Mainstream Church Pro-Israel Lobbies Fired Up

(expanded 11 April 2006; edited June 2006 due to legal threat)

The Religion News Service posts a press release detailing the latest volley in the Israel divestment wars:

CHRISTIANS FOR FAIR WITNESS ON THE MIDDLE EAST and a coalition of Christian groups will appear at the National Press Club on the morning of Feb. 17, 2006 to warn churches not to embrace the anti-Israel message promoted by the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM). The PSM is hosting a Divestment Conference at Georgetown University this weekend.

“The Palestinian Solidarity Movement is not working toward a just peace in the Middle East; it seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel,” says Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq.” “We want to warn Christians about PSM’s efforts to portray the Arab/Israeli conflict in a manner that blames the Jewish State as the sole source of the conflict. Our goal is not to stifle debate, but to insist that it be based on facts, not anti-Jewish rhetoric.”

“Christians for a Fair Witness on the Middle East” was founded in October last year to counter efforts by Palestinian Christians to seek support from mainstream churches. A previous press release gives some details (link added):

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East (Fair Witness), has gathered mainline Protestant and Catholic clergy and lay leaders to counter the ill-informed criticism and one-sided condemnation of Israel by some American churches. According to Sr.Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq., National Director of Fair Witness, a radical Jerusalem-based Palestinian Christian group known as Sabeel has become a driving force behind the anti-Israel orientation growing in some American churches.

“Naim Ateek, Sabeel’s founder, has said that the creation of Israel constituted a ‘grievous injustice’ and has repeatedly pointed to Israel as the sole cause of the conflict – while failing to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for their history of violence against Israelis and their role in creating the conflict that exists today,” she said. “There is an agenda here that is neither just nor Christian.”

Of course, this is breathtakingly hypocritical – Lautt finds Christian support for Palestinian aspirations “anti-Jewish” and unbalanced, but she has apparently has absolutely no problem with the millions of Christian Zionists who believe that Palestinian dispossession is actually the will of God, and that the Israeli right should enjoy unquestioning and unconditional support in all circumstances. However, her own group is not Christian Zionist, and her supporters are willing to make token statements about Palestinian rights (link added):

“Our goal is to help churches find a constructive voice that reflects the Christian obligation to justice, embracing both Palestinians and Israelis in their respective fears, hopes, and aspirations,” said Rev. James Loughran, SA, Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute in New York City. “Israel’s right to exist within secure borders and to defend itself from attack are as fundamental as the dignity of Palestinian life and the need for Palestinian national self-expression.”

I look forward to seeing some evidence that the two are equally important, or that Fair Witness is actually willing to do anything to support “the dignity of Palestinian life”.

Meanwhile, the General Synod of the Church of England (backed by Archbishop Rowan Williams) has recently called for divestment from Caterpiller, the bulldozer company that supplies the Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank (one of Caterpiller’s bulldozers, it should be recalled, was used to kill the American protestor Rachel Corrie in 2003, although it’s not known if that was mentioned in the Synod debate). This has provoked a backlash, with former Archbishop George Carey condemning the move. Ruth Gledhill adds in The Times:

No time was made to debate an amending motion put forward by Anglicans for Israel, the new and influential pro-Israel lobby group.

Gledhill doesn’t explain why Anglicans for Israel should be called “influential”, but she is herself highly supportive, which explains her angle on the subject. In her blog she adds:

As an Anglican myself, this decision provokes anger and shock in me, allied with shame and embarrassment. Have 2000 years of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the horrific death toll of suicide bombings in Israel taught us nothing?

Fortunately, Anglicans such as myself who are unashamedly, although decidedly not blindly, pro-Israeli have a new organisation, Anglicans for Israel, to fight Israel’s corner, and this synod decision shows just how small and tight that corner is.

Clearly, the purported religion correspondent Gledhill has never met a Christian Zionist if she thinks Israel is in a “tight corner” thanks to the Synod. And is she seriously arguing that someone like Rowan Williams knows nothing of the horrors she enumerates?

Anglicans for Israel is run by Simon McIlwaine, a Tory libertarian. Back in the 1980s he headed up Peace Now in Southern Africa, about which details are scarce; however, a 1986 Guardian report found by David Bloom at World War 4 Report gives some indication of its likely perspective (link added):

A compassionate thought this morning for exminister Patrick Jenkin, who will spend the day chairing the AGM of the Greater London Young Conservatives. A clutch of tumultuous rightwingers, some with their roots in the notorious Federation of Conservative Students, is making a bid for power under its banners of support for Ulster, Nicaragua, South Africa, the Association for a Free Russia etc etc. Geoff Winnard, a Monday Clubber, is their candidate for chairman, with Simon McIlwaine for vice-chairman and Huw Shooter (he of the CND submarine incident) for treasurer.

