Methodically Maligning Israel – Leaders of Britain’s Methodist Church

In an essay entitled “Christian Theology and the New Antisemitism,” which appears in A New Antisemitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st-Century Britain, a book of essays published in 2003, Melanie Phillips quotes Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute of Islam and Christianity, as saying that since September 11 the issue of the Palestinians has had what Ms Phillips terms ‘a major distorting impact’ on practising Christendom.

Explained Dr Sookhdeo to Ms Phillips:

“Those who blame Israel for everything don’t realize that, for Islam, the very existence of Israel is a problem.  Even a Palestinian State would not be sufficient. Israel may be behaving illegally in a number of areas, but she is under attack. But white liberal Christians find it deeply offensive not to blame Israel for injustice.”

In the same book both Ms Phillips and Edward Kessler, in his essay entitled “Jews, Christians and the New Antisemitism,” discuss, inter alia, the powerful influence “replacement theology” has had in shaping much Christian hostility towards Israel.

Part of Christian theology for the past 2000 years, and a potent factor in antisemitism, “replacement theology” is based on the premise that the Church has replaced the Jews as the People of the Covenant,  that the idea of Israel, meaning the Chosen People, the Jews, has been superseded by a new, enlarged spiritual Israel – Christianity and its adherents. Thus the idea of the Jewish People’s special relationship with Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) has been compromised if not voided. Indeed, it has been voided in the radical liberation theology of the Palestinian Christian leader Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel organisation, which seeks to delegitimize the unique claim of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel and to indoctrinate the world with the idea of Palestnian victimhood, with the reqirement that Christians must fight the oppressor, the State of Israel.

“Over and over again, “ writes Ms Phillips,

“I was told of the great influence in Britain of the Palestinian canon Naim Ateek. Yet his book, Justice and Only Justice, inverts history, defames the Jews, and sanitizes Arab violence. Modern antisemitism gets precisely one paragraph; Zionism is portrayed not as the despairing response that it was to the ineradicable antisemitism of the world, but as an aggressive colonial adventure. Courageous Jews are those who … say that Judaism should survive without a state …”

Indicative of the influence of Naim Ateek and Sabeel is a joint blog in which the President and the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Reverend Alison Tomlin and Deacon Eunice Attwood, have given their impressions of a visit they made to Israel and the disputed territories. http://methodist-presandvp.blogspot.com/2011/03/visit-to-israelpalestine.html

Their account is largely lachrymose, an account of Palestinian victimhood at the hands of villainous Israel. They have swallowed the Palestinian narrative wholesale, and have seemingly made no account to discover the feelings and attitudes of mainstream Israelis. Rather like the BBC and other leftist media outlets, they appear to think that “balance” means speaking to a handful of Israeli dissidents rather than to people across the political spectrum, let alone to persons on the political and religious “right”.

That Arab rejectionism, aggression, and terrorism have contributed in no small measure to the plight of the Palestinians is of no or trifling avail for these leaders of a Boycott-happy church. They have scant regard for the difficulties facing Israel; the security fence is called, apartheid- and BDS-style, a “separation barrier”:

‘One of the most heart-wrenching experiences during our visit (Alison described it as gut-wrenching) was to go through the Bethlehem check-point at 6am as the Palestinian community leave to go to work. Some of the men in particular sleep outside near the check-point so they can be the first people in the queue. We travelled though wire cages and scanners presenting our documents on several occasions. Whilst we acknowledge security is important, it seems deeply de-humanising to treat people in this manner.’

(But of course not as dehumanising as blowing people to smithereens with a suicide bomb, something not acknowledged by the pair.)

And, nauseatingly, the claim is repeated, with no attempt at verification, that “settlers” in Hebron pour noxious substances over Arab produce.

“Hebron is very much a divided community with Jewish settlers and Palestinians living with different laws and access rights. Below [photo in original] is a street of shops, the metal grids are to prevent the objects which are thrown down by Jewish settlers from hurting Palestinians. Apparently urine used to be poured out of windows but currently bleach is preferred thus destroying the goods for sale below.

Blockaded streets in Hebron dividing the Palestinian and Jewish community, since Jewish settlers returned. Over 2,000 soldiers permanently guard the 400 members of the Jewish community.”

The place of Hebron in Jewish history, its sacred status in Judaism, the long tradition of Jewish residency in that city, the bloody Arab massacre of Jews in 1929 there which led to Hebron being judenrein until after the Six Day War – none of this is mentioned, as the pro-Israel, anti-Boycott Methodist preacher David Hallam has pointed out in his admirable blog on the subject: http://methodistpreacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/methodism-new-best-friends-no-2.html and see also http://methodistpreacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/methodists-are-not-anti.html which is the subject of attack from another Methodist minister, Richard Hall, who doesn’t seem to like Israel very much at all: http://theconnexion.net/wp/#axzz1G88G2uPH

It might be tempting to dismiss the opinions of church leaders as irrelevant, but to do so would be a big mistake.  To quote from Melanie Phillips’s essay again:

“The attitude of the churches is extremely important.  Contrary to the popular belief that Britain is now a post-religious society and so what the churches say doesn’t matter, it does matter greatly.  The churches stll have a great deal of influence in helping create a climate of opinion.  Church leaders not only set a tone, but they legitimate attitudes that might otherwise be regarded with suspicion.  Moreover, what they say seeps deeply into the wider culture; at a time when government spokesmen have lost the trust of the media and general public, statements by priests or Christian non-governmental organizations are treated as unchallengeable truths.”

That’s why we should be grateful to David Hallam for so resolutely countering the present received wisdom of the Methodist Church in Britain, and to other stalwartly pro-Israel Methodists like reader Ian G, who often posts comments on my blogposts (and has done so on David Hallam’s latest post).  Chazak, chazak, gentlemen!

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