Rev. Stephen Sizer speaks at antisemitic conference in Iran

Cross posted from the blog of The CST

The Rev Stephen Sizer is a Church of England vicar with a long record of anti-Israel activity. In 2012 the Board of Deputies made a formal complaint to the Church of England about allegations that Sizer had used his website to link to antisemitic material from other websites. This complaint was resolved through mediation and a Conciliation Agreement was accepted by both parties, which included Sizer accepting that “on occasions his use of language has caused offence to some and agrees that he should have reflected on his choice of words more carefully.” Sizer also stated:

I care passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders. I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial as well as Islamophobia and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination and will continue to do so.

Sizer’s presence at an antisemitic conference in Iran this week brings into question whether he is honouring the spirit of this Conciliation Agreement in good faith.

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A wall is not equivalent to a suicide bomber: Denis MacEoin responds to Bethlehem Unwrapped

The following essay was written by Denis MacEeoin and originally posted at Gatestone Institute.

There has been an enormous uproar over the decision by the Church of St. James at Piccadilly to erect a mock version of a wall that is part of Israel’s security barrier around the West Bank. The barrier is seen in black-and-white, politically biased terms, something that has become commonplace among politically motivated Christians in the UK, for whom there is only one narrative in the Middle East, namely the Palestinian narrative.

The attack on Israel that it represents is high-minded, inarticulate, and without compassion for the Jewish people. It is also without compassion for those Christians who live in the West Bank and are attacked, persecuted, and expelled by their Muslim neighbours: an outrage St. James’s and its clerics fail to address.

Visitors to the festival inscribe their messages on the replica wall at St. James Church, London.

Visitors to the festival inscribe their messages on the replica wall at St. James Church, London.

The Christians who berate Israel in this fashion have two biases. First, they seem to be in favor of a style of Christianity that takes Christ’s vocation for the poor — a value that has led to so much good throughout history — and blends it with political strategies that may sound well-intended, but that often harbor dark and corrosive side-effects.

It has for some time seemed natural to many Christians to follow a political path that disparages the norms of stable society by taking decent liberal values to extremes: a hatred for colonialism that has led to a wider hatred of the West and its values, a love for the Third World that results in turning a blind eye to things such as honor killings and executions for apostasy, and a concerted hatred for Israel that slips all too easily into anti-Semitism in a bizarre reflection of the far right.

What it adds up to is a striving for political correctness above all other values.

Where well-intentioned yet dangerous strategies lead, some Christians (and others) follow all too eagerly. Thus, Israel is condemned as an oppressive “colonialist” state, as an “apartheid” state, even as a “Nazi state,” and actions that are in fact defensive are interpreted as hate-driven persecution of an innocent, harmless people who have done nothing to deserve the predicament in which they find themselves.

The second bias is more disturbing. The man behind the St. James Wall is none other than Stephen Sizer, an Anglican clergyman who has become obsessed with the wrongs of Israel. The church-based group he founded, Sabeel (Arabic for “path”), pursues his doctrine of supercessionism.

Supersessionism, which has an ignoble history in the Christian churches, is the doctrine that God has finished with the Jews, that the Covenant he made with them has been superseded through a new Covenant with Christ. Whatever its value as a theological concept, when supercessionism is allied with the sort of “far-left” political thought we have looked at above, it creates a particularly unpleasant form of anti-Semitism. If the Jews have been abandoned by God, it goes, they have no rights on this earth. Above all, their claim to the Holy Land is spurious and must be resisted. Curiously, what the Christians who oppose Jewish rights in Israel are actually doing is to endorse the Muslim belief that all the land belongs to them — by right of conquest. But Muslim persecution of Christians, Jews, Baha’is and others across the Middle East, is all right.

The Wall expresses this supercessionist philosophy very well. It is no good to argue with the anti-Israel crowd that the barrier saves lives, that it has already saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives. If the Palestinians are hurting, they will say, and are being prevented from launching terror attacks that will kill innocent Israeli men, women, and children, then every last inch of the barrier must be torn down, for nothing should stand in the way of the Palestinian freedom to kill and maim, least of all Jews.

Just over a year ago, after a Christian conference on Israel and the Palestinians, I wrote a long report that showed the prejudice that ran right through the proceedings. One speaker made an impression on me. She belonged to EAPPI, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel, which takes visitors to the West Bank and gives them a pro-Palestinian story. This woman spoke for half-an-hour on the checkpoints manned by Israeli troops in the West Bank. Having lived some of the time in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I know a bit about checkpoints. The EAPPI speaker complained that these checkpoints should be torn down, like the Wall. No-one challenged her by pointing out the number of times when Palestinian terrorists tried to go through checkpoints with weapons and suicide belts. What did this woman want? More dead Jews? Because that is what any dismantling of checkpoints would lead to.

There is a constant problem for those of us who provide information in support of Israel, and it strikes me as the reflection of a deep moral emptiness: How often do we point out that there are countries all round the world that carry out human rights abuses on a grand scale, and that Israel, by comparison, is a model democracy that is only forced to take action to defend the country and to save Israeli lives. No one ever seems to understand what that is about. The answer is usually along the lines of, “Just because other countries are worse doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protest about Israel.” (They might add, “and that empowers us to ignore what goes on in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China or any of those other countries we aren’t interested in.”)

St. James’s officials hold radical perspectives on many issues, using a range of liberation theologies to bolster their position. Much of this is commendable, such as the value they place on black people, women, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. But it seems at times that the motive for such support may be less Christian charity and more a need to be politically correct in their politics.

One of Israel’s great achievements is the way it has become the only country in the Middle East (and beyond) where gay men and women are safe from attacks, imprisonment, torture or execution. We often refer to this as a sign that Israel is a democratic, tolerant society, like anywhere in Europe or North America. It is a justifiable cause for pride in a country surrounded by states that condemn all homosexuals as criminals. But put this to anyone who takes a pro-Palestinian line and they might tell you this is just “pinkwashing,” which is to say that Israel pretends to be tolerant in order to whitewash its crimes towards the Palestinians, that their concern for minorities is not genuine.

In other words, whatever Israel does, it cannot win. It can never be granted the benefit of the doubt. It must always be wrong, whatever its actions: To defend itself against terror attacks is aggression against innocent people. To build a wall and fence that save lives has nothing to do with self-defense, but is designed as part of a creeping occupation of Palestinian territory. Whatever the Biblical record, Christians acquiesce in the Palestinian claim that there were never Jews in the Middle East, that they are all European immigrants who arrived holding machine guns, that there was never a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount (not even the one Jesus visited), that Palestinians — who did not exist by that name until the establishment of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1920 and who arrived in the Levant in 637 with the Arab invasions after Muhammad — have lived on the land for 9000 years.

