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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: j'accuse (part 3)

‘Which say […] to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits’ (Isaiah 30:10)

This long posting comments on a Church of Scotland policy document which Moderator David Lacy enclosed with his letter (not available on-line as far as I can see). Reading this text made me very angry, and this is more than usually apparent in the style in which I have responded to it. Consequently, the decision to publish has involved some soul-searching. My first posting in this series has drawn the comment that I cannot expect to be taken seriously ‘except as a complete loon’. Am I simply being absurdly harsh towards a bunch of well-meaning Christians?

First, regarding their good intentions. We all know that these are what the road to hell is paved with, and that saying encapsulates some very good theology. ‘We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness’ say s the ‘prayer of humble access’ in the Book of Common Prayer. If we engage in politics we do so as sinners, whether we are Christians or not. That means we get it wrong.

What troubles me about the material from the Kirk is the sheer self-righteousness of it - the underlying certainty that they can approach complex political problems and unerringly discern the moral issues involved. And the moralism that results is not even a distinctively Christian one. It is the common property of Guardian readers of all faiths and none. We all have our ‘smooth things’, the opinions we love to hear because they do not threaten our sense of who we are. For far too many liberal Christians, it is clear, one-sided criticism of Israel is a ‘smooth thing’ – a position that can be adopted unthinkingly because it is part of the way ‘people like us’ think.

This paragraph from an article by Nick Cohen identifies the phenomenon precisely – especially the quote at the end:-

‘For decades, writers have reached for bovine metaphors to describe the tribalism of the small world of metropolitan liberalism. In 1963, Michael Frayn described “the radical middle-classes, the do-gooders; the readers of the News Chronicle, the Guardian, and The Observer; the signers of petitions; the backbone of the BBC. In short, the Herbivores, or gentle ruminants, who look out from the lush pastures which are their natural station in life with eyes full of sorrow for less fortunate creatures, guiltily conscious of their advantages, though not usually ceasing to eat the grass”. Harold Rosenberg, Frayn’s American contemporary, put it more succinctly in his gorgeous description of the New York intelligentsia as “the herd of independent minds”.’

And from a position inside the herd, the charge that campaigning against the Israeli security fence is actually complicity in murder may very well appear to be the ravings of a ‘complete loon’. But it is true, nevertheless.

In replying to my letter Mr Lacy could have said two simple things. Firstly, he could have acknowledged that the protection of Israeli civilians from terrorist murder is a valid objective, and that to the extent that the security barrier does in fact further this objective, that is a consideration which must at least be set against its adverse impact on Palestinian civilians. Secondly, he could have said what follows from the first point: if Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist attack, and if its defensive measures have harmful consequences for the Palestinians, the moral responsibility for these consequences must at least be shared with those who carry out terrorist attacks, those who organize them, and those who applaud and encourage them.

Mr Lacy did not say these things. The five-page document he sent me tells me that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is unwilling to say them. I think that is something worth getting angry about.

From the report of the Church and Nation Committee to the 2004 General Assembly
(with exposition)



‘33. In condemning violence in any form, affirm the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security.’

(OK, we’ve covered our arses, now we can get down to the serious business of bashing Israel.)

’34. Condemn the construction of the “Security” Wall by the state of Israel as a serious infringement of the human rights of all Palestinians.’

(Let’s put Israeli security into ironic quotes straight away – we don’t actually give a monkey’s. Palestinians have human rights. Jewish kids blown to pieces by suicide bombers? Tough luck.)

’35. Call on HMG to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to dismantle the Wall, and to remove checkpoints and barricades which make Palestinians’ lives intolerable, unable to lead a normal life.’

(We want to see more Jewish kids blown to pieces.)

‘36. Regret the decision of HMG not to support legal action in relation to the Wall at the International Court of Justice.’

(We want the Israelis turned into pariahs until they agree to let their kids be blown to pieces.)

’37. Condemn the intention of the Israeli government to destroy a large number of Palestinian homes in Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza strip under the pretence of creating a so-called security corridor on the border to Egypt, and urge HMG to do everything in their power to encourage the Israeli government to stop their immoral policy of house demolitions on Palestinian land as a way of creating ever new facts on the ground.’

(Just in case we haven’t made it clear who the evil bastards are. They really do deserve to have their kids blown to pieces.)

And from the accompanying report:-

‘1. The turmoil in the Middle East is seldom out of the media. We watch in despair the seemingly endless cycle of violence and can scarcely imagine the fear and pain of both Palestinians and Israelis, subjected to military incursions, targeted assassinations and suicide bombings […] [The Road Map] envisages an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours […] one of the main barriers to its implementation is Israel’s construction of a security barrier around the West Bank.’

