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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christian Aid to consult with Chief Rabbi on Middle East coverage?

Thanks to Alexandra Simonon of Engage for drawing my attention to a recent article in the Jewish Chronicle:-

Sacks to vet Christian Aid texts
By Daniella Peled

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has asked Christian Aid that he be allowed to vet any potentially controversial statements it releases on the Middle East, in response to an initiative by the charity to improve its troubled relationship with British Jewry.

According to Christian Aid, in a recent meeting with its representatives, Sir Jonathan raised a number of ways he believed the charity could build bridges.

These included giving his office advance warning if the charity planned to release any contentious statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the opportunity to view possibly divisive press releases to try to avoid misunderstandings over the use of language.

Another proposal was that the charity liaise with Rabbi Barry Marcus, who holds the Israel portfolio in the Chief Rabbi’s cabinet.

While a Christian Aid official made it clear that Sir Jonathan would not have editorial rights or veto over press statements, his opinions would be taken on board.

“Christian Aid is taking seriously its responsibility to not cause offence to the Jewish community,” explained William Bell, the acting head of the policy unit for Asia and the Middle East. “Any recommendations [from the meeting] would be taken seriously.”

The meeting — thought to have been initiated by the charity — was held as Christian Aid attempts to rehabilitate its relationship with the Jewish community through measures that include the appointment of an interfaith liaison manager.

Past controversies have included its “Child of Bethlehem” Christmas 2004 appeal, featuring a seven-year- old Palestinian girl wounded by an IDF bullet, which the Board of Deputies condemned as “completely unbalanced” and demonstrating an obsession with Israel.

July’s recommendation by the Anglican Consultative Council for churches worldwide to reconsider investments in companies supporting Israeli policies further strained relations between the Jewish and Christian communities.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi confirmed that the meeting with Christian Aid took place but declined to comment further.

My reaction is going to make it look as if I'm impossible to please, but I see this as a classic case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

If this was indeed an initiative from Christian Aid, it is a very welcome one indeed. However, the point of my criticisms of CA's Middle East campaigning is not that I think it is offensive to British Jews - though I certainly do think it is. I would not be deterred from making what I believed to be a fair and justified criticism of Israel by the fear of offending British Jews. Nor should anyone else be. The problem with the campaign is that it has been grossly biased, giving CA supporters a false impression of the conflict which has the potential to reinforce or revive anti-Semitic prejudice.

As my past comments on the incitement to religious hatred legislation have shown, I am unimpressed by the notion that faith communities need protection from being offended. And many Christians share that point of view. So the perception that CA is censoring itself in deference to Jewish sensitivity could actually add mischief to that caused by their campaigning in the first place. It would be far better if they could admit that there has been a lack of balance that needs to be addressed irrespective of any concern to placate the Jewish community.

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