I want first to thank you (along with Huldah. Neal and Anita) for all your contributions to this debate, which IMHO has been of a very high standard. My impression is that we are a long way apart in our perceptions of what the debate has been about. I’m not expecting one more posting to bridge the gap, but even so I would like to take up some points on which I feel misunderstood and try to clarify where I’m coming from.
I don’t think you’ve appreciated how far Christians differ among themselves in their attitudes to Israel. Some understand specific biblical prophecies as having a direct bearing on the current situation. I disagree. Some appear to me to interpret such prophecies as giving Israel an exclusive claim to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and relieving it of any obligation to deal justly and compassionately with the Palestinians. I disagree unequivocally.
What I hope is specifically Christian about my blog is that it is centred on an awareness of the ways in which Christians have betrayed and abused their own faith by promoting and accepting anti-Semitism. I’m convinced that it doesn’t have to be this way – that Christianity can actually be a force against anti-Semitism. If I didn’t believe this I wouldn’t be a Christian. But it depends on repentance on the part of the Church as a whole – facing up to the sins of the past and turning back towards God and seeking his help in ensuring that these things never happen again. But if the awareness is missing, repentance will be incomplete and we will be in danger of repeating history. The blog’s meant to be a wake-up call, and that’s why I use that shocking and uncomfortable word ‘hate’ – not to accuse anyone, but to emphasize how high the stakes are.
I sense, and can fully understand, a genuine puzzlement on your part as to how a campaign against anti-Semitism can possibly have any bearing on Christian Aid and the dedicated, caring and unprejudiced people you know within the organization. You need to understand that I can only judge the face that Christian Aid presents to the outside world – its magazine, its websites, its advertising and so on. And if the impact of these is to promote harmful biases, that remains true however good the intentions behind them. We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
You seem to see anti-Semitism in very subjective terms. People persecute Jews when they feel hatred towards them in their hearts. Of course that is absolutely true – and I must reiterate that I am not suggesting such feelings are rife among the staff of Christian Aid. The critical point here, however, is that there is a stage before the passage from hatred to active persecution, and that is the development of beliefs that make it OK to direct anger and hatred towards Jews.
In the past these have included…
- The Jews are collectively responsible for knowingly murdering the Son of God
- The Jews exploit and cheat Christians by usury
- The Jews ritually sacrifice Christian children
- The Jews spread plague by poisoning wells
- The Jews are traitors to the Fatherland
- The Jews run the capitalist system and manipulate it to their own advantage
- The Jews undermine our society by revolutionary agitation
- The Jews are plotting to take over the world
- The Jews are biologically subhuman
Sick and crazy as they seem to us now, all of these have been taken in their time as objective truth, and all of them in their time were good enough to convince what are often called ‘ordinary decent people’ that Jews could justly be excluded from the benefits conferred by a common humanity – invariably with deadly consequences.
And what about some beliefs about Jews that are current in today’s world – and especially, it must be said, in the Middle East?
- The Jews are plotting to take over the world I(yes, this is still believed)
- The Jews ritually sacrifice non-Jewish children (ditto)
- The Jews claim they were victims of genocide but it is all a huge lie
- Jews control the US Government behind the scenes and manipulate it into trying to wipe out Islam
- The Jews who worked in the World Trade Center all stayed at home on 11 September 2001
Against this background I believe I am fully justified in asking: what beliefs about Israel and its largely Jewish population are likely to be promoted when people read Christian Aid’s public media output? Are they right or wrong? If they’re wrong, are they harmfully wrong? These are questions about consequences, not intentions. The test of genuinely good intentions, I’d suggest, is a readiness to be accountable for the consequences of one’s actions.
You have pointed out that Christian Aid’s main campaigns are focused on global economic structures – I have absolutely no problem with that in principle. If it stuck to those issues, that would be fine. Equally, if it were supplementing these central campaigns with a series of campaigns on regional and local issues, focusing on those areas where the need is most acute (e.g. Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo), that would be perfectly reasonable.