(A little pious waffle makes sure our arses are well covered before we get back to the serious business of bashing Israel. There are terrorists killing defenceless civilians and there are soldiers killing the terrorists, and it’s all violent and bad - you see, we’re totally unbiased. We really, really don’t like violence, it’s just that we like to see Israel defending itself against violence even less. How can there ever be peace when they do stuff like that?)

‘2. Is it a fence or a wall? Israel claims that only 5% of the Wall consists of concrete. The Israeli government refers to a “security fence”, or simply to a barrier. The New York Times uses “security barrier”. “Apartheid Wall” is favoured by some Palestinians and solidarity organizations, while Heads of Churches in Jerusalem use “Separation Wall”. In a debate in the House of Commons last November, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bill Rammel stated:
“We could have a long debate about whether we are talking about a wall or a fence, but it is clear that although it could be described as a fence, a significant part of it is a wall, as was described.”
‘He then went on to refer to it as a wall. Critics say that calling such an aggressive and substantial Wall a “fence” is to mislead, and where the Wall is made of concrete (as in Qalqilya and Abu Dis, below) its presence and effect is all pervasive. This report will therefore refer to a Wall.’

(People we like say it’s a wall, people we don’t like much say it isn’t, so we’ll go with Wall even if 95% of it is in fact a fence. What do you mean, closed minds?)

‘3. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza following the Six-Day War in 1967 […]’

(Yes, OK, that was one of the wars where Israel’s neighbours wanted to wipe it off the map. We haven’t got space to go into every little detail, for goodness’ sake.)

Points 3 and 4

The Israelis are gratuitously inflicting misery on the entirely innocent Palestinians.

‘5. In September 2000, the frustration, anger and despair of Palestinians led to the beginning of the second Intifada or uprising. For some Palestinians, this has resulted in popular demonstrations, violent protests and suicide bombing attacks on both military targets within the West Bank and Gaza and civilian targets within Israel. On the Israeli side there have been targeted assassinations, military incursions into Palestinian towns and refugee camps and an increasing restriction on movement for Palestinians. Each side points to the violence of the other as provocation for their “retaliatory attacks” and the depressing “tit for tat” continues with mounting human tragedy. Between September 2000 and December 2003, 842 Israelis and 2,648 Palestinians were killed.’

(When the Palestinians do bad stuff it’s because the Israelis make them frustrated, angry and despairing, and when you feel like that, you just have to go and blow yourself up somewhere, don’t you? And the bad stuff the Israelis do? Well, clearly entirely their responsibility, and not to be explained away by the influence of human emotions such as frustration, anger and despair.)

‘6. Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has been acutely aware of its need for security, especially from hostile neighbours. Many of the policies above were carried out in the name of security and today its government points to “the murder of over 800 innocent people during the past three years” for its decision to embark on the construction of a Separation Wall. Its stated purpose is to create a temporary barrier to protect the Israeli people from attack by Palestinian terrorists. Its creation, however, is exacerbating an already desperate situation.’

(See, there’s no bias here! We’ve given three whole sentences to Israel’s so-called case for protecting its population, before pointing out that its success in doing so can only make matters worse, and then proceeding to…)

Points 7, 8, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

The Israelis are gratuitously inflicting misery on the entirely innocent Palestinians.

‘14. The fact that the Wall has encroached further into Palestinian territory, and very obviously has been routed to include the illegal Israeli settlements on the Israeli side of the Wall, must raise questions about the real motivation behind its construction. Israel claims it takes this route to protect Israeli citizens, but Palestinians only see more of their land being taken away.’

(Of course they don’t care about protecting their citizens, the evil, lying bastards. The ones in illegal settlements deserve to die anyway, so there plainly can’t be a case for protecting them.)

’15. […] The well-documented humanitarian consequences of the Wall raise further questions about Israel’s understanding of its responsibilities under International Humanitarian Law. To what extent can it justify punishing an entire population for the activities of some suicide bombers?’

(‘Not at all’ is of course the answer to our rhetorical question, even if ‘some’ suicide bombers are sent by organizations that enjoy mass support among the population. What should be happening is that Jewish kids should be getting blown to pieces to punish them for living in an evil imperialist apartheid state. The building of a Wall to stop this happening just goes to show what a very evil imperialist apartheid state it is. And the status of suicide bombing under International Humanitarian Law? Not our concern.)

‘16. There has already been much international criticism of the Wall […]’

(Lots of important people have criticized the wall/fence, so clearly it’s OK for us to do so as well. Remember: ‘the herd of independent minds’. All together now: ‘All we like sheep…’.)