Again, I am moved to suggest that Christians who believe such nonsense are motivated, not by the Bible text or by Biblical archaeology, but by a need to see the Palestinian people as dispossessed, vulnerable denizens of a land they have tilled and pastured on for millennia, and to see the Jews in every possible light of infamy, stealing with bloodied hands the treasures of Israel’s true and ancient inhabitants; the builders of barriers, not bridges; Christ killers; and the inhabitants of the world’s most criminal state — perhaps the world’s only truly criminal state.

In Europe, anti-Semitism reaches new heights every year. Most Jews have fled from Norway, others are leaving Sweden, Denmark, France and the UK in growing numbers. In Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and elsewhere, “far-right” parties have become major players in politics. The “far right” is typically racist, anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-Semitic, often modelling itself explicitly on the Nazis or Mussolini’s fascists. When did St. James or Stephen Sizer last hold an event to protest this deep evil, this resurgence of fascism and Jew-hatred in the lifetime of the last survivors of the Holocaust?

The Jewish experience in Europe is starting to approach the level of anti-Semitism found there before the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany. Isn’t that something to preach about from the pulpit? But Christians of many varieties do not speak out about this resurgence of one of the greatest evils to befall mankind. They prefer to tell obvious lies — Christians are safe in Muslim countries, but endangered in Israel; Israel is an “apartheid state”; Bethlehem has been “surrounded” by the security barrier; Israelis deliberately kill Palestinian children; life would be better if suicide bombers could gain free access to Israel) — and to let radical “far-left” politics define who and what they are as Christians.

During the Second World War, nineteen thousand of Christians risked (and gave) their lives to provide safety and security to Jews threatened with death by Hitler’s merciless machine of destruction. Such noble individuals have been known as the “Righteous among the Nations” and have been honored by Israel as such. Martin Gilbert has written a book about them, The Righteous. But many of today’s Christians show no understanding of the morality that inspired their predecessors. Today, Jews are the victims of persecution once again, and in Israel they face the threat of a second Holocaust. Yet so-called Christians have allied themselves with the sworn enemies of the Jews. They want to pull down a barrier that has a track record in saving Jewish lives, and if they should ever succeed, anti-Semitic killers will start to work their way into the places where they plan to bring death and disability to who works or plays or eats or drinks or dances or sings or studies or worships or teaches or heals or writes poetry or serves with the army or writes books of great erudition, or walks or runs or flies. Terrorists I can understand. But Christians who actively help them?

Christians have many vocations, and St. James Church illustrates this in bold and incisive ways. But one vocation seems to have been lost: the vocation to tell the truth, to use Christian morality as a measure for all other judgements. The clergy and congregants of St. James have open and tolerant hearts, yet not, it seems, for Jews or Israelis. They have trapped themselves within a single, immoral narrative that exalts and venerates Palestinians above other suffering people elsewhere, and that fails to distinguish between Palestinians who suffer from the conflict and those whose hate for Jews drives a cycle of violence that hurts both Israelis and their own people. They lack a moral compass by which to choose between right and wrong. A wall, however oppressive, is not equivalent to a bomb aboard a crowded bus.

The West Bank barrier is only one of over 30 walls and fences round the world. Most of those are also anti-terror fences. Some are electrified and have killed many people — over 4000 in one instance, the barrier between Ceuta and Morocco. The long North Korean barrier is policed by two million soldiers. Yet St. James does not build mock-ups of any of these walls, nor does it preach about the deaths they cause. The clergy at St. James just concentrate on part of a security barrier that has saved lives. Shame on them for their blatant hypocrisy coupled with the assumption of moral superiority. Shame on them for their adroit negotiation of meaning, portraying themselves as champions of human rights while they show a streak of anti-Semitism in their routine assignment of evil only to the Jewish state.

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Are Jews Still Persecuted in Britain Today? Richard Millett on 4ThoughtTV

The following is cross posted at Richard Millett‘s blog

(Editor’s note: Millett was asked to contribute to the following program due, in part, to his affiliation with CiF Watch.)

Tonight at 7.55pm (GMT) on Channel 4 I am in 4ThoughtTV’s slot on whether Jews are still persecuted in Britain today, which is the theme of the week.

millett

There are seven contributions in all. Here is the link to mine and the other six:

http://www.4thought.tv/themes/are-jews-still-persecuted-in-britain-today/richard-millett?autoplay=true

1. I spoke about my experiences of harassment at anti-Israel events when I have merely tried to get Israel’s point of view across.

2. Stephen Sizer is an anti-Israel/anti-Zionist Christian Minister. I once went to hear him speak at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign event held in a church. He said, inter alia, that churches that side with Israel have “repudiated Jesus, have repudiated the bible and are an abomination”. On my way out of that meeting I was accosted by an audience member who let out some of the most Holocaust denying anti-Jewish vitriol I have ever heard. She told me, inter alia, that Jews died in the Holocaust from having “had their foreskins chopped off.”

In his 4Thought clip Sizer claims it’s important to be able to criticise certain Israeli policies without being accused of anti-Semitism. Let’s be clear: criticising Israel’s policies is legitimate, just like it is legitimate to criticise the policies of any country.

Sizer and his ilk are accused of anti-Semitism because they want the world’s only Jewish state to disappear. This is completely different to criticising Israel’s policies. Instead, they single out the Jewish state, the collective Jew, for destruction. So, Sizer is being highly disingenuous. If he were truthful he would have admitted he wants the Jewish state removed.

3. Another who wants the Jewish state removed is Ahron Cohen, of the extremist religious Jewish sect the Neturei Karta which believes that Jews should only go to the Holy Land once they have received a direct order from God to do so. The Neturei Karta also embraces Iran’s Holocaust denying President Ahmadinejad who repeatedly calls for the destruction of Israel. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has referred to Israel as “the Zionist cancerous tumour in the heart of the Islamic world”.

In his clip, Cohen blames Palestinian terrorism “on the very existence of the sectarian state known as Israel”.

4. Mike Marcus has also fallen for the myth that “The Zionist lobby uses the label of anti-Semitism to silence their critics”.

5. Jose Martin correctly blames the media for whipping up anti-Semitism due to its unfair reportage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

6. Yisrael Abeles, a Holocaust survivor, also blames the media for driving much of what has, these days, become “institutionalised anti-Semitism” as opposed to street anti-Semitism.

7. The most moving clip is by schoolgirl Eden Simones-Jones who says that she still suffers from depression and anxiety due to anti-Semitic harassment. She finishes:

“If people say there is no problem with anti-Semitism, I think they should wake-up, open their eyes and really look about what’s going out there because they’re obviously sheltered in their own little dreamland where everything’s rosy, because anti-Semitism’s everywhere. You’ve just got to know what to look for.”

Sadly, she’s right. Anti-Semitism is everywhere. In Britain today anti-Zionism, an attack on Israel as the collective Jew, is the modern updated version of anti-Semitism, the attack on Jews as individuals. “Anti-Zionism” is a label that has been adopted by many of Britain’s  academics, journalists, politicians, religious leaders and charities to hide their true feelings about Jews. This is the “institutionalised anti-Semitism” referred to by Yisrael Abeles.