There is no evidence that McIlwaine was ever himself a member of the Federation of Conservative Students (famous for its “Hang Nelson Mandela” badges), and some of his various Conservative associations are given on his high-school alumni profile. However, that profile neglects to mention that he was once himself a member of the very right-wing Monday Club; a report in the Times from 1984 relates that he resigned from the Club over its extremism, but that this was after he had been “suspended for behaviour deemed unacceptable by the executive committee” (1). His alumni profile does, though, tell us that he was at one time chaplain of the William Alexander Memorial L.O.L. – the acronym here meaning “Loyal Orange Lodge”. This lodge is part of the Grand Orange Lodge of England. The “Orange Orders” blend Freemasonry and Protestant fundamentalism, and the Orange Order of Ireland expresses the traditions (and, some would say, sense of sectarian superiority) of the Unionist (Protestant) majority community in Northern Ireland.

Huw Shooter, meanwhile, is now Anglicans for Israel’s “Campaign Director”; the “CND submarine incident” took place during the 1984 Conservative Party conference in Brighton, when Shooter (then aged 24) was part of a mob of forty Young Conservatives who attacked and damaged a model Trident that CND had placed opposite the venue. The Times described Shooter as “very right-wing”, and as a member of the Young Conservatives and Young Monday Club (he declined to give other memberships “to save them embarrassment”). Despite comparing his actions to anti-nuclear protestors cutting fences at the air-base at Greenham Common, he was expelled from Lewisham Conservative Association (2).

UPDATE: I’ve also just noticed that Anglicans For Israel’s patrons include Prof. David Marsland, a man who favours summary executions and imprisoning journalists as the means to winning the “War on Terror”. He gave his thoughts at the Springbok Club, a network for disaffected white South Africans and Rhodesians living in the UK. A fuller account is given in my blog entry for today.

(Hat tip to Jews Sans Frontieres for Gledhill links. Back in 2004 the Institute on Religion and Democracy produced a report critical of mainstream churches’ support for the Palestinians; I critiqued that here.)


(1) See The Times 19/July/1984 page 12A

(2) See The Times 10/Oct/1984 pages 4C and 14A; 26/Oct/1984 page 16A

10 Responses

  1. The “Orange Orders” blend Freemasonry and Protestant fundamentalism…

    Now that’s a pretty crazy mix!

  2. FYI, that first link is a press release, not an RNS news story. Keep up the interesting blogging!

  3. Thanks, I’ve clarified that.

  4. […] Christians) to divest in firms that assist with the Occupation (I blogged on the group a few days ago). And like Anglicans for Israel founder Simon McIlwaine and campaign director Huw Shooter, he has […]

  5. TERROR CONFERENCE HELD AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY BY: FERN SIDMAN In the midst of much controversy and after weeks of planning, preparation and debate, administrators and organizers have put the final touches on the Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference to be held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The conference is expected to have 500-600 attendees. Georgetown has resisted calls from pro-Israeli activists to cancel the conference on the grounds that the conference promotes terrorism. The conference is being hosted by a campus group called Students for Justice in Palestine. University President John J. DeGoia said at a meeting with students last month that university-sponsored groups like SJP have the right to host peaceful meetings on campus regardless of their viewpoints. The PSM has received criticism from some groups for advocating divestment of US business investments in Israel and for its’ members reluctance to openly condemn Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. According to a letter published in The Washington Post (February 12, 2006) from two noted academics, Eric Adler and Jack Langer, they assert that the PSM certainly is controversial and also dangerous. “The purported aim of the PSM is to encourage divestment from Israel. To this end, its conferences boast a cavalcade of anti-Israel speakers whose speeches often degenerate into anti-Semitism. At the 2004 conference at Duke University in North Carolina, for example, keynote speaker Mazin Qumsiyeh referred to Zionism as a “disease.” Workshop leader Bob Brown deemed the Six Day War “the Jew War of ’67.” Not to be outdone, Nasser Abufarha praised the terrorist activities of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PSM maintains that it is a separate organization from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which sends foreign students to the West Bank and Gaza to foment anti-Israeli sentiment. All the same, the two groups seem to have intimate ties. At the 2004 PSM conference, for instance, the International Solidarity Movement ran a recruitment meeting called “Volunteering in Palestine: Role and Value of International Activists.” In that session, the organization’s co-founder, Huwaida Arraf, distributed recruitment brochures and encouraged students to enlist in the ISM, which she acknowledged, cooperates with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Another co-founder, George Rishmawi, told the San Francisco Chronicle in a July 14, 2004, news story why his group recruits student volunteers. “When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore,” he said. “But is these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” The group got its wish in 2003, when ISM member Rachel Corrie 23, was killed while trying to block Israeli bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian houses in Gaza. The Israelis said the houses were covering tunnels used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. In another letter published by Lee Kaplan of Front Page Magazine, it states, “Please note the following recruitment and training seminar given at this event this Saturday to be hosted by Huwaida Arraf and Joseph Carr. Titled, “Supporting Palestinian Non-Violent Resistance to Occupation: Volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement.” The above session will be to recruit students to go to the West Bank and stand as human shields for terrorists and stone throwers who will attack the Israeli army, try to remove the Security Fence built to keep out terrorists and to interfere with checkpoints set up to interdict suicide bombers. In addition, Israel recently deported all Jews from Gaza last year, and 98 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank is under Palestinian Authority. “Occupation” at this conference refers to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, albeit a pluralistic democracy and ally of the USA, and calls to end Israel’s “occupation” are in fact calls for the end of Israel. The Conference seeks to do this also by openly promoting the Arab League boycott of Israel that is illegal under US law. Please note that Noura Erekat, another guest speaker at this event, has openly stated in e-mails that Israel within 1948 borders is “occupied Palestine.” It is now a matter of record that the Palestine Solidarity Movement, also known as the International Solidarity Movement, has contacts with Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) as defined by the U.S. State Department. The fact that the collaboration is nonviolent may not matter, as US law prohibits any material support (other than medical supplies and religious items) to Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

