Monday, January 30, 2006
“As a nation we should celebrate this anniversary, marking as it does not only an attempt to right some of the terrible wrongs earlier inflicted on Jewish people but also as an opportunity to celebrate the quite remarkable contributions of Jewish people to every aspect of the life of this country. Without the resettlement, it is hard to imagine what our history, culture politics or economy would be like today. Without doubt we would have been greatly the poorer.”'
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, released a statement for Holocaust Memorial Day last week. Anglicans for Israel have posted a qualified welcome which I would go along with. I would, however, give a wholly unqualified welcome to the section quoted above, particularly since it addresses concerns I raised in a post a while ago - on this point I am very glad to be proved wrong. That the Jewish presence in Britain is something to celebrate is a message that needs to be heard a lot more often. I'd urge the Archbishop to find more opportunities of saying it, and especially at events which have not (unlike Holocaust Memorial Day) been boycotted by the Muslim Council of Britain.
A propos of nothing except the growing power of the blogosphere, I can't resist linking to this story. Draw what conclusions you like about the German national character, I couldn't possibly comment...
Friday, January 27, 2006
Sometimes, when extremist movements are given an electoral mandate, they quietly shelve their more objectionable policies as they get down to the mundane business of governing.
And sometimes they don’t.
Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Is he trying to tell us:-
A. the people of Afghanistan are sick and tired of having an elected government and just want the Taliban back?
B. the Afghans should get the Taliban back whether they like it or not?
C. he doesn't give two hoots what happens in Afghanistan so long as it's something that makes Bush and Blair very unhappy?
Compare and contrast this from Reuters…
‘The Christians called the police when the group set fire to building materials with which they planned to turn a house into a church.’
…with this alternative version…
‘Muslims who heard prayers from the all-night service in the community center threw torches into the building at 4 a.m. Thursday, Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar reported today.’ (source here)
Partisan though this source may be, given that two Christians have so far died it seems reasonably plausible to me that something more than an attack on a stack of planks was involved.
Reuters now have an update which in turn comes from IRIN, a news agency run by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This piece is suggestive of an interesting balance of forces within the organization that produced it. On the one hand, somebody somewhere cares enough about the plight of the Copts to make sure the issue got covered. On the other hand, it is clear that somebody else is imposing strict limits on what may be said. There can be ‘sectarian friction’ in Egypt, there can be ‘religious intolerance’, there can be ‘violent clashes’, but what there absolutely mustn’t be is a wave of vicious persecution of Christians by Muslim militants. Who would think of suggesting such a thing, anyway? Well, wouldn’t you know it…
‘Some observers have noted that religious intolerance is often aggravated by external influences.
‘One formidable element of the equation is the expatriate Coptic Christian community based in the United States, which has a history of accusing Cairo of “religious persecution”.’
They’re all brainwashed by the Zionist lobby, I presume.
And since there is friction but no persecution, one incident in particular requires very delicate handling:-
‘By far the biggest incident of sectarian friction in recent history, however, was in the village of El-Kusheh, south of Cairo, in 2000.
'After twenty people were killed in armed clashes between Christian and Muslim residents, the government renamed the village Dar El-Salaam, or “Haven of Peace,” hoping to stamp out all traces of animosity.’
Twenty one people were killed, to be precise. One Muslim, twenty Christians. If the Christians were doing any armed clashing, they were evidently extremely poor shots.
‘Bridging the Information Gap’ is the claim IRIN makes for itself. Sometimes, though, when you’re coordinating humanitarian affairs, information is just too dangerous to be passed on without very careful management.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
I’d like to mark my hundredth post, which this happens to be, by asking you, dear reader, for feedback. How am I doing? What’s good about this site? What could be better? How could it get its message across more effectively?