Easter in Jerusalem: reality and myth.

A guest post by Hadar Sela

Roman Catholics at Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Photo: AFP)

How unfortunate it is that participants in last month’s ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ conference in Bethlehem such as Stephen Sizer and Ben White did not extend their stay. What a pity it is too that the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ folks didn’t hang around a little longer.

Had they done so, they would have had to confront the fact that despite GMJ organiser Sarah Marusek’s off the wall claims about “limitations on Christians and Muslims from accessing holy sites” in Jerusalem, thousands of Christians are currently celebrating Easter in the city including – for the first time in years – Egyptian Copts.

The latter were apparently prevented from worshipping at the St. Helena Chapel (the Egyptian part of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher) – although by church officials, not by Israeli authorities, so we will probably not be seeing any headlines on that subject in the ‘progressive’ Western media.

Ben White – a denier of Islamist persecution of Palestinian Christians – and his fellow Sabeel star turn and promoter of the ‘Israeli apartheid’ myth Stephen Sizer would have had to somehow explain away Israel’s provision of entry into the country to 500 Christians from Hamas-controlled Gaza and a further 20,000 from the PA-controlled territories in order to enable them to celebrate their holiday.  

Would such a confrontation with reality have made a difference to the style and content of the rhetoric spouted by people such as Marusek, White and Sizer? Probably not.

After all, Sizer is one of the authors of the ‘Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto’ which  – inter alia – provides the magical ‘get out of jail free’ card in the form of the statement that “[c]riticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel”.

But at least the rest of us can be sure that just about the last subject of concern for the Whites, Sizers and Maruseks of this world is the right of people of all faiths in the Middle East to freedom of worship. 

  • Christians celebrate Easter in Jerusalem (ynet.com)

The faux Zionist history of Ilan Pappé

A guest post by Dexter Van Zile 

Ali Abunimah, Ilan Pappe, and Sophia Deeg

By now, it’s reasonable to conclude that famed revisionist historian Ilan Pappé has transgressed the sacred ground between quotation marks by inventing a quote and attributing it to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion. It’s also reasonable to conclude that his publisher, Oneworld Publications and his colleagues at the University of Exeter will fail to hold him account for his actions.

The quote in question appeared in an article Pappé wrote for the Autumn 2006 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies and in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications) that came out a few weeks later. In these texts, Pappé reported that in a 1937 letter to his son, Ben-Gurion declared:

“The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as war.”

Historian Benny Morris declared that the quote was an invention in December 2006. He did not challenge Pappé directly, but journalist Johan Hari used the quote to assail Israel in a commentary that appeared in The Independent soon after it appeared in print twice under Pappé’s name.

In declaring the quote an invention, Morris was on solid ground. The quote does not appear in any of the references that Pappé cited for it. In Ethnic Cleansing, Pappé cites the July 12, 1937 entry in Ben-Gurion’s journal and page 220 of the August-September issue of New Judea, a newsletter published by the World Zionist Organization. The quote appears nowhere in these texts, nor does it appear in the source he references in the article appearing in the Journal of Palestine Studies, a book by Charles D. Smith.

Morris’ statement that the quote attributed to Ben-Gurion was an “invention” should have prompted Pappé to either provide an accurate, verifiable source for the quote or to issue a retraction to prevent others from using it. Instead, the quote lingered on – without correction or retraction – in the fever swamp of anti-Zionist commentary.

It eventually made its way into With God on Our Side, an anti-Israel documentary produced by Porter Speakman, Jr. in 2010. (One of the main commentators in this movie is Rev. Stephen Sizer. Sizer is well known to readers of CIF Watch, Harry’s Place, Seismic Shock and to fans of his appearances on Iranian state television.)

To his credit, Speakman was the first person to issue a correction regarding the quote. After challenges from CAMERA, Speakman acknowledged that the quote in question did not appear in the original sources that Pappé cited and stated it would not appear in future editions of the movie 

It took a few months for Speakman to finally respond to a factual challenge, but he did the right thing. And to its credit, the Journal of Palestine Studies is taking a closer look at Pappé’s 2006 article, but is apparently having a tough time getting a hold of the historian himself.

This is no surprise. Pappé has ignored repeated inquires from CAMERA about the quote.

Pappé’s silence on this matter is inexcusable.

Six years on, it’s time for an accounting.

Pappé needs to admit the quote is a fake, or pull a rabbit out of a hat and provide an actual, verifiable source for the statement he attributed to David Ben-Gurion.

The space between quotation marks is sacred ground and needs to be treated as such.

If Pappé does not come clean, his colleagues at the University of Exeter need to challenge him to do, as do his publishers at Oneworld Publications, which needs to expunge this quote from its text.

To fail to do so would indicate the publishing house seeks to profit from a fabrication.

Dexter Van Zile is a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Current-day antisemitism obsessed with concept of Jews as the chosen people

This is cross posted at Ynet by Giulio Meotti, and helps contextualize a recent Guardian piece by Deborah Orr (which CiF Watch commented on here & here).

“Jews everywhere, and especially in Israel, pushing hard for keeping their “chosen people” pure, while they push for “multiculturalism” and mixing of races everywhere else  on the planet.  Why can’t people see this sick and twisted game that they are playing on non-Jews everywhere?” – David Duke

The malignant use of the expression “chosen Jews” is recurring in the latest attacks on Israel made by secular intellectuals, archbishops, mainstream journalists and European politicians.

Such vilification inspired historical waves of violence, like the pogroms, the expulsion of the Spanish Jews and Martin Luther’s demonology (the founder of Protestantism argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people but instead “the Devil’s people.”)

“Modern-day Jews are not God’s chosen people,” the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, declared recently in a meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter. “Do not believe their claims that they are God’s chosen people, because it is not true.”

It is no longer only Syria that aired a movie against the “Chosen Jews” or the former prime minister of Malaysia, Mohammad Mahathir, who warned that “the Jews must never think they are the chosen people.” The obsession for this issue now widely appears in the latest indictments of Israel as an “apartheid state” and in the legal campaigns against the Law of Return.

Recently, Stephen Sizer, a leading British theologian, released a declaration to support the UN Palestinian bid: “The New Testament insists the promises God made to Abraham are fulfilled not in the Jewish people but in Jesus and those who acknowledge him.” According to Sizer, the Jewish covenant with God is “rubbish.”

Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, a cleric chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to draft the conclusions of the synod on the Middle East, declared that “there is no longer a Jewish chosen people,” resurrecting the ancient calumny that the Jews are damned for all time as cosmic exiles. Elias Chacour, the Vatican-approved Catholic Archbishop of Israel, says that “we do not believe anymore that the Jews are the Chosen People.”

