reaction to the kidnapping of a few of its soldiers. It was Israel that created the conditions for Hamas to appear, and yet Israel apparently is blind to the hostility it creates by its “disproportionate” actions, creating enemies not allies in the region. British political leadership has, in recent years, refused to utter the word “disproportionate”. …Israel is a secular state with many different shades of Judaism within it. If secular Zionism still claims a right to the land, over the Palestinians, then it should take the morality in its history more seriously. The possession of the land “flowing with milk and honey”, achieved through the conquest and destruction of other peoples, came from a sense of promise, calling and responsibility combined. It is that responsibility “to be a light to lighten the nations” which the actions of modern Israel has so discredited.’
At several locations online there’s an impressive essay on Christian antisemitism written in 2009 by Mike Fryer, a sterling pro-Israel clergyman from Mold, Flintshire, and I’d like to quote you a few paragraphs from it (but do read it all), as they capture so well what is transpiring:
‘Many in Christendom today are using charity and good works to re-enforce in the minds of many Muslim fundamentalists that Islam has the right and even a duty to take land from the Jewish people and establish a homeland for themselves. They are referring to land, which the Jewish people by right, by international law and by religion are entitled to possess.
“Christian” organizations such as Sabeel and Christian Aid speak openly in favor of a Palestinian homeland and use terms such as an “oppressive Israel regime” and “Israeli Occupation”; Church denominations such as the Church in Wales, the Anglican Communion, Methodists and Presbyterians have all spoken of divestment of Israel and support the Palestinian cause to create another state within the confines of the land of Israel. These and many other church organizations, such as the Vineyard, are encouraging governments to negotiate with terrorists … [and] have eagerly moved away from the term antisemitism and now use the term anti-Zionism. What is the difference? By using the former you can be called a racist and prosecuted but the term anti-Zionism is not perceived in the same way and although it means the same it is, in this current political climate, “acceptable”.’
‘In the town in which I live an anti-Israel play was performed at our local theatre. I led some other Christians for Zion supporters as we stood at the door to the theater and gave out leaflets, not criticizing anyone but stating facts. Many local church leaders and Christian groups attended the play and were obviously opposed to our stance. We found it difficult that many who teach from their pulpits that we are always to seek truth actually ignored the truths in our message….
Three years ago I attended a meeting at which a Church in Wales canon was speaking about the situation in Israel. There were a number of clergy present, none of whom knew me. I listened to lie after lie encouraging the audience to sympathize with Islam and the Palestinian people, and to see Israel as an aggressive regime, hell bent on persecuting the Palestinian people. At the end of the presentation there was a time for questions. At the conclusion of a stream of pro-Palestinian questions, I asked some pertinent questions which showed that the speaker was aware that he was not telling the truth about the actual matters he was referring to. The meeting was immediately stopped and worried clergy, thinking I was a journalist surrounded me in an effort to find out what the purpose of my attendance was.’
Luckily, there are those engaged in a fightback, including that splendid organisation, Anglican Friends of Israel, which has issued a ringing denunciation of Canon Morrison’s shameful outburst and which itemised the church’s shenanigans in a report dated 18 January this year, entitled “A Purged Jesus in the Church in Wales?” “The Scriptures themselves say that ‘Salvation comes from the Jews’, the report concluded, “and senior figures in the Church of Wales might reflect on whether they are in danger of uprooting Jesus from the Jewish soil which bore Him.” “We cannot afford to stand by in our churches and allow Israel to be ignored, abused or opposed by a twisted or misinterpreted theology,” says the Rev. Fryer. “We cannot stand by whilst ministers in Christian churches or Christian organisations encourage and fund a concerted effort to destroy Israel and those who support her.”