(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/07/church_1175495c.gif)Earlier this month the Church of England’s General Synod endorsed the World Council of Churches’ “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).” Essentially this program enlists anti-Israel church activists from the West to “accompany” Palestinian activists so as to “experience life under occupation.” The church ignored pleas from British Jews, including Britain’s chief rabbi.
Why would anyone want to endorse a program of the marginalized and far-left Swiss-based World Council of Churches (WCC), still best and infamously known for largely siding with the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War’s final decades? During the 1970s and 1980s, the WCC strenuously denounced right-wing dictatorships while ignoring the crimes of leftist tyrannies, often even embracing them, including the tormentors of churches. Even the Soviet Union itself was largely immune to criticism from the WCC, which merrily cooperated with Soviet front groups like the Helsinki-based Christian Peace Conference.
Nearly all the world’s rightist dictatorships are long since gone, so for years the WCC has imagined that Israel is the moral equivalent of Apartheid South Africa circa 1970. Israel is virtually the only nation meriting the WCC’s extensive human rights critique, which includes the ongoing EAPPI that the Church of England has now endorsed. Why the specific endorsement was necessary must be asked, since the church, by virtue of its membership and fees, already amply supports the WCC. So evidently the endorsement was for amplification of its moral solidarity with the WCC and Palestinian liberation.
Apparently the anti-Israel vote was not even that controversial within the church’s General Synod. The total vote was 201 votes to 54, with 93 abstentions. Clergy voted 4 to 1 in favor, while the laity voted 3 to 1. Twenty-one bishops supported it while just 3 voted against. The many abstentions maybe indicate many Anglicans were just too befuddled or morally confused to decide or go on record.
Even Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, now cruising towards early retirement, could not help but pile on verbally though himself characteristically abstaining in the vote after supporting an effort to dilute the statement. He shared his “respect and gratitude for the immense courage and dedication of the volunteers” in the WCC anti-Israel program. And he sardonically observed: “There are some people, in their uncritical assumption that the government of Israel can do no wrong, who are clearly going to be very irritated by information being disseminated of the kind that EAPPI does.”
Remarkably, Archbishop Williams even seemed to discern moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the Palestinians’ situation. “Half an hour at Yad Vashem will persuade you, if you need persuading, why the state of Israel needs to exist securely,” he noted of Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims. “Half an hour at a check-point will persuade you, if you need persuading, that there are forms of security that are indefensible and unsustainable.”
The Israeli Embassy in Britain responded to the Church of England motion by citing the obvious: “Christians face rising persecution across the region and yet, by supporting this group, the Church of England has chosen to amplify one-sided voices and to single out Israel—the only country [in the Middle East and North Africa] where Christian rights are enshrined and the Christian population is growing.”
The WCC does not have any “accompaniment” programs for solidarity with Christians in Egypt, Syria or Iraq, whose plight does not typically distress the WCC. Archbishop Williams himself has at least occasionally mentioned persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Volunteers in the anti-Israel “accompaniment” program escort aggrieved Palestinians through Israeli checkpoints, help monitor purported Israeli human rights abuses, and then return to the West to speak and agitate as pro-Palestinian activists operating under the cover of churches. They are similar to what many Western church leftist groups like the WCC did to help the Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua during the 1980s.
A prominent Anglican clergy serving in Baghdad, Iraq preemptively opposed his church’s support for the WCC program. “It neglects the wars against Israel’s very right to exist,” Canon Andrew White told the Jerusalem Post. “It overlooks the persecution of Jews in the Middle East that preceded the establishment of the modern State of Israel.” He also cited the silence about Christians in the region persecuted by Islamists, which he of course has witnessed firsthand.
The British Jewish community’s Board of Deputies is weighing whether to sever interfaith ties with the Church of England. And they complained about the synod’s rhetoric: “To hear the debate at the Synod littered with references to ‘powerful lobbies,’ the money expended by the Jewish community, ‘Jewish sounding names’ and the actions of the community ‘bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust,’ is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about the motivation of those behind this motion.”
Indeed. The Church of England has previously endorsed anti-Israel divestment and then retracted after enormous controversy. Hopefully it will similarly backtrack after its latest misstep. But why the irrational preoccupation with the real and imagined sins of one small nation while silent about so much else globally? Spiritually discerning minds would like to know.
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