Many anti-Semitic comments are based on the concept of Jews as the chosen people. “All Jews share a particular gene, that makes them different from other peoples,” recently declared German central bank executive Thilo Sarrazin. Christina Patterson attacked the Jews in a column for The Independent: “I didn’t realize that a purchase by a goy was a crime to be punished with monosyllabic terseness, or that bus seats were a potential source of contamination, or that road signs, and parking restrictions, were for people who hadn’t been chosen by God.”

‘We call it racism’

Meanwhile, acclaimed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis told an interviewer that “today it is possible to say that this small nation is the root of all evil; it is full of self-importance and evil stubbornness.” Asked by his interlocutor, “what is it that holds us Jews together?” Theodorakis replied, “It is the feeling that you are the children of God. That you are the chosen.”

Elsewhere, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, a former Belgian foreign minister, recently blamed the “Jewish lobby” and said that “there is indeed a belief – it’s difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right.” De Gucht’s target was the Jews, not Israeli policies.

Jostein Gaarder, author of the literary bestseller Sophie’s World, published an op-ed titled “God’s chosen people” in the Aftenposten, one of Norway’s major newspapers, in which he declared that Israel has lost its right to exist: “We no longer recognize the state of Israel….We don’t believe in the idea of God’s chosen people….To present oneself as God’s chosen people is not just stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity. We call it racism.”

José Saramago, the Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize laureate, described the Jews in perfervid terms as “contaminated by the monstrous and rooted ‘certitude’ that in this catastrophic and absurd world there exists a people chosen by God and that, consequently, all the actions of an obsessive, psychological, and pathological exclusivist racism are justified.”

The plot of celebrated British playwright Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children,” which got much acclaim at London’s Royal Court Theater, is built on the Jewish obsession. Churchill’s short play unfolds over seven scenes, beginning, dimly, sometime during the Holocaust and concluding with Israel’s wars. Characters appear as parents of an offstage child, and the dialogue revolves around what the girl should or should not know about her political circumstances as they unfold over the decades.

“Tell her”, says one of the play’s Zionist elders, “I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out . . . tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people.”

This is the same delusional lexicon of medieval Jew-hatred. Taken to its logical end, this language suggests that there is only one price the Jews can pay for being accepted by the world: Israel’s elimination. Indeed, this worldwide condemns the Jews to homelessness and humiliation, chosen to walk the earth alone until the end of the days. 

Antisemites, terror supporters, & Holocaust deniers: aka, just another Palestinian Solidarity event

Richard Millett’s recent post, Sizer, the Rivercourt Methodist Church and Holocaust Denial” should be read in its entirety to see how depraved discourse by anti-Israel activists in the UK has become, but here are a few highlights from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign event that Millett attended.  

The event was held by the West London Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Due to speak were Reverend Stephen Sizer, Arthur Goodman (Jews for Justice for Palestinians), Linda Ramsden (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) and Daud Abdullah (of Middle East Monitor, and CiF contributor). Ghada Karmi (a one-state solution proponent and CiF contributor) couldn’t make it, so was replaced by a “member” of Anarchists Against the Wall.

Director of the pro-Hamas Middle East Monitor, and occasional CiF contributor,Daud Abdullah

Rev. Stephen Sizer, who has a habit of associating with Holocaust Deniers, notorious antisemites, and Islamists who support terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, said that church leaders refuse to speak out about Israel’s crimes because of “guilt for the Holocaust and fear of anti-Semitism”.  Sizer further added that churches which side with “the occupation” and Zionism have “repudiated Jesus, have repudiated the bible and are an abomination”

Millett also writes:

At the end of the event Jonathan Hoffman persuaded me to stand outside the church with him to hand out pro-Israel leaflets to the congregants as they left the church. It was a futile gesture and all it did was encourage someone who called herself “Jane Green” to tell us that there weren’t any gas chambers in the Holocaust, that the Jews had instead died having had their foreskins chopped off, that only a couple of hundred thousand Jews died in the Holocaust, that the Jews are using the Holocaust to commit genocide against the Palestinians and that all the Jews in Israel are total Nazis, as you can hear here:

This is the hatred that the anti-Israel movement engenders: a coalition which includes Christian inspired antisemitism, Sizer, Islamists who support terror attacks against Israeli civilians, Abdullah, and a PSC groupie who denies the Holocaust and thinks Israeli Jews are Nazis.  

That two of the scheduled speakers at this hate fest have been given a platform by the Guardian comes as no surprise.  

To turn an axiom coined by liberal Jewish pundit Peter Beinart around, it is simply undeniable that the pro-Palestinian camp increasingly demands that adherents to their cause leave any semblance of liberalism at the door. 

Beyond Belief: Political Propaganda in the Anglican Church.

A while ago, Elder of Ziyon published an article well worth a re-read in which he explained why these commonly found maps are both inaccurate and deliberately misleading. 

(By the way, here is the much more relevant map, which Elder created and posted, illustrating how much land Israel has given away, since ’67, for the sake of peace:)

Commonly found they indeed are, but I for one did not realise just how broad their spread has been on the internet until I decided to try to find their origins. These maps, usually entitled “Palestinian loss of land 1946 – 2000″ get 2,800,000 search results on Google. They appear on neo-Nazi forums (to which I will not link), on the English language website of Hamas’ Izz a Din al Qassam brigades, on the sites of various ‘peace campaigners’ such as ‘Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel‘ and on some new-age hippy sites. They can be found on Greek, Swedish, Irish and Malaysian sites among others and are  promoted by Canadian 9/11 ‘truthers’ and the Evangelical Lutherian Church in America. They are advertised for sale on the internet in post-card form by both ‘Friends of Sabeel North America’ and the Ann Arbour Quakers.

They also appear on this Palestinian website where they are accredited to the University of Bethlehem with a 2006 copyright date.  So, is the University of Bethlehem their point of origin? That seems unlikely because on the ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’ website, where the maps are also used, they are accredited to one Tim Biles and said to be taken from his book “A Puppy Dies: And Other Stories from the Holy Land”. The book was published in 2003 and that was the earliest reference I was able to find to these maps.

So who is Tim Biles? Well, actually his full title is the Reverend Canon Timothy Biles and he’s a retired Anglican vicar from Dorset.  He still does a bit of preaching, such as this recent sermon in which he manages to display some of his prejudices by inserting his own politically hued interpretations into the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan.  

“The Samaritans of the story lived – then, and now – in a wild and rugged patch of mountainous land sandwiched between Galilee in the north and Jerusalem in the south. The Jews wanted that land so that they could make the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Festivals without let or hindrance. The Samaritans barred the way.”  

Of course nowhere in Luke chapter 10, verses 25 to 37 is any reference whatsoever made to Jews trying to gain control of Samaritan land, but Tim Biles exploits his position as a trusted member of the clergy in order to introduce to his listeners the idea that the Samaritans in the story are the equivalent of today’s Palestinians and that the self-interested Jews were intent on ‘land-grabbing’ even back then.

This very subtly imparted promotional message is indicative of something that goes on a lot in various churches these days; a type of subliminal advertising which establishes concepts in the minds of an audience convinced that their source is beyond reproach by virtue of the clerical robes worn by the promoter. The somewhat unspiritual intent behind it is actually the promotion of a specific narrative surrounding the political situation in the Middle East.