I’m more than ever convinced of the importance of the issues I deal with here. What is very hard to gauge is how much impact I’m having. There is evidence of Christian Aid having at least toned down their anti-Israel propaganda, and if they really have sought help from the Chief Rabbi that is a real breakthrough, notwithstanding the reservations I expressed about it. One correspondent has been kind enough to give me the credit for this. Well, even if I had a marginal influence – and there were certainly people at CA spending significant amounts of time here last year – I’d consider it ample return on the time I’ve put in, but there seems no way of knowing for certain. They’re not very likely to admit to it. Meanwhile, whatever happens at CA is not going to leave me twiddling my thumbs, that’s for sure. The Anglican Communion and the Church of Scotland have been giving me plenty to do, and I haven’t even started on the United Reformed Church or the Quakers…
So this is the kind of thing I’d invite you to consider:-
Are my posts too long? Too short?
Are there too many off-topic posts? Are there things I don’t cover and should?
Is the tone right? Do I go over the top?
Are the colour scheme, font etc. OK? Could anything be improved visually?
Do you have any suggestions for increasing traffic to the site?
Please leave a comment, or mail me if you prefer. Feel free to be as critical as you want – I won’t promise not to take it personally, but I’ll get over it!
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Amen to that, which comes from a moving and inspiring article by Martin Gilbert in today's Observer, telling the stories of some who did indeed make a difference. Read it all.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Are there valid reasons for singling Israel out? A debate that began with an article from Richard Kuper of 'Jews for Justice for Palestinians' and continued with this from David Hirsh at Engage (with a couple of comments from yours truly) has produced two spot-on posts on normblog, the first from Eve Garrard and the second from Norm in person (quoted above). And now Kuper has come back for more.
I must say Kuper’s case is a remarkably incoherent one. Garrard and Geras challenged him to say whether he thinks Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians constitutes the worst human rights crisis in the world. A straightforward question to which he offers no straightforward answer. Instead, he seeks to justify the singling out of Israel by piling various forms of special pleading on top of each other, evidently believing the resulting edifice will be imposing enough to conceal his evasion of that simple question.
Let’s look at his arguments.
- It’s a Jewish thing
I have real sympathy with this one. After all, I write my blog as a Christian seeking to put my own faith’s house in order. I can quite understand Jews wanting Israel, more than any other state, to have an unimpeachable human rights record, and feeling betrayed when it fails to live up to their standards. So the fact that it has the worst human rights record of all the states in the world run by Jews is quite sufficient reason for Jews to single it out.
The problems with this argument come when Gentiles get in on the act. For it simply underscores the question why non-Jews get so hot under the collar about Israel. Applying the principle consistently, one would expect WASPs to be busy campaigning over the shortcomings of, say, New Zealand, Muslims to be concentrating their fire on Sudan, and so on. The reality is, of course, different. As I have been documenting ad nauseam in this blog, the singling out of Israel is endemic in mainstream Christian churches. Why? Organize a demonstration against Sudan and the Muslim turnout will be a fraction of what you could expect if Israel were the target. Why?
The plain truth is that there is a gut feeling abroad that Israel really is the World’s Worst, and if left-wing Jews like Richard Kuper are trying to combat it I have to say they are not doing a very good job, to put it mildly. The suspicion must be that they’re not even trying - the success of their campaign must, after all, depend on non-Jewish support. The potential consequences of the demonization of Israel for the way Jews are perceived are profoundly disturbing. Kuper is entitled to accept these consequences for himself, but clearly the threat of a reinvigorated anti-Semitism affects all Jews (and indeed everyone who wants to live in a tolerant pluralist society), and for that he must be held accountable – even if it has to be done by a Goy like me.
- Israel’s so hypocritical
Kuper’s original article contained this fine piece of nonsense:-
‘What so incenses many – and is felt so strongly by Jewish critics of Israel – is its claim to occupy the high moral ground.’
Well, OK, and the butchers of Khartoum claim to be guided by the moral principles of Islam, whilst Kim Jong-Il promotes himself as the ruler of a socialist paradise. Whereas presumably any regime which announced ‘OK, we have an appalling human rights record, we routinely use torture and we’re actively promoting genocide’ should be met with understanding and compassion.
