Church of England Backs Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

Ekklesia reports:

There has been a widespread welcome for a vote in the Church of England General Synod supporting a nonviolent human rights programme in Palestine and Israel… By a margin of almost four to one, the Synod passed the motion praising the “vital work” of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

…The debate on Monday (9 July) followed weeks of heated controversy. Anglican Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies of British Jews had encouraged Synod to reject the motion. They accused EAPPI of helping to “generate a climate of hostility to Israel in the churches”. They said that after returning from Palestine, EAs form “a cohort” of “anti-Israel advocates who have almost no grasp of the suffering of normal Israelis”.

…There was embarrassment for EAPPI’s opponents when one of their key claims was found to be untrue. The Board of Deputies alleged on their website that of their three months in the region, EAs spend only one day inside Israel. It soon became apparent that every former EA, as well as many others associated with the programme, could testify to the inaccuracy of this claim.

Sharen Green, a former Ecumenical Accompanier, explained in a letter to the Church Times, “I have served twice as an EA, for whom a week hearing a variety of Israeli perspectives was programmed. We spent a day at an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. We also visited a kibbutz and many of us travelled down to Sderot, a town where the Qassam rockets rain down from Gaza.”…

This all seems reasonable enough: it’s true that outsiders who sympathize with Palestinian civilians on the sharp end of the conflict sometimes develop a distorted and incomplete understanding of the complexities of Israeli society, but EAPPI appears to be making efforts to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Pro-Israel groups might not like EAPPI’s perspective, but it looks as though the EAPPI provides a healthy counter-balance to various Christian Zionist organisations that take Christians into the area.

However, the EAPPI’s case has not been helped by the rhetoric of some of its supporters in the Synod. According to a polemical account in the Jewish Chronicle:

The proposer of the motion, Dr John Dinnen, referred to the vast sums he decided had been spent producing a leaflet to explain the opposition to the motion.

What was in fact a modest double sided A4 leaflet “must have cost £1,000”. Another speaker spoke of “powerful lobbies” seeking to influence Synod.

….In his closing remarks [Dinnen] evoked the parable of the good Samaritan in which the uncaring Jews cross the street to avoid helping an injured man, and he concluded by saying that “the Palestinians are being pushed over, while the Jews are quite powerful,” before correcting himself and saying “Israelis” instead of “Jews”.

This can be overegged: the phrase “powerful lobbies” has unhappy connotations, but it is self-evidently the case that there has been lobbying against the resolution by groups that have a certain amount of standing. That in itself is not sinister, but neither is pointing out the fact (I discussed the “lobby” issue in general here). However, unless the JC has misrepresented Dinnen’s presentation, he appears to have made some ill-considered comments.

Meanwhile, Joseph W and Alan A from Harry’s Place have been scouring the EAPPI’s website looking for discrediting material:

…An EAPPI volunteer beams at how an EAPPI team was warmly greeted by Bethlehem’s mayor Victor Batarseh, who is a supporter and key ally of the terrorist group PFLP.

…EAPPI has teamed with Mayor Batarseh alongside the antisemitic Atallah Hanna, for a joint Christian event in Bethlehem. Another speaker at this event was Sheikh Taysir Tamimi.

Tamimi still features on the EAPPI website, alongside Hanna, as someone who supports hunger strikes in protest against Israel.

Tamimi thinks Israel spreads AIDS and drugs.

… the position of EAPPI [is thatthe cause of the Middle East conflict is that Jewish theology has gone astray because of Jewish reliance on the Talmud.

There are a couple of points to be made here: first, while human rights groups would do well to maintain critical distance from the individuals named above (I have discussed Hanna here), rebuffing local officials and dignitaries is not likely to be practical, and may indeed be counter-productive. Such associations may be valid grounds for criticism and requests for explanations, but it is excessive to suggest that this is the “true” face of EAPPI.

Further, the EAPPI website contains hundreds of reports filed by supporters and volunteers; one of these, dating from 2005, makes the argument that some religious Jews are unable to persuade other religious Jews that it is acceptable to trade land for peace because of the Talmud. It’s not not a strong article, full of assertions rather than evidence, but it doesn’t claim that the Talmud is the “cause of the Middle East conflict”, and the article is not presented as being “the position of EAPPI” on Jewish theology.

Among those supporting the Anglican Friends of Israel’s opposition to resolution was Andrew White, the famous “Vicar of Baghdad”. White is also the “spiritual protector” of a chivalric order (taking over the role from Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali) with which some of the activists with Anglicans for Israel are involved.