Tim Biles also acts as editor and consultant for an Anglican Church newsletter produced by the UK charity the Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association.  There, among the news items, he promotes various writers on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict such as  the far- Left activist and founder of ‘Gush Shalom’ Uri Avneri and Rabbis Howard Cooper and Marc H Ellis – both known for their anti-Zionism.  In this issue, a book by Sabeel’s supercessionist leader Naim Ateek is reviewed by the veteran anti-Israel campaigner and Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer. In this edition, former British diplomat and member of The Council for Arab British Understanding (CAABU) Sir Howard Walker promotes the notion that “Washington seems to be in perpetual thrall to the Zionist lobby” and there is a feature on Garth Hewitt and the Amos Trust which promotes both the Kairos Palestine Document (which provides pseudo-religious justification for boycotts of Israel) and the ‘Just Peace’ campaign which is co-ordinated by anti-Israel activist Ben White.

British readers may recall that in December 2009 The Amos Trust, together with CAABU, ‘Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods’, the ‘International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network’ and ‘War on Want’  organised an ‘alternative’ Christmas carol service at a church in Covent Garden, London,  which featured re-written versions of traditional songs.

The chorus to “The Holly and the Ivy” for example, became:

O the rampaging of settlers

And the rolling of the tanks;

The grinding of the bulldozers

As olives fall in ranks.

“Once in Royal David’s city” was re-written as follows:

Once in royal David’s city

Stood a big apartheid wall;

People entering and leaving

Had to pass a checkpoint hall.

Bethlehem was strangulated,

And her children segregated.

Though this city is a symbol

To the world of peace and love,

Concrete walls have closed around her,

Settlements expand above.

And apartheid Israel stands

All around on stolen lands

Predictably, a message of support for the event was sent by the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem which helps bring us to the unpleasant conclusion that quite a few members of the Anglican Church are involved in the spread of the assault on Israel’s legitimacy. 

 Tim Biles may or may not have drawn up those fake maps himself, or he may have acquired them elsewhere. Whatever the case, according to Friends of Sabeel UK they apparently appear in his now out of print book. I have found no evidence of Biles having corrected FOSUK’s accreditation or of any objection on his part to being associated with what is blatant anti-Israel propaganda. Had he wished to do so, the task would not have been difficult; FOSUK’s officials include more than one prominent member of the Anglican Church. Neither is any evidence to be found of the Church disassociating itself from Biles as a result of the use of fake maps; in fact it continues to allow him to engage in partisan editing of newsletters and preach in its establishments. The Salisbury Diocese’s own Sarum College held a book launch for Biles’ latest literary work only last year.   

Obviously, the Anglican Church of the United Kingdom, with Her Majesty the Queen at its head, is not immune to the influences of the kind of political extremists who have also led the British Methodists and Quakers down the slippery slope of singling out the Jewish state as a unique  target for unprecedented hostility and campaigns of exclusion. It is sad to see yet another once respected religious institution harbouring at the very heart of its establishment extremists who make cynical use of lies and dishonest propaganda such as the above maps, among other things, in order to propagate and spread a very ancient form of hatred. 

The Church, of all institutions, and in particular given its own past history of which we have had a sombre reminder in recent days, should know better. 

The Great Methodist BDS Hijack

Until this time last year, whenever I thought of Methodists, I thought of pressed blue flowers. The explanation behind that perhaps strange-sounding connection is that as a small  child in England I grew up with Methodist next-door neighbours and in 1961 they became the first people I knew who travelled to Israel after the country’s independence. When they returned, they gave me some tiny blue flowers which they had picked on the Mount of the Beatitudes and carefully pressed in their Bibles. At the time, I had never seen flowers like them and I still keep them, wrapped inside yellowed paper with Annie’s spidery handwriting on it: “A present from Galilee”.

Fifty years on, I can see the Mount of Beatitudes and its glorious array of spring flowers from my home. Unfortunately, since last year I can also see a different kind of Methodist to the ones I knew who not only respected their neighbours’ different faiths, but practised Interfaith relations before anyone had ever heard of the term by cultivating the common ground between themselves and others.

The octagonal Methodist Chapel, Heptonstall, UK

At the end of this month the Methodist Church will be holding its annual council in Southport. On the agenda is an update to the decision taken at last year’s conference to boycott Israeli goods from certain regions of the country.  The text of the paper to be presented can be seen by clicking on MC1165 on this list.  From that text one gathers that the Methodist Church appears for some inexplicable reason to have been rather surprised by the reactions to its boycott decision and that attempts have been made to contain the damage by engaging with the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In this exchange of letters the current President of the Methodist council assures the BoD that her church “[u]nequivocally affirms the right of Israel to exist as an independent state and in security and peace alongside a Palestinian state” and “[a]bsolutely opposes antisemitism in all its forms”.  Those claims cannot be accepted as genuine so long as the Methodist Church continues to work with, promote and support people and organisations involved in the assault on Israel’s legitimacy with the ultimate aim of denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination by bringing an end to the Jewish state.

Document MC1165 recommends to its church members a number of organisations as sources of valid information on the subject of the Israel/Arab conflict. One of those organisations is “Rediscovering Palestine” which includes among its members the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ which is outlawed by Israel. Other members include the non-transparently funded Palestine Solidarity Campaign, ICHAD, Friends of Birzeit (the university with the distinction of having produced numerous suicide bombers and PACBI), Friends of Sabeel UK which embraces Naim Ateek’s offensive supersessionism theology, and the AM Qattan Foundation which, among other things, funds an organisation named Al Shabaka which is involved in undermining the Palestinian Authority’s peace negotiations with Israel.

Also on the list is Christian Aid, and the radical NGO War on Want – who produced this Christmas cardwith a picture of Israeli soldiers conducting a body search of Joseph, and a pregnant Mary on a donkey, blocked on their way to Bethlehem:

Last but not least there is the Amos Trust which is also the organisation behind ‘Just Peace for Palestine (also promoted by the Methodist Church) which employs Ben White – author of the odious book ‘Israeli Apartheid – A Beginner’s Guide’. 

Ben White’s book also appears on the ‘Rediscovering Palestine’ recommended reading list on the subject of the conflict – as promoted by the Methodist Church. Unsurprisingly, most of the books there are virulently anti-Zionist and include works by Naim Ateek and other Sabeel activists such as Jean Zaru and Elias Chacour as well as many of its sympathisers such as Jeff Halper of ICHAD and Donald Wagner.   

Other authors included on the list are Ilan Pappe, Garth Hewitt of the Amos Trust, Shlomo Sand with his highly offensive and academically suspect The Invention of the Jewish People” and of course Amos Trust and Friends of Sabeel UK activist Stephen Sizer, who recently visited Malaysia as a guest of the Hamas supporting outfit ‘Viva Palestina’.

