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Monday, December 05, 2005

Bishops and Terror

Christian Aid News No. 21 (Summer 2003)

Today I turn to the earliest issue in my Christian Aid News collection. It is two and a half years old, but on a day when a suicide bombing in Netanya has claimed at least five lives, it has lost none of its relevance.

In this issue we find one of the opening salvoes in the ecclesiastical campaign against the Israeli security fence, a campaign which is still going strong – see my letter to the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. It starts like this:-

‘Bishops blast new “Berlin Wall”

‘The new “security fence” being built by Israel to ward off suicide bombers from the West Bank is shocking and deeply divisive, said the Bishop of Exeter after a recent visit to the area.’

‘”The Berlin Wall is nothing to this,” commented the Rt Rev Michael Langrish who visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Rev Neville Chamberlain (sic!). “I am deeply, deeply shocked that a world that fought and argued for the demolition of a wall around a city is now standing by as this greater wall is being built around a whole people”’.

I can assure the Bishop that he can scarcely have been more deeply shocked than I was, and still am, by the crassness of his analogy. Admittedly being married to someone who grew up in that walled city (fortunately for her on the West side) gives me some extra awareness here, but surely a moment’s thought should have told the Bishop he was talking through his mitre. As I have already commented:-

Christian Aid takes a bishop to view Israel’s security fence, and he tells them it’s like the Berlin Wall only worse. Hmmm, run that past me again - one built to keep in people who wanted to be free, the other to keep out people who want to commit murder. Did the Right Rev forget to pack his brain?

Lest the note of levity should suggest there is anything trivial about this, let us be clear: the Berlin Wall was built to defend a failed ideology, and nothing else. Over two hundred people with no violent intent whatsoever died trying to escape the prison it enclosed – most of them shot by border guards under orders to shoot to kill. The Bishop’s comparison is an insult to their memory.

And why has Israel built a security fence? The Netanya bombing brings to 18 the number of people who have died in suicide bombings in Israel this year. Without the fence the number would almost certainly be in three figures. In other words, the fence has saved something in the order of a hundred lives this year alone. Is the Bishop of Exeter still ‘deeply, deeply shocked’ by it? If so he is a disgrace to his Church and mine.

Also featured in this issue is an article about responses to terrorism by yet another bishop, Tom Wright of Durham. The Bishop is, I am told, a fine New Testament scholar. When it comes to politics, though, his views are standard-issue Guardianista anti-Americanism. He advocates a UN-based ‘global police force’ as an alternative to American unilateralism. I agree in principle, but if one is going to argue, as Wright does, from the self-serving agendas driving US policy, one needs to acknowledge, as he does not, that such agendas are just as likely to inform the elites of other countries. To overlook this is bad theology, apart from anything else. To take an obvious example, a majority of permanent Security Council members – China, Russia, France – opposed the invasion of Iraq. Doubtless some of their reasons were good ones, but guess which three countries supplied Saddam Hussein with 90+ % of his arms? And don’t the resolutions which the UN regularly passes against Israel have more than a little to do with the ability of oil-rich Middle Eastern states to win fair-weather friends in the international community?

The Bishop relates the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to American ‘popular mythology’ fed by ‘the powerful Christian right and its blindly ideological commitment to Zionism’. Osama bin Laden would no doubt appreciate the confirmation that Zionist influences lurk behind US policy. Again as a matter of basic Christian theology, I would expect the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England to be aware that ideological blindness can afflict people in more than one segment of the political spectrum. Christian Aid News offers plentiful evidence of that.


Pastorius said...

Good post, Cyrus. It seems, the pacifist crowd has, somehow, confused anti-Westernism and anti-Semitism, with an anti-war stance, or perhaps, with an anti-power stance. It is a pathetically anti-intellectual conflation.

Hence, they have lost the ability to recognize evil.

Or, maybe they just hated the Jews the whole time.

The other day, I read a column from a man named Michael Phillips who noted that Pacifism is necessarily anti-Semitic, because, in it's foundation, it has to deny that WWII deposed the Nazis, and that Israel's military stands as a bulwark against fascists like Hamas, whose only goal is to kill Jews.

So, which is it? Have the Pacifists lost their way, or were they evil in the first place?

Anonymous said...


A couple of quick comments:

1: The people offended by the security fence - and who like to compare it to the wall through the middle of Berlin - by and large are the same folks who back the Palestinians' claim to half of Jerusalem. What do they think would run through the middle of the Holy City (again) if they got their way? Can we count on them to be outraged by that deeply divisive barrier (particularly since, if it follows the old armistice line, it will again be deeply dividing some people from their outhouses)?

2: Blogging when tired carries risks. The bombing happened in Netanya. Although there are some people who would be attracted to the idea of blowing up Bibi Netanyahu, so far as I know he's still standing.

Paul M.

Cyrus said...

Yes, it was well past my bedtime, thanks for the correction. For better or for worse Bibi lives on.

Anonymous said...


The people who are pacifist today were mostly born long after WWII. What such people might have thought looking forward into WWII is another matter. It is, however, clear that today's pacifists face a world which, at the time of WWII, did not exist and could not be imagined.

What ought to be rather obvious from the WWII period is that, with some rather courageous exceptions, concern for the fate of Jews was rather limited among Europeans, whether liberal, socialist, fascist, communist or non-committed, etc., etc.. While most people, no doubt, were basically unconcerned and indifferent or, to be charitable, wished no one anywhere harm, an active and rather large minority opposed Jews and their hopes to escape and no one was prepared to face such active minority and their hostility.

Today, things are rather similar in Europe. None of the political parties places the concerns of Jews as equal to that of others in Europe and Israel's concerns - both legitimate and illegitimate - are low priorities. What is a high priority for Europeans, regardless of political party (with some extremist groups and individuals holding eccentric views) is finding common ground with Muslims. Nothing, even concern for the basic rights of others, which stands in the path of that cause will be protected by Europeans, without regard to party, and the needs of Jews, seen in the context of the perceived need of Europe to accomodate Islam, are irrelevant. And, as always, there is an active and fairly large minority which hates Jews. There is also a new element, a large Muslim group in Europe which actively attacks Jews while Europeans, for the most part - as during WWII - stand by silently, with the political powers trying to cover the matter up - again, due to the perceived need to accomodate Islam -.

That need is the main driving force for Antisemitism in today's Europe.

To Cyrus,

You are a very courageous soul.

David said...

See Israel's security barrier works"

Anonymous said...

you'd have an argument here if the wall wasn't built inside the occupied territories cutting through palestinian villages. if the point is security, then why not keep them all on the other side instead having some on your side of the 'fence'?

Cyrus said...

I've never defended the routing of the barrier and I would support a call for it to be re-routed along the Green Line. The counter-question to yours is: if it's irrelevant to security, how do you explain the sharp drop in suicide attacks inside Israel since it's been in place? In the real world outside outside the propagandists' trench warfare zone people do things for complex mixtures of good and bad reasons.