Special Report

Anglican Shame

The church's General Synod has taken a stand! Divestment from Israel.

By 2.28.06

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With impeccable timing, the British Anglican General Synod -- the Anglican Church's highest governing body -- has voted for a campaign of economic attacks on Israel just as Hamas is settling into power.

The General Synod resolved to disinvest in "all companies profiting from the illegal occupation." Singled out is Caterpillar tractors, whose machinery has been used to build Israel's security wall and to level buildings suspected of being used by terrorists. (It apparently escaped the General Synod's notice that Caterpillar machinery is also used by the Palestinians.) The Church Commissioners hold about $3.65 million in Caterpillar.

The subtext behind this is that it is illegitimate for Israelis -- or, let us be frank, Jews -- to try to defend themselves from terrorism. Dr. Irene Lancaster, of the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University, said the vote marked "a very black day for Anglo-Jewish relations... The writing is on the wall for the Jews of Great Britain, 350 years after they settled here."

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, normally the most gentle and diplomatic of men, told the Jerusalem Post that the vote made him "ashamed to be an Anglican." Lord Carey previously warned that such a policy would "disastrous" for peace efforts in the region. He said Israelis already felt traumatized by attacks on them and this would be "another knife in the back." The chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, the Rt. Rev. Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St. Albans, also attacked the vote as "unbalanced." A counter-motion by pro-Israeli Anglicans was not allowed to be put.

The present Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, supported the vote, but the second most senior Archbishop, John Sentamu of York, abstained. Bewilderingly, Williams then apologized to the British Chief Rabbi, regretting the vote which he had supported as "specially unfortunate... at a time when, as we are well aware, anti-Semitism in a growing menace and the State of Israel faces some very particular challenges." That, I suppose, is Anglicanism for you.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev. John Gladwin, said Christians in Palestine were in despair. Although recent reports have indicated a high level of Muslim persecution of Christians in Israel, Bishop Gladwin blamed the Israeli government for their plight.

Bryan Reuben, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Technology at London South Bank University, wrote in the (London) Times of 21 February: "Where are the protests about the banning of churches in Saudi Arabia; about the destruction of Taibe, a West Bank Christian Village, by Palestinian Arabs; about the persecution of Burmese Christians, and so on? What about divesting from the firms supplying the bulldozers that Robert Mugabe uses to destroy Zimbabwean villages?"

Numerous statements have been put out by various church bodies attacking Israel security measures with no criticism of terrorism against Israel or with weasel-word attempts to justify it, like the Anglican Peace and Justice Network's statement that "it is the Occupation in its many facets that foments violence and fuels the conflict," as though Israel is to blame if Hamas fits out brainwashed children as suicide-bombers.

To emphasize further the brilliant timing of the general synod, an all-party Parliamentary committee inquiring into anti-Semitism in Britain has just begun hearing evidence. Henry Grunewald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said anti-Semitism had increased since 9/11 and "it's worse in some ways than at any time since Jews have lived here." The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain has doubled in the past five years, a period that has seen literally thousands of terrorist attacks on Israel.

The temper of the times -- and the peril facing the people of Israel -- is indicated not only by the murder of Jews in France and elsewhere and the international Cartoon Jihad (in which Williams apparently supported the Islamicist position, claiming the cartoons "cast a shadow over Christian-Muslim relations"), but also by the fact that a recent poll of British Muslims found that two-fifths regard Jewish civilians as legitimate targets. Abu Hamza, recently and very belatedly jailed for inciting murder and race-hatred, has claimed: "We do not want Jews to pull away from Palestine, we want them to be buried there," with "their skulls and bodies" used as landfill under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. British poet and Oxford don Tom Paulin called for the killing of Jews on the West Bank, claiming in an Egyptian paper: "I think they should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists and I feel nothing but hatred for them," and that "I never believed Israel had the right to exist at all." Paulin continued after this to be a regular contributor on BBC2's "Newsnight Review" arts program. There have been several cases of students and others being refused admission or publication by British academic institutions for the simple -- and admitted! -- reason that they were Israelis or Jews.

Oxford University simultaneously held an anti-Semitic "Israel Apartheid Week," hosted by the Palestinian Society (not a registered University society, and which was acting illegally in using the University's name), sanctioned by the University's Student Union. Flyers stated it was to commemorate the "30th anniversary of the international convention for the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid." Posters put out to publicize the festival showed Israeli soldiers beating a Palestinian man with maps of Israel (described as Palestine) and South Africa. The festival's themes were Apartheid and Zionism, divestment and resistance. Despite protests by Jewish students, university authorities failed to intervene, thus condoning the intimidation which many Jewish students obviously felt.

Mark Steyn has quoted Paul Oestreicher, Anglican chaplain of the University of Sussex: "I cannot listen calmly when an Iranian president talks of wiping out Israel. Jewish fears go deep. They are not irrational. But I cannot listen calmly either when a great many citizens of Israel think and speak of Palestinians in the way a great many Germans thought and spoke about Jews when I was one of them and had to flee."

This suggests, as Steyn points out, a kind of moral equivalence between building a defensive security wall to protect civilians from terrorism and threatening to launch a nuclear Armageddon. Archbishop Carey is right to feel shame for his church.

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.