Should the Methodist Church’s endorsement of such extremist organisations and literature come as a shock? Indeed it would have once, but if one has read the report produced by its working party last year upon which the decision to engage in a boycott was based and noted the sources used in the compilation of that report, one would be aware that many of the above mentioned authors, along with other highly biased sources, form its backbone. That fact, of course, resulted in gross historic inaccuracy becoming the report’s most outstanding feature. That, in turn, ensured that rank and file Methodists were unable to make an informed decision on the subject.

But of course the Methodist working party did not produce such a biased and inaccurate report merely as a result of chance or bad luck; it was programmed to do so from its very inception. Its members were obliged in advance to “affirm that they are in agreement with previously stated Conference positions on the occupation”. Calls for a greater diversity of opinion among working party members were deemed unhelpful.

“Requests have been received that the group should be “balanced” and contain members who are not in agreement with Conference statements.  This is not believed to be a constructive approach given the remit of the group.”  

And so, a working party made up of people with remarkably homogenous opinions and guaranteed to come up with the ‘right’ result was formed. Its members and their qualifications for the task were described as follows:

  • Revd. Graham Carter (Chair) – former President of the Methodist Conference.
  • Revd. Alan Ashton – over 32 years experience of living there and visiting, with family living in the West Bank.
  • Revd. Warren Bardsley – returned accompanier with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Harris – Senior Lecturer in Comparative Study of Religion, Hope University.
  • Steve Hucklesby – Policy Advisor, Joint Public Issues Team.
  • Revd. Nicola Jones – member of Friends of Sabeel and frequent traveller.
  • Revd. Marian Jones  – frequent traveller with contacts in Israel/Palestine.
  • Dr. Stephen Leah – Peace campaigner with contacts in the UK peace and justice community and in Israel/Palestine.
  • Revd. Sam McBratney – involvement in university programme with students from Gaza and Israel.

Predictably, the Methodist document makes no mention of the engagement of some of the above in reactionary politics or their associations with extremist organisations, but once those connections are clear, it is more than obvious that the Methodist Church has been steered by a committed group of activists into waters more coloured by politics than theology.

The motion to engage in a boycott of Israeli goods was proposed by Revd. Nichola Jones who is – as stated above – a long- time member of ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’. Like the leader of the parent organisation Sabeel, Naim Ateek, she appears to have jumped on board the supersessionism bandwagon. Whatever the theological arguments behind that, Methodists should be aware that not only is such theology deeply offensive to Jews, but that it is employed by Sabeel in order to promote anti-Zionism. At the 2010 conference Nichola Jones said ( at 73 mins): 

“In the Bible we learn of the Chosen People. Who are they and what were they chosen for? Genesis tells us again & again that God chooses Abraham and makes a covenant with Abraham & his heirs: a covenant being a two-sided agreement with obligations on both parties, like marriage……Of course, Israel today is not the same as Israel in the Bible: in the Bible, Israel refers to the people of Abraham’s descendants, who are in covenant with God. Israel today is a modern, secular state, created in 1948…….

For years I cherished the Galatian text…now I read it properly: ‘In Christ there is no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek (we could say Jew or Arab): we are all one in Christ.’ We are heirs of Abraham, and so inheritors of the promise of Abraham. Jesus, who makes with us a new covenant which transforms us utterly, never speaks of the land or owning it: he speaks of the Kingdom & joining it and invites us to do so. He teaches us God is not a racist God with favourites, but God loves all his children & blesses them

Nichola Jones attended the 2011 Sabeel Conference together with other members of the British Methodist Church including its President and Vice-President. Anyone who is aware of Sabeel’s record and its commitment to campaigning for a one-state ‘solution’ (i.e. the end of the Jewish state) should be deeply worried by the close co-operation between the two organizations.

The seconder of the BDS motion was Revd. Stephen Leah. He was rather disappointed that his church only agreed to boycott goods from certain areas in Israel.

” I personally would like to have divestment going a little bit further into the full boycott of Israel, but I know how much I can get away with in the churches sometimes. [...] Churches are paranoid about being critical of Israel sometimes, they want to be balanced all the time, we must put pressure on church leaders.”

Of course that stance is perfectly understandable when one appreciates the fact that Leah is also the chairman of the York branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. In his spare time he re-writes Christmas carols which are in turn promoted by Stephen Sizer at his Virginia Water church.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem

Imprisoned you now lie.

Above thy deep and silent grief,

Surveillance drones now fly.

And through thy old streets standeth,

A huge illegal Wall.

The hopes and dreams that peace will come

Are dashed in this year’s Fall.”

Another member of the working party with PSC connections is Revd. Warren Bardsley who has appeared as a speaker for the PSC promoting the Kairos Document as well as organizing demonstrations on behalf of the PSC West Midlands branch and meetings for Action Palestine. Bardsley is also the Midlands representative for ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’.

Revd. Alan Ashton makes no secret about his support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, having signed up (along with Stephen Leah, Marian Jones and Warren Bardsley) to this campaign – complete with Tim Biles’ infamous fake maps of so-called ‘land grab’ which were also used in the working party’s report.

Dr Elizabeth Harris is probably best remembered for her more than unfortunate remarks relating to a visit to Yad Vashem, which were made in a section her paper entitled “Jewish perspectives” under the sub-heading “An ethos of victimhood”. The document later had to be removed from the Methodist website.

“A pilgrimage through the exhibition rooms of the Centre, which bring home both the horror of the Holocaust and the vigour of Jewish resistance, brings you out in the open air, overlooking the beauty of Jerusalem. This perspective is transmitted to young Israelis through visits to Yad Vashem organised by schools and other groups. When I visited the Centre with a group from Britain, I noticed that many visitors were not of European Jewish descent. As Michael Ipgrave, then Secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Inter Faith Relations, wrote in his report of the visit: ‘The Holocaust has come to serve as a national story embracing also Oriental Jews for whom this was not part of their family history.’ Peace groups in Israel have to work against this backdrop.” (emphasis added)

Dr. Harris then went on to claim that “[w]hat is given at Yad Vashem is an interpretation of history” and that “[c]ollective memory of the Holocaust also feeds into an ethos of victimhood within the Jewish community”. Beyond the obvious fact that only a couple of generations ago two-thirds of European Jewry were indeed victims of the most extreme kind of European antisemitism and few families in Israel are untouched by that fact in one way or another, one cannot but also wonder how Harris became such an expert on Jewish group psychology and mark the deep contrast between her lack of sympathy for the biggest tragedy the Jewish nation has known to her 2006 statement on the subject of the Mohammed cartoons in which she stressed “the responsibility to draw back from causing deliberate provocation or offence”.  

