The Israeli Palestinian Conflict
The Anglican Consultative Council:
a) welcomes the September 22nd 2004 statement by the Anglican Peace and Justice Network on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict (Pages 12 - 14 of the Report)
b) commends the resolve of the Episcopal Church (USA) to take appropriate action where it finds that its corporate investments support the occupation of Palestinian lands or violence against innocent Israelis, and
i) commends such a process to other Provinces having such investments, to be considered in line with their adopted ethical investment strategies
ii) encourages investment strategies that support the infrastructure of a future Palestinian State
c) requests the Office of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations, through or in association with the UN Working Committee on Peace in the Middle East, as well as through this Council, and as a priority of that Office, to support and advocate the implementation of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 directed towards peace, justice and co-existence in the Holy Land.
(text from Anglican Communion website)
Some comfort can be taken from the fact that the original wording was watered down, but even in this form it raises all of the three basic concerns that I have about Christian Aid’s stance on the conflict.
The singling out of Israel. Although the ACC passed other resolutions on political issues, and notably on the situation in Zimbabwe, none calls for economic pressure to be put on any other state.
There is a deep irony in the timing of this. Specific concern has been raised about the Church of England’s £2m investment in Caterpillar. Caterpillar supplies Israel with the bulldozers which it uses to demolish the homes of suicide bombers.
Since the beginning of the Intifada a few thousand houses have been razed. It is an attempt to mete out posthumous punishment against those who kill Israeli citizens – and in my view a misguided one. But now let us turn our attention to another part of the world. In an orgy of destruction lasting just a month Robert Mugabe’s regime has left one and a half million Zimbabweans homeless, according to the UN’s estimate. Their crimes? Poverty, powerlessness and voting for the opposition. The ACC's resolution has strong words about the regime's record, but, to repeat, no suggestion of disinvestment or any other form of economic pressure. And it "asks" the government to mend its ways - a courtesy not extended to Israel.
Whilst on the subject of double standards, the Episcopal Church (USA) deserves a special mention. This is the church whose liberal majority affects to care so much about gay rights that they are prepared to bring the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism for the sake of consecrating a gay bishop. It does nothing to increase my respect for this stance when they then join with conservative homophobes in the vilification of the only country in the Middle East where gays have any rights whatsoever. Do they know which companies have helped to build and equip the prisons in which the rest of the region accommodates gays? Do they care? This looks more like a butterfly flitting from one fashionable cause to the next than a joined-up Christian witness.
- The one-sided apportioning of blame, manifested in the assumption that only one side needs to be pressured into seeking peace and justice. Yes, there is the phrase about “violence against innocent Israelis”, but what an empty gesture of even-handedness that is – as if the C of E might have investments in companies that deal directly with Islamic Jihad! Much more to the point is that investment in “a future Palestinian state” is commended without any suggestion of its being made conditional on an end to terrorist violence.
And note that, whereas the right to their land is asserted for Palestinians collectively and unconditionally, Israelis are divided into sheep and goats – the “innocent” who deserve to be spared from being blown up, and, implicitly, the guilty who don’t.
- The absence of the humility that should inform post-Holocaust Christians’ dealings with the Jewish people. Instead, we find Christians arrogating to themselves the right to pass judgment, without a hint of self-criticism, on the way Jews have tried to deal with their experience of persecution and ultimately genocide at the hands of a Christian culture.
In present-day Germany there is a strong feeling that it is not for Germans - especially, not for the German state - to criticize Israel. One can argue whether the taboo has been taken too far, but the point is that it represents an owning of collective responsibility for the sins of the past – something deplorably lacking in the ACC’s stance. If a secular political culture can understand and apply the principle of “first take the beam out of your own eye” in this context, it really is pretty scandalous to find that a Christian body like the ACC apparently can’t.
As one who greeted Rowan Williams’ translation to Canterbury with enthusiasm, and who has found his previous comments on Israel and Palestine admirably sane and sensitive, I am deeply disappointed by his support for the resolution. Having read his opening address I find it particularly difficult to understand how he could have gone on to vote for it. Conversely, although his predecessor George Carey’s churchmanship is not mine, I congratulate him for taking what seems to be virtually a lone stand against the resolution.
The ACC has met in an atmosphere of division and crisis unparalleled in the history of the Anglican Communion. In the identification of a common enemy, however, they have been enabled to achieve not just unity but unanimity. The psychological mechanism of scapegoating is familiar enough. That the common enemy turns out to be the ancient enemy of the faith speaks, at the very least, for an alarming lack of self-awareness.
I recently visited an exhibition at Berlin’s National Historical Museum on Jewish life in medieval Europe. Some of the exhibits recall how, when the First Crusade set out on its journey to Palestine in 1096 (incidentally following a period of chronic division within the Church), it first turned its zeal on the Jewish communities of the Rhineland. Jewish culture had flourished here in a period of relative tolerance and security. Now they were presented at swordpoint with the choice between conversion and death. Loyalty to their faith cost 1300 men, women and children their lives in the city of Mainz alone.
Make no mistake, an unbroken thread links the prejudices of the eleventh century with those which helped the Nazis to power and enabled them to carry through the Final Solution with minimal resistance from the churches. And now it seems to me we are seeing something very close to an updated version of the old ultimatum being addressed to Jews. Now the choice is “give up your state or die”. Jews are being categorized (for example by the academic boycott campaigners) into bad Zionists and good anti-Zionists. When Palestinian militants claim the right to inflict indiscriminate violence on the bad Zionist Jews, many on the western Left look the other way or openly applaud. And fury greets Israeli attempts to defend themselves, notably by the security fence. Yes, I know it’s been built on Palestinian land, and of course that’s wrong, but the sheer vehemence of the criticism, and the total lack of interest in the possibility that the fence has actually been effective in saving lives, leads me to suspect that there is something more primal underlying this: Jews are supposed to be defenceless. How dare they acquire power? How dare they place such an inflated value on their lives?
Is all this really something the Anglican Communion wants to be part of?
(see also my open letter to Rowan Williams)