    There is no question that the Palestine Solidarity Movement calls for the complete eradication of the State of Israel. If there is one thing you can say about Hamas is that they are honest. Unlike the other “Palestine” oriented organizations who couch their rhetoric is more palatable or subliminal ways, Hamas states their truth and the other “Palestinian” organizations feel the same way, but don’t have the courage to say it, in the fear it will alienate their Western supporters, particularly liberal, leftist Jews. Here is what Hamas had to say this week. The Hamas web site this week presented the parting video messages of two Hamas suicide terrorists, according to Palestinian Media Watch. The first said: “We are a nation that drinks blood, and we know that there is no blood better than the blood of Jews. We will not leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children’s thirst with your blood.” The second said: “We will destroy you, blow you up, take revenge against you, [and] purify the land of you, pigs that have defiled our country.” Let’s not kid ourselves. Fatah, Hizbullah, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, and other more upscale intellectual Palestinian organizations concur with this vociferous, vitriolic, hate filled speech. When are we going to get it? THEY DON’T WANT PEACE !!! The issues surrounding the controversial conference to be held at Georgetown University are not about free speech, but rather, about a conference which promotes terrorism. Any conference which seeks to, “recruit students to go to the West Bank and stand as human shields for terrorists and stone throwers who will attack the Israeli army, try to remove the Security Fence built to keep out terrorists and to interfere with checkpoints set up to interdict suicide bombers”, is plainly advocating terrorism. President Bush stated during his recent State of the Union address that if people are talking to Al Qaeda or promoting terrorism, he wants to know about it. This conference is a platform for all kinds of Islamic terrorists to promulgate their beliefs. Of course, they are organizing this conference under the banner of “academic freedom” and “freedom of speech”. How easy it is to whitewash terrorism under such innocuous labels. This conference deserves to be condemned by all those who claim that global terrorism will not be tolerated or supported.

  6. Readers who manage to get through the above screed should note that

    a) the poster’s email address gives the name “AriellaH” rather than “Fern Sidman”;

    b) Sidman is the former director of the Jewish Defense League, which is itself regarded as an extremist and terrorist organisation within both the USA and Israel. Members have targeted (on US soil) both Arab-Americans and Jews with whom they diagree. One of Sidman’s ealier pieces is a eulogy to Irv Rubin, who committed suicide after being arrested in the USA on terror charges. To receive a lecture on “global terrorism” from such a person is a bad joke.

    c) On this blog and elswhere I have been consistently opposed to terrorism and Islamism.

  7. […] reposted a few months ago on the website of Anglicans for Israel, the British lobby group I covered recently. However, that article ignored quite a few facts, which are handily gathered on an unflattering […]

  8. Hi, please feel free to check out our new Northern Ireland Springbok Club website.

    It is really good and has a few articles on anti-semitism and Israel.

    God bless Israel.

  9. Thank you. Now I have something new to write about, especially the view of your “Honorary Life President” Jim Dixon that “It’s wrong that blacks are coming to Northern Ireland” and that under apartheid “the black man” was “respected”.

  10. […] Nigel contacted me in response to a couple of blog entries (here and here) that mentioned the Springbok Club, which I described as “a London-based network for […]

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