Steve Hucklesby has been issuing statements on behalf of the Methodist Church for several years in his capacity as Secretary for International Affairs. Many of them show a profound lack of understanding of the situation in the Middle East and yet despite that he is listed as one of the church’s ‘experts’ on Israel. Here, for example, he makes uninformed and irresponsible statements on the subject of the Gaza blockade, failing to recognize that humanitarian aid has been transported daily into Gaza unless terror attacks on the crossings made that impossible. Here he is voicing his opinions on the 2006 Lebanon war, when the Methodist Church was apparently very worried about the plight of Lebanese children but found nothing to say about Israeli ones bombarded by over 4,000 Hizbollah missiles.

Earlier this year, Hucklesby organized and participated in a visit to ‘Israel/Palestine’ together with the President and Vice-president of the Methodist Church. As can be seen from their blogposts, there was significantly more ‘Palestine’ than ‘Israel’ in the tour and the few Israelis they did meet seemed to be mostly of the far-Left variety such as ICHAD and Rabbis for Human Rights. The trip was rounded off with a visit to the Sabeel Conference and a chat with the British Consul in Jerusalem who recently attended the Bil’in conference together with the proscribed terror organization the PFLP and the DFLP.  Apparently, the Methodist dignitaries felt no need to meet up with mainstream Israelis, let alone the people whose livelihoods they are attempting to harm with their boycott, which just goes to show that convictions do not always go together with courage.

Hucklesby also blogged individually about the trip and in a post about Hevron, his apparently uncontrollable bias oozes from practically every sentence but even so, it takes considerable effort to revise history to the extent which he achieves.

“We arrive at the Ibrahimi Mosque (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) a site that is holy to both Muslims and Jews.  In 1994 a Jewish settler shot 29 Palestinians dead while they prayed. Following that act, Israeli authorities turned one-third of the Mosque into a synagogue.”

Working party member Sam McBratney also visited the region in 2008 for the first time. Unlike his colleagues above, he did spend some time in Israel, but appears to have found little Christian tolerance in his heart for the local way of life.

“Why is it, for example, that pedestrians are treated so badly in this country? Again and again, walking along minding my own business, the pavement suddenly disappeared altogether. Or worse still, drivers feel no compunction at mounting the pavement and parking right across the walkway. Don’t ever daydream in Israel or the chances are you’ll be mowed down by a bloody scooter weaving its way along the PAVEMENT – what part of footpath don’t they understand?

Maybe it’s a state secret or part of the security operation but would it kill someone to put bus routes on a piece of paper and make it widely available? What do they call those things? Oh, I know, a MAP! Negotiating buses and fares is nightmarish to say the least. So, of course, that makes tourists reliant on taxis. Plenty to choose from, sadly it seems, most drivers are out to fleece you.” 

Obviously nobody told Revd. McBratney that Israel is a nation which is technologically at least on a par with his native country and that we have a dandy little thing here called ‘the internet’ – accessible from the laptop he obviously had with him – where bus timetables are readily available.   

The members of the Methodist working group on Israel/Palestine are obviously not unintelligent people and yet it is quite difficult to believe that mature adults could be so gullible as to accept every politically motivated distortion and fabrication they are fed as being gospel truth. But unfortunately the holders of extremist ideologies often have a tendency to picture the world in neat compartments of good and bad, black and white.

Sadly for the Methodist Church, it is apparently being led and coerced by such blindly partisan adherents to extremist political ideologies at present. It is this fact which made the adoption of the boycott motion inevitable last year and it is this fact which will have to be addressed by the rank and file members of the Methodist Church if they wish to return to the values of their faith rather than being tools in the hands of a small group of extremist political activists. 

‘Friends of Sabeel UK’ : promoting BDS and harming interfaith relations.

One day in the spring of 2008 whilst I was living in England, an elderly friend who is originally from Germany and a Holocaust survivor telephoned me. She told me that a Catholic neighbour of hers had come to visit bringing with her a pamphlet she had been given at her church which stated that members of the congregation should join the boycott of Israeli goods. My friend, who does a lot of interfaith work including lecturing about the Holocaust, was very upset by the idea that the local priest might be promoting such a blatantly political campaign and asked me to find out more.

So off I went to the church and to my surprise, on the notice board in the entrance in among the announcements of services, the flower arrangement rota, and the advert for a bring and buy sale with strawberry and cream tea was also assorted anti-Israel propaganda, including literature informing the congregation of their duty to join the BDS campaign. I later found out that the priest is also a member of the local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), but during the time I spent in that small English town, the Catholic Church proved to be far from the only local religious establishment engaging in anti-Israel propaganda.

 To mention but several of many incidents, during Operation Cast Lead the Methodist church on the high street displayed a large poster adorned with blue Stars of David on its outside notice board declaring to passers -by that “Israel commits war crimes”. One Christmas time the local Methodist pastor wrote a long article in the town’s newspaper comparing Joseph and Mary to Palestinians crossing Israeli checkpoints and shortly before I left the UK, the town’s Baptist church hosted a PSC –organised screening of the virulently anti-Israel film The Zionist Story’.

I must say that as someone who spent her childhood in rural England with neighbours and classmates from all the various branches of the Christian Church, this volatile (and often aggressive) mix of religion and politics promoted by seemingly mild-mannered middle-aged British Christians was completely foreign to me. In the past few months many on this blog and others have expressed dismay mixed with a degree of incredulity at the decisions of the Methodist Church and the Quakers to adopt boycott resolutions. The mechanisms which have contributed to such broadly publicised actions and to the increasingly hostile environment in so many of Britain’s faith groups are, however, right under our noses.

As I write these words, a conference is being held in that most English of towns, Oxford. It is organised by a UK registered charity named ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’ (FOSUK), is entitled “Christianity, Zionism and Justice?” and features the speakers Ilan Pappe of Exeter University and the Rev. Stephen Sizer of Virginia Water.

Readers will need no introduction to Ilan Pappe’s virulent anti-Zionism which features heavily on the anti-Israel circuit and is founded on his peculiar political interpretations of history. As a prominent supporter of BDS and the ‘one-state solution’, Pappe promotes the notion of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians at any and every opportunity, despite the demographic evidence to the contrary.

The name Stephen Sizer will also be familiar to many; particularly those who used to read the Seismic Shock blog before the Anglican vicar managed to have it closed down.  Besides being a very busy man who is involved with many anti-Israel political campaigns featuring some of the more unsavoury characters on the circuit, Sizer appears to have one particularly angry bee in his bonnet when it comes to the subject of Christian Zionism , even appearing on Iran’s PressTV to talk about the subject.

So why would Friends of Sabeel UK want to invite two such extremist and controversial figures as Pappe and Sizer to speak at their AGM? Well the fact is that the clue is in the name. FOSUK are merely one branch of ‘friends’ groups in numerous Western countries which support the Jerusalem-based organisation Sabeel, otherwise known as the ‘Palestinian Liberation Theology Centre‘.