But what do we have in fact? Global campaigning coupled with a campaign against one state on behalf of one people. Where is the sense of this if not to suggest that that one state is committing the world’s worst human rights abuses against that one people? And that, as the other participants in this debate have repeatedly pointed out, is simply not true. You argue that campaigns have to be planned on a long term basis – but it wasn’t true 10 years ago either. Or 20 years ago. Or 30 years ago. You point out that more resources go to the global campaigns. Fine, but I am afraid I am not prepared to see even a small proportion of my charitable giving going to fund a campaign which demonizes Israel. There are, after all, other charities.
To create such a false impression is wrong in principle and would be wrong whatever state was being singled out. When the state ‘just happens’ to be Israel, we have crossed the boundary which should never be crossed, taking us into very unpleasant and dangerous territory indeed. We’re far too close to the conclusion ‘give the Jews their own state and they turn into monsters’, after which it’s one more short step to ‘they were monsters all along’. To repeat, no amount of good intentions can excuse this.
You ask why Christian Aid backs Israeli organizations if it is anti-Israel. Well, Israel is a democratic and pluralist society in which a huge range of views can be legally expressed – including ones which are highly critical of the Israeli state. And it is organizations propagating such views which get CA support. On the other hand, CA is happy to back Palestinian organizations which are wholly uncritical of Palestinian terrorism (if you doubt this tell me where on the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights website I can find condemnation of terrorist violence against Israeli civilians). There appears to me to be a glaring double standard here. Some time ago I praised CA for supporting a group which brings together Palestinian and Israeli parents bereaved by violence, with no ideological preconditions. I just wish that was more typical of its approach.
In your last posting you seem to imply that the very raising of these issues is evidence of the malign influence of religious fanaticism. Speaking for myself I must reject that emphatically. Certainly, I would say that my faith plays an essential part in motivating me to stand up and be counted. But none of my arguments rest on any religious assumptions apart from those bound up with concern for basic human rights. You have had ranged against you in this debate two Christians, one conservative, one liberal, and two Jews, at least one of them non-religious – a reasonably wide spectrum of opinion. Look up some of my links (notably Engage, Harry’s Place, Melanie Phillips, Normblog) and you will find the same arguments couched in purely secular terms and directed at secular institutions (The Guardian, the Respect Coalition etc.) which propagate the same bias as Christian Aid. Read here about Oxfam’s apology for a poster produced by its Belgian affiliate whose message surely came very close indeed to anti-Semitism. So, whilst it is obviously your personal choice whether to remain with Christian Aid, I fear you would be leaving them for entirely the wrong reasons.
Responding to Huldah’s postings, you seem surprised that anyone would expect an organization calling itself Christian Aid to have a distinctively Christian ethos. In saying that I’m not taking issue with its policy of helping people of all faiths and none, or even necessarily with its readiness to employ non-Christians (Huldah may disagree on the latter point, I suspect). But your attitude does confirm the impression I’ve gained of an organization which is informed primarily by secular leftist political ideology and travels very light indeed theologically. Of course there are better and worse theologies, just as there are better and worse political ideologies. I do think, though, that some half-way decent theology would be an antidote to the inclination to take a simplistic ‘good guys and bad guys’ view of the conflict.
Isn’t there also an issue of honesty here? CA seems happy to be labelled as Christian when it’s a matter of signing up churchgoers to deliver collection envelopes and stump up their own cash. But when it comes to spending the cash it seems to think that specifically Christian beliefs and values are largely irrelevant to its work. ‘We believe in life before death’ is a great slogan, but it makes me wonder how many of the people running CA believe in any other kind of life. Might it not be more honest to drop the ‘C’ word from the organization’s name?
To wrap this up, I do think it has been a valuable exchange of views even though we have plainly not resolved our differences. May we all carry on listening to each other with respect, and may the God of love and truth go with you on whatever paths the future takes you to.