Bishop of Chester and staff indulge in “Jew-hating for kicks”
“Brainwashing” at Liverpool Cathedral
Richard Dawkins describes “the Jewish concept of God the creator”
Several weeks ago the London Times’s religion blog Faith Central decided to list the “30 Most Influential Religious Blogs”. At number 28 is Irene Lancaster, a British academic who recently emigrated to Israel, and whose main contribution to public debate is to assert – over and over again – that institutions and individuals who are critical of Israel are motivated by anti-Semitism. Over the past two years Lancaster has become a familiar figure in the British media, popping up on programmes like BBC Radio Manchester’s Thought for the Week and in mainstream religious magazines like The Tablet, which refers to her as “one of the United Kingdom’s leading Jewish academics” – a rather astonishing title given that her academic publication record (so far as I can see) seems pretty average, consisting of some translations and a couple of books on aspects of medieval Jewish thought. Lancaster also enjoys close relations with some high-profile figures, such as former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, and she is the Interfaith Advisor and Academic Liaison Officer for Anglican Friends of Israel (an organisation which has as a patron David Marsland, a university professor who believes that the UK should be a police state with summary executions of terrorist suspects and imprisonment for dissenting journalists).
But what exactly has Lancaster done to enjoy these plaudits? Given the way that she resorts to the most extreme and hyperbolic personal abuse, it is surprising that she is taken seriously at all. Take, for example, her attack on the Bishop of Chester and his staff. In June of last year, Lancaster discovered that Stephen Sizer, an Anglican vicar who supports Palestinian rights and is very critical of Israel, would be giving a presentation at Chester Cathedral. Lancaster wrote to the Bishop, informing him that he should cancel the invitation on the grounds that Sizer was motivated by an
anti-Jewish Christian theology of contempt, on which I am unfortunately an expert
and that allowing him to speak
could lead to attacks on the Jewish community and therefore constitute a security threat.
To Lancaster’s dismay, her demands that Sizer should be made to shut up cut no ice, despite her self-proclaimed “expert” status, and she received a firm letter from the Cathedral office:
Thank you for contacting us about Stephen Sizer’s July lecture in the Cathedral. We are aware that his views are controversial, but we are also conscious of his desire to speak for some highly vulnerable people in Israel/Palestine, whose voices are too seldom heard in this country. He has up-to-date and first-hand experience of what is going on in the Land, and the issues he raises are significant. Our inviting him here does not necessarily mean, of course, that we will agree with everything he says, and there will be a chance for people to ask questions of him on the night, and to hear his response.
What particularly offended Lancaster was that the letter did not come from the Bishop himself:
Funny how all the Bishops in Manchester can write to you themselves, as if they are friends (which most of them are), and the former Archbishop of Canterbury can actually give you an exclusive for your blog, and yet the lower down the hierarchy you go, the more pompous and buck-passing they get.
This discourtesy to someone as important as Lancaster clearly enraged her:
The most pathetic aspect of Chester’s decision is that they have given it the stamp of authenticity by saying their Bishop was consulted and agreed. For a historian such as myself, this resonates of what Holocaust commentator, Hannah Arendt, called ‘the banality of evil’.
They are all little men with no purpose in life, so they latch on to Jew-hating for kicks and pretend that they are sorry for the Palestinians. Just as Hitler and his ilk also had no purpose, so they latched onto Jew-hating for kicks and pretended they were sorry for all those poor Germans.
I think commentary on that would be superfluous.
A second target for Lancaster’s wrath is Giles Fraser, a vicar and Guardian columnist. Last year, she wrote about her friend Andrew Shanks, a canon at Manchester Cathedral:
…Andrew has done two things that make him a towering figure in my eyes. He has publicly taken his friend (and former teacher), the [Archbishop of Canterbury], to task for voting for divestment from Caterpillar at February’s Synod. He has also brought bruiser and media pundit, Rev Dr. Giles Fraser (his former student) to see me, to sort of apologize for his verbal onslaught on rabbis, broadcast on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.
However, Rashomon-like, her account of the meeting later changes slightly in a comment she left on Ruth Gledhill’s blog:
…having met Giles Fraser (actually, he turned up at my house on one occasion without prior consultation) and having been witness to his attempts to bully me around to his own way of thinking on a number of issues about which he is actually very ignorant, I can’t help feeling that one of these days he may need a lawyer himself.
So, from this version we are to infer that Fraser decided to go round to her house uninvited and unwanted, while according to her original account Fraser was brought by a friend to “apologise”. She has also made similar hints about physical intimidation against Stephen Sizer:
And yes, I may even take Sizer up on his offer to meet down south, to have a chat, but I shall make sure to take a body-guard with me.
(Sizer’s response to her piece on him can be seen here)
Lancaster’s way of proceeding is apparently shared by her husband, Brian L. Lancaster (also known as “Les Lancaster”), a transpersonal psychologist who writes on the psychology of mysticism. On one occasion, the two of them decided to attend a talk given by Stephen Sizer at Liverpool Cathedral:
Les said that he was an expert on brainwashing techniques and that is what we had seen this evening in a very cleverly organised immoral and one-sided presentation, aimed at demonisation. The title may have been ‘Morally Responsible Investment’, but the speaker had been anything but morally responsible this evening, Les stated.
So, Brian Lancaster sees a presentation on a political issue, and he profoundly disagrees with the speaker. Other people seem to like the talk more than him, so he decides that the speaker must have employed “brainwashing techniques”. We should believe this because he is “an expert”. To see an academic use their professional status in this way is just embarrassing.
However, it’s not just on the subject of Israel where Irene Lancaster feels that her “expert” status means that she can make bizarre re-interpretations of what other people think. Consider, for example, this quote concerning Richard Dawkins. The source is an interview with Ruth Gledhill:
She says: “Dawkins’ description is definitely Jewishly OK, whether he likes it or not. Dawkins has tried to describe some sort of power, even intelligence, which does not include the word ‘God.’ The word for the Lord in Hebrew is Y-H-V-H-, which is a transliteration of the consonants in Hebrew which sound like vowels. In other words, if you named that power, you might fall into the trap of thinking you really understood it.”
Maimonides lived from 1135 to 1204 and influenced Thomas Aquinas and the whole Christian tradition. “So what Dawkins is describing here is the Jewish concept of God the creator,” says Irene.
UPDATE (13 January 2008): More today.
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