Saturday, May 23, 2009

Palestinian rights deserve Anglican action

P U L S E has a post up (by David Thomson) commenting on an opinion column from Thursday, May 21, by Ben White, a regular contributor to the Guardian's Cif/belief. (Ben White has also written for the Anglican website, Fulcrum.) I had to chuckle at the comments on Mr White's Guardian piece. Ben White takes on "even handedness" of Anglicans [that typically Anglican - and sometimes maddeningly frustrating - "via media" approach to any theological, political or cultural controversy] regarding resolutions on Israel-Palestine at the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting. Mr Thomson sees the heavy-handed influence of a pro-Zionist right-wing organisation in the Anglican Communion which has campaigned vigorously against Anglican efforts to promote divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel.
Ben White writes that “a obsession with even-handedness is stopping Anglicans taking a firm stand on Israel’s disregard for Palestinian rights.”

However I’d argue that the obsession with even-handedness is not a cause but an effect — an effect of paranoia induced by the Israel lobby, strongly represented in the Anglican community by Anglican Friends of Israel.

This group spread the fear that criticising Israel will damage relations with the Jewish community, even if this were so, should it stop the church’s quest for justice? They also use ‘anti-Semitism’ (or Judeophobia) and therefore the Holocaust, to create an atmosphere of intimidation saying Anglican peace activists are “singling out” Israel (thus implying there is no good reason to criticise Israel and the reason must be anti-Jewish racism). No individual or organisation wants to be threatened with anti-Semitism and have themselves compared to some of the worst criminals in history.

It’s sad that these tired old tricks are still accepted and work as a distraction from the real issues of colonialism, occupation, international law, basic morality and justice.
At the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting, held in Jamaica earlier this month, a resolution on the Middle East was passed, criticising the Israeli occupation. An original version of the resolution was originally submitted by the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN)[JayV: APJN website], but as the language was felt by some to be too “strong”, a new resolution was put forward and adopted.

The resolution staked out a position based on international law, a rejection of violence as a means of conflict resolution, and opposition to Israel’s occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian territories.

It also called for a “two state solution”, and “lamented” the fact that Israeli policies in the West Bank “have created severe hardship for many Palestinians” and are “experienced as a physical form of apartheid”. There was an affirmation that a “just peace must guarantee the security and territorial integrity of both Israel and the future state of Palestine so that all the people of the area can live in peace and prosperity.”

For some, however, this call for two states living side by side – a state of affairs that would necessarily require one party to stop its domination of the other – was a cause for “dismay”. Anglican Friends of Israel released a statement (faithfully reproduced by The Times’s religion correspondent) which regretted how “once again”, Anglicans had “singled out Israel for criticism” without any “context” or taking into account “the Palestinian contribution to the conflict”.

Where the resolution condemned illegal policies like settlement building, the ICJ-condemned separation wall, and house demolitions, Anglican Friends for Israel saw a call for Israel to “lay down all measures which protect her citizens from Arab terrorism”. Apparently, not even Palestinian “interests” are served by such a “ghastly pronouncement”, which, the statement warned, “threatens to completely sabotage Anglican-Jewish relations”.

The resolution, passed “overwhelmingly”, was publicly backed by a number of those present, including the Anglican Church of Southern Africa Archbishop Thabo Makogba, who told the council how he had “lived under apartheid” and knew its “pain”. He went on to describe seeing the “‘the brutality’ in the West Bank and Gaza that ’segregates God’s people’.”

The original wording submitted by APJN had been specifically criticised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who took particular issue with “a section that ‘condemns the judaisation of the city (of Jerusalem) by the government of Israel”. The Archbishop was reported as saying that “judaisation is a word that I cannot, in conscience, accept”, since “it equates ‘the political machinations of the Israeli government’ with the people of faith in Jewish society”.

That there is a deliberate policy of judaisation in Jerusalem is not a secret in Israel; politicians and policy-makers routinely talk of strengthening the “Jewish character” of the city (and other areas too for that matter).

So in fact then, while Williams is right to critique the conflation of the Israeli state’s policies with “people of faith in Jewish society”, his target should be that very same Israeli state which in the name of Jews worldwide maintains a regime of racial exclusion.

The archbishop’s other concern, according to the same report, was to avoid saying anything in such as a way as to “jeopardise the Anglican Communion’s dialogue with the Rabbinate”. This was a worry also taken up by others, including the coordinator of the Anglican Communion Office’s Network for Interfaith Concerns, who helped produce the alternative resolution that was eventually passed.

The Anglican Church has trodden an uneasy path in recent years when it comes to words and actions on Israel/Palestine. Despite recommendations by the APJN to pursue divestment as means of opposing Israel’s occupation, this has never been followed through.

While many individual church members and ministers across the worldwide communion are active in working for a just peace in the Middle East, the senior leadership is typically shy of going much beyond hand-wringing statements of sorrow and “even-handed” reproach.

It is unfortunate that the division, such as in the case of this recent ACC resolution, is often expressed in terms of those seeking stronger expressions of protest over the Israeli occupation against those seeking to avoid tension in Jewish-Christian relations.

The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, of course. But even when these worries about interfaith dialogue are sincere (rather than a disingenuous smokescreen), how long can they hamstring serious action by the Anglican Communion in the face of Israel’s entrenched – and worsening – disregard for basic Palestinian political and human rights?
Cross-posted at Antemedius.

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