Eve Garrard challenged Kuper on precisely this point: does Israel simply have to climb down from the ‘high moral ground’ to satisfy his objections? His answer? The classic ‘Well, yes and no’. Yes, he is appalled by Israeli hypocrisy, but no, it wouldn’t make things any better if they dropped their claims to virtue. And having offered us a litany of Israeli misdeeds (which simply brings us back full circle: the question is still whether they are the World’s Worst) he rounds his rhetoric off nicely by telling Ms Garrard it’s ‘cheap’ of her to expect logical consistency from him.
- America backs Israel
Kuper evidently feels strongly about this, but is unable to articulate why it should justify the singling out of Israel. Rhetorical games with the phrase ‘singling out’ do not count as an answer. This seems to be very much a pudding whose proof should be in the eating. The question, as ever, is whether Israel’s human rights record is significantly worse than those of other states against which Kuper chooses not to campaign. The fact of American support for Israel does not make its record either better or worse.
There seems to be little substance to this argument beyond the convergence of two mutually reinforcing hate figures. Israel must be appalling because it is supported by America, and America must be appalling because it supports Israel. The half-truth behind the argument is that America does indeed have a record of supporting regimes with dreadful human rights records. But it does not follow either logically or empirically that America always backs the bad guys. Marshall Aid helped shore up liberal democracies in post-war Europe, to take one example. To take another, the invasion of Iraq has, rightly or wrongly, removed a tyrant whose record was, by any objective standard, far worse than Israel’s. So, to repeat, the fact of American support does not automatically put Israel in the dock.
Equally, even if we accept that Israeli human rights abuses are underwritten by a powerful state that should know better, this is hardly a unique phenomenon. Sudan gets its arms, disgracefully, from China – and passes some of them on to the psychotic Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. What is Richard Kuper doing about that?
- The holy places
Israel ‘controls religious sites whose fate is of special significance to three world religions’, says Kuper. But what exactly is the issue here?
For a start, ‘controls’ is a pretty misleading choice of word. The Christian holy places in Jerusalem are run by assorted groups of monks who seem to cause far more problems for each other than the Israeli state ever does for any of them. The Dome on the Rock is controlled by a Muslim outfit called the Wafq. If you haven’t read Irshad Manji’s book, do, and enjoy her hilarious account of her brush with these guys. It’s safe to say their attitude towards women could use some updating – but don’t blame the Israelis, they’re keeping well out of it. As for the Western Wall, we all know that if you’re the Prime Minister of Israel you should be very careful about showing your face there in case you start an uprising. Control?
As a Christian, there are two things I’d want to say on this score. Firstly, I really don’t have any problem with my faith’s holy places being under the jurisdiction of a state which has an exemplary record of religious tolerance. I’d be an awful lot more concerned if Hamas were in charge. Secondly, however unhappy I was, I wouldn’t want to see a single life taken to alter the situation. The last Crusade ended about eight hundred years ago. Christians are, or should be, more concerned with people than with real estate, however significant to the history of their faith.
On the other hand, I fear not all Muslims see things quite the same way. That’s certainly a problem. But a reason for boycotting Israel?
- All the troubles of the Middle East
Says Richard Kuper, ‘You could add that the Middle East is a tinderbox and Israeli policies contribute to making it more unstable. What happens there can have terrible repercussions for us all.’
Well, yes, you could add that, but to what purpose? How big is Israel’s contribution to Middle Eastern instability? Bigger than Syria’s or Iran’s? The answer must presumably be in the affirmative, if this is to be an argument in favour of singling Israel out. In which case we’re deep into Protocols territory. Again there is a half truth here. The Middle East is indeed highly unstable, for complex historical reasons. One feature of that instability is that lots of powerful people find it useful to have a scapegoat – Israel, who else - and the scapegoating becomes in itself part of the instability. Need I name our good friend President Ahmadinejad? To cite this as part of the case for boycotting Israel would seem to fall fairly and squarely under the heading of ‘blaming the victim’.
So, sorry Mr Kuper, but the question remains unanswered: ‘Why single out Israel?’
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
|You are a |
You are best described as a:
Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Nice to read this about Boulos Marcuzzo, the Catholic Bishop of Nazareth...