Established in 1994 by a former member of the Anglican clergy in Jerusalem, Sabeel promotes the ‘one-state solution’ by means of a brand of Christian theology which dabbles in supersessionism, claiming that the Jewish refusal to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah in fact forfeits any Jewish claims to the land of Israel and deems Jews to eternal wandering. According to Sabeel’s founder, Naim Ateek:

“The Jews, whose prophetic tradition as well as their long history of suffering qualify them to play a peacemaking role, have acquired a new image since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. By espousing the nationalistic tradition of Zionism, they have relegated to themselves the role of oppressors and war makers. By so doing they have voluntarily relinquished the role of the servant which for centuries they had claimed for themselves. This has been a revolutionary change from the long held belief that Jews have a vocation to suffering. Many rabbis had taught that Jews should accept suffering rather than inflict it as a means of changing the world. One of the great rabbinic dictums was “Be of the persecuted rather than that of the persecutors.” Sholem Asch cried, “God be thanked, that the nations have not given my people the opportunity to commit against others the crimes which have been committed against it.” This has been dramatically changed by the creation of the State of Israel.”

Sabeel leaders also played an instrumental role in the drafting in 2009 of the not-coincidentally named Kairos Palestine Document, which promotes BDS (at least one member of Sabeel’s board, Samia Khoury, is also a member of PACBI) against Israel and is supported by the World Council of Churches.  To quote the document:

“4.2.6 Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. We understand this to integrate the logic of peaceful resistance. These advocacy campaigns must be carried out with courage, openly sincerely proclaiming that their object is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil, liberating both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice. The aim is to free both peoples from extremist positions of the different Israeli governments, bringing both to justice and reconciliation. In this spirit and with this dedication we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.”

Stephen Sizer is a frequent guest of Sabeel at its conferences, particularly those dealing with the subject of Christian Zionism, and has shared platforms with speakers such as Jeff Halper of ICAHD, Attalah Hanna, Donald Wagner and Azmi Bishara who apparently received a standing ovation on one occasion when he asked “how can a people who are denied their basic freedom be guilty of acts of terror?”.

Functionaries of ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’ have also attended Sabeel conferences and events. Self-described ‘eco-feminist liberation theologianRoman Catholic Professor Mary Grey, who is a patron of FOSUK and chair of its theology group, attended the 2006 and 2008 conferences. She has contributed to the ‘Holy Land Studies Journal and sits on its editorial board along with Ilan Pappe. Here is an example of her somewhat un-academic style of writing at another venue:

 “…many people fear that Israel has achieved so much at the expense of losing its soul. Pray for those who chose and oppose… who chose to inflict the very merciless policies that they had endured for two thousand years on the indigenous Palestinians of the Bible Lands. I think to myself of the famous philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, for whom gazing on “the face of the other” meant being opened up to the transcendence of God. But the reality of occupation, settlements, security Wall, confiscated land and demolished houses, prohibits this opening up, as then Israel would feel compassion for its neighbor, and be compelled on moral grounds to take different actions.”

Another Catholic member of FOSUK’s theology group is Stewart Hemsley from Cambridge, who represents Pax Christi, of which he is the former chair, on that body. Pax Christi’s philosophy can be glimpsed in its recent statement regarding the death of Osama bin Laden:

“However, we also mourn our nation’s misguided response to the events of 9/11, the carnage and mayhem unleashed, the distortion of our deepest values, the abandonment of our highest principles and ultimate subversion of our national character.”

In a briefing prior to the 2010 British elections, the issue of the Palestinian-Israel conflict was for some reason among the subjects which Pax Christi deemed important for the British voters to consider when electing their new government.  Suggested questions for parliamentary candidates included:

What would your party do to encourage Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza?

What plans does your party have for re-energising the peace process for Israel–Palestine?

Settlements and the separation wall have both been challenged in international law. How would your party engage with Israel on these issues?

Would your party be prepared to enter talks with all parties in the ongoing conflict – including Hamas – as a sign of genuine openness to a process of conflict resolution?

 As a step in the demilitarisation of the region, would your party be prepared to support an arms embargo of Israel?

Can you assure us that your party would not engage in any pre-emptive military actions against Iran?

Not unsurprisingly, Pax Christi is heavily involved with the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and Stewart Hemsley has shared a platform with Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi at events sponsored by that organisation, together with the PSC and ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’. Like several other members of FOSUK, Hemsley is involved with Palestinian groups in the UK which draw upon increasing support from Christian ‘pacifists’.

FOSUK is a multi-denominational organisation including Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists and Quakers. Another member of its theology group, Colin South, is a Quaker who spent several years working at the Friends school in Ramallah. Unsurprisingly, considering that the clerk of the Friends House in Ramallah –Jean Zaru – is also a prominent member of Sabeel, he appears to have been heavily influenced by Naim Ateek. It is worth noting that the British Quakers fund the organisation New Profile’ which attempts to persuade Israeli youth to break the law of their country by draft-dodging.

FOSUK’s patrons include the ubiquitous (to any anti-Israeli organisation) Baroness Jenny Tonge, Ibrahim Hewitt of the Hamas-supporting ‘charity’ Interpal which was cited as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holyland Trial, and the head of the Palestinian delegation to the UK, as well as some well-known anti-Israel clergy.  FOSUK has close ties to Christian Aid and is involved in the ‘Greenbelt Festival’.  For the past three years this annual Christian arts event has focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict, in partnership with Just Peace – which is run by the Amos Trust and co-ordinated by none other than Ben White. It includes a coalition of organisations including ICAHD UK, Friends of Al Aqsa, War on Want, the PSC, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine and the Alternative Tourism Group.

It is, of course, hardly surprising that FOSUK’s members are naturally attracted to such blatantly anti-Israel – and in some cases, anti-Semitic – organisations. Reading the FOSUK newsletters gives one an idea of the kind of prevalent opinions within its ranks. An editorial in the Autumn 2009 edition declares that:

“The Israeli government is systematically going about the dispossession of the Palestinians by every possible means to force them to leave the country, or give up their national identity, so that Israel can become a totally Jewish state in all the land of pre-1948 Palestine.”

In the Spring 2008 edition we read that:

“Sixty years on, the Nakba continues under the relentless policy of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”

In the Spring 2010 edition, it is possible to read of the experiences of a FOSUK member on a ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy to Gaza.

If all this virulent anti-Israel sentiment and campaigning sounds to readers like something more befitting of a script for Midsomer Murders than what one would expect to find going on in the Christian churches of tranquil leafy British towns and villages, I can most definitely sympathise.  FOSUK may not be a particularly large organisation, but its influence is being felt widely. Beyond the obvious damage done to Israel by the kind of misinformation deliberately propagated by Friends of Sabeel UK, there is additional damage done to interfaith relations, at least according to my own experiences in the UK.

Evidence would suggest that there are considerable numbers of Christians who are unhappy about their churches being taken over by a minority with a very specific and vocal agenda. I would imagine that quite a few of them are also concerned about the real causes of Christian persecution in the Middle East. Perhaps the time has come for some interfaith co-operation in order to reclaim some of the good-natured tolerance between Christians and Jews which I remember as part of my English childhood.