’17 The Israeli Government claims that the Wall has already been successful, pointing to a decrease in the number of suicide bombings. However, even within Israel itself there are increasing concerns being raised concerning the ability of current Israeli policies to ever provide lasting security […]’

(... and some of the critics are Jews, so that puts us right in the clear. No need to waste time evaluating the claim that the wall/fence has saved lives, still less to ask what current PA or Hamas policies are contributing to ‘lasting security’.

’18. Criticism was also voiced by Avraham Burg, a senior opposition member of the opposition Labour Party and a former Speaker of the Knesset, when he said:
“Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism”.

(And here’s a Jew saying it serves them right if their kids get blown up. So what can be wrong with us saying it?)

Point 19

The US backs Israel – the real Axis of Evil exposed!

’20. In 1989, the world watched when the Berlin Wall came down amid great rejoicing as people in Eastern Europe experienced freedom and respect for their human rights for the first time in many years. In 1994, the system of apartheid finally came to an end in South Africa and the oppression against the black majority population ended. They, too, experienced the right to vote, to travel, to protest and to exercise their human rights in other ways. It seemed then that a new era had begun and that the world was changing for the better. Now, over a decade later, in the building of the Wall, a terrible step back into these dark days of the past is being taken. The whole Church should campaign against the Wall with as much passion and commitment as was given to the fight against apartheid. We believe this to be necessary because Jesus Christ came into the world to break down barriers and to uphold the rights of every human being. In the story of the Good Samaritan, in Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well, through the tax collector Zacchaeus, and ultimately on the cross, Christ came to build bridges and to overcome all that divides us from one another. In the Early Church, the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women were all broken down. It is the task of the Church to be Christ’s hands working for the days when the Wall is torn down and Israelis and Palestinians have the opportunity to work towards living in peace and security.’

(With this effusion of sanctimonious bullshit the report ends.)

The Berlin Wall is a red herring that I have disposed of here. South Africa is scarcely less of a red herring. The security barrier is not the Berlin Wall and it is not an apartheid boundary erected to divide race from race (let us recall once again that Israel has over a million Arab citizens). It serves to protect civilians from being murdered, as is their basic human right.

When the report fulminates against ‘a terrible step back into these dark days of the past’, let us note that whilst a detailed report on Sudan was presented to the 2005 General Assembly (and in fairness it is a lot stronger than anything the Anglican Communion has said on this subject to date), it did not ask for ‘passion and commitment’ on behalf of the victims of violence that has claimed over two million lives. Deliverance 26 states that the General Assembly ‘After wars in Sudan where no one side has had all the virtue and where no one side can be given all the blame, welcome the peace agreement signed in January 2005.’ Whether the phrase I emphasize is really an appropriate description of the conflicts in the Sudan is beyond the scope of this posting; the point is that the fairness and balance extended to the Islamist dictatorship in Khartoum are entirely withheld from the democratic state of Israel, which is treated to a sustained exercise in, precisely, giving one side all the blame.

An unpleasantly insensitive detail here is the double reference to Christ’s concern for a despised and marginalized people of his world, the Samaritans (Christian readers will know that the woman at the well was a Samaritan – see John’s Gospel, chapter 4). ‘See, the Jews were just as xenophobic then as now!’ this insinuates – as if this were in any way a specifically Jewish trait. We may recall that today’s tiny Samaritan community enjoys the full freedom of worship extended by Israel to its numerous religious minorities.

‘Christ came to build bridges and to overcome all that divides us from one another’. Yes, and first and foremost the barriers of incomprehension, mistrust and hatred that we build in our heads and hearts – all of us – and that lead us to want to hurt and destroy. In the Middle East such barriers most certainly do not exist exclusively, or even primarily, in Israeli heads and hearts. And though Christ came to break the barriers down, Christians are very good at finding ways to build them up again. Like when they still commit the blasphemy of invoking Christ in order to demonize his people.


Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you're exposing this vile guff from the C of S - you're not a 'loon' at all!

Jonty Goodson

Anonymous said...

A great fisking of the Church of Scotland policy Cyrus.

It deserves maximum readership. When I stayed at the Scottish Hospice in Jerusalem a year ago I met several do-gooding Christians who were simply bristling with hatred for the State of Israel.

The problem is that too many Christians fail to read the 9th, 10th and 11th chapter of Romans. Or else they refuse to take it seriously.

If they did, they would be far less likely to make the near blood-libellous accusations against Israeli Jews that are currently peddled around too much of the "Christian" Church.