'He was adamant however that everyone must first destroy “the walls of separation” in their hearts. The quotation is from Ephesians 2:14, and forms his Episcopal motto.'
...as it's also the motto of this website!
Could I suggest to Mr Kearney that he pays another visit to the Holy Land soon, and invites his opposite number in the Kirk to come with him?
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
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
‘ISRAEL-PALESTINE – SECURITY WALL OR BARRIER TO PEACE?’
‘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?)
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.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Or rather, one version of the news reminds me. Full marks to the Independent for this:-
'Lady Tonge - who was sacked by Mr Kennedy after voicing understanding of Palestinian suicide bombers - warned that he risked "destroying" the Liberal Democrats if he stayed on as leader. '
No marks to the Beeb...
'ex-frontbencher Lady Tonge accused Mr Kennedy of using an "underhand" strategy'
... or the Grauniad...
'Baroness Tonge - who served in Mr Kennedy's frontbench team in the last parliament as MP Jenny Tonge - said the leader was "in denial" about the extent of his difficulties and said she was "disgusted" by his behaviour'
...or the Times...
'Jenny Tonge, a Lib Dem peer, bluntly suggested he was now as useful as a "one-legged Tarzan"'
... for quoting her Ladyship without mentioning the circumstances in which she left the front bench.
The ‘World Mission’ section contains descriptions of the Kirk’s work in sub-Saharan Africa, in Egypt, in Syria and in Lebanon. There is not the slightest hint of political criticism of any state or organization in these areas. All are evidently paragons of respect for human rights. The Kirk-supported Scottish Churches’ China Group offers the following delicate allusions to anti-religious persecution in the People’s Republic:-
‘After 1951 all missionaries had to leave China. From 1951 to 1976 relationships between overseas churches and Christians in China were intermittent, sensitive to the fact that the Chinese were in a situation of becoming an independent and indigenous church. Often these were years of no correspondence between either churches or old friends from the Chinese Church - this was particularly so in the 1950s and during the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976). During this time all religious institutions were closed down and religious life basically went underground.
‘In the Constitution of the People's Republic of China there is a clause allowing for the religious freedom with various strings attached - these strings have sometimes been pulled tighter than at other times depending on the political climate of the time. Protestantism and Catholicism are set out as two separate religions in the Constitution.
‘Under the socialist government, religion is administered by officials of the United Front Work Department working in the sub-department of the Religious Affairs Bureau. These officials have a dual task: to ensure that all believers are allowed the freedom to believe according to the Constitution by ensuring that property confiscated during the Cultural Revolution is returned, that there is no harassment of believers, that in housing, jobs etc believers are not discriminated against and so forth.
‘On the other hand they are there to keep a check on religious activities, by enforcing the regulations for religious affairs that were brought in January 1994, for example, ensuring that church congregations, don't grow too big too quickly. Some officials are very sympathetic to believers, others are antagonistic.’
Now compare and contrast with this statement:-
‘The situation for Palestinians is deteriorating every day. The wall which is being constructed around the Palestinian towns and villages and which seeks to maximise the amount of land that Israel can appropriate and minimise the amount of people who will be allowed access to their former land. There are terrible consequences of the wall which Israel is building around the Palestinian people. In effect Israel is separating Palestinian communities from their lands and from each other with only Israelis allowed to travel on the roads between them. It is clearly creating facts on the ground and changing the borders of a future Palestinian State without reference to the Palestinian people. Further information is available at http://www.stopthewall.org/and from Christian Aid: www.christian-aid.org.uk and World Council of Churches: http://www.wcc-coe.org/’
And the balancing condemnation of terrorism? There isn’t one.
My conclusion again: the Kirk’s public stance on this issue makes it institutionally anti-Semitic.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
‘This society has been radicalised and traumatised by its confrontation with the Israelis, who occupied Gaza decades ago and only evacuated their settlers and troops last summer.
‘Thousands of Palestinians have been killed, injured or lost their homes during years of violence.
‘There are numerous armed factions that used to channel their violent energies into attacks on the Israelis - but they now have little on which to focus.’
Might disarmament be an option here? Sorry, silly me. In that case, here’s my suggestion for restoring that all-important focus: simply distribute several thousand life-size cardboard cutouts depicting Israeli soldiers and settlers around Gaza.
Any NGOs who can help with the funding and logistics are welcome to contact me. I think it would also be a most appropriate project for the European Union to support.
As Hamas prepare to abandon their ceasefire (meanwhile enjoying the prospect of sweeping electoral gains), I have a message of seasonal cheer for them, for Islamic Jihad and for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland wants to make it easier for you to kill Jewish children!
I have received a reply to the letter I sent to the current Moderator, David Lacy, and it makes grim reading. He restates his condemnation of the Israeli security barrier and pointedly refuses to balance it with condemnation of Palestinian terrorism. One might be able to take comfort from the fact that his term of office is just 12 months – but he encloses a policy document which makes it plain that he does indeed speak for the General Assembly, and I find this is confirmed by the Kirk’s website.
The details are drearily familiar. For those who prefer to be spared them I begin with a summary.
- The Israelis – to be precise, Israel’s Jews – are made the scapegoats for the conflict between them and the Palestinians. Bland and perfunctory condemnations of violence, typically not referring specifically to terrorism at all, are followed by lengthy denunciations of Israel’s attempts to defend its people.
- Israel is turned into a rogue state, uniquely deserving of a political campaign against it.
- Whereas empathy and compassion are shown towards the Palestians, there is a complete failure of empathy and compassion – a hardening of heart – towards a people whose identity has been shaped in an unparalleled way by the experience of racism and ultimately genocidal violence.
The following assertion will strike some as being over the top, but I really can find no other way to do justice to what is at stake: the Kirk’s public stance on this issue makes it institutionally anti-Semitic.
I will deal with the policy document and the website in subsequent postings. Here I address the Moderator’s letter.
The Moderator’s letter
The substantive content is as follows:-
‘I have to tell you, first of all, that the article in Scotland on Sunday to which you refer is entirely representative of my views.
‘I do not believe, as you say, that the “primary responsibility for the wall lies with those who organise and commit terrorist attacks”. [note: this is a misquotation of my letter - unlike the Church of Scotland I do not use the word “wall” to describe something which is in fact a fence for 95% of its length] That could only be said if the wall followed the Green Line. But, of course, it doesn’t but makes large incursions into Palestinian territory. I have never dismissed Israel’s security needs: I just question where their defence becomes attack.
‘The Church of Scotland has consistently rejected the idea that criticism of the policies of the state of Israel is in any way anti-Semitic. Both before and after my recent trip to Israel, I consulted with the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks and with Jewish community leaders in Scotland, all of whom fully understand that the Church of Scotland’s position is against some of the policies of Israel and has nothing to do with the anti-Semitism you suggest.’
Right Reverend Sir, ‘the idea that criticism of the policies of the state of Israel is in any way anti-Semitic’ – ipso facto - formed no part of my letter, and I challenge you to find any statement in this website that supports it.
I do say that such criticism plainly may be anti-Semitic, given that it often emanates from unashamed anti-Semites.
I do say that the nature of the criticism may be such as to constitute at least unconscious anti-Semitism and to legitimize prejudice against the Jewish people, even if it is made by people who strongly deny being anti-Semitic.
I do say that this is the case where the criticism persistently focuses on measures taken by Israel to protect its civilian population from being murdered, and where there is no balancing criticism of those doing the murdering.
I do say that this is the nature of the criticism of the security barrier made by you personally and the Kirk collectively.
The implication of the second paragraph quoted is that Israel has to be beyond criticism before you will even consider criticizing its enemies. And in fact you do not go so far as to say you would support the building of the barrier if it followed the Green Line. Judging by the ‘report of the Church and Nation Committee to the 2004 General Assembly’ which you enclosed, the policy of the Kirk is explicitly that it would not. You tell me you ‘have never dismissed Israel’s security needs’, without telling me how you think they can be met. You do not respond at all to the argument that the barrier has saved dozens, maybe hundreds, of lives. Is it that you feel they are lives not particularly worth saving?