I’m generally quite cautious about posting in a reactive way to matters about Israel, sitting here in London. It is often difficult to sift through the facts of specific situations and the opinion pieces are wide and varied on the internet – often it feels as if the truth is baffling. I am also hesitant because I’m conscious that sometimes all you can be left saying are a few simple value statements which do not make a wider contribution to the debate.
In reading about the recent vote at the General Synod of the Church of England about EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel), I felt equally uneasy about voicing a strident opinion without having reasonable opportunity to research for myself. Though I still feel somewhat uninformed because I have a nagging feeling that there’s a lot more than meets the eye when decisions such as this are made, I have read a couple of blog posts on the EAPPI website. These posts were sufficient to make me feel uneasy.
You see, I’m not an ‘Israel can never put a foot wrong’ type of person. I am passionate, frustrated and sorrowful about the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. I care deeply about the fate of the State of Israel and her future. And I am capable of holding in mind, at the same time, a desire for peace, justice and the implementation of a Two State solution – which meets the needs of both peoples’ rights of self-determination.
But you see when I read a blog post by an Ecumenical Accompanier who visits Yad Vashem and insinuates a banal and, dare I say, specious comparison between the fate of six million Jews and six million other people and the current situation experienced by Israelis and Palestinians, I feel worried and perturbed. When an Accompanier’s only reference for the display of striped camp clothing is a fictional novel, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, I know they are probably woefully under-educated about the Jewish experience in the 20th Century and probably utterly ill equipped to comment on a highly complex political situation. I’m aware of the human rights issues, the demolition of homes, the expansion of settlements, and the impact of security measures on the lives of Palestinians. Clearly the settlements and the occupied territories will have to be included in any peace process, but to believe that they alone are the essential obstacle to peace is to display a remarkable deficiency in conceptual understanding of the situation. Moreover, to suggest that there is equivalence between the Nazi Holocaust, and the lessons that could be learnt, and the current situation is, I think, a misreading of what is happening today and a desecration of the memories of those who were murdered by the Nazi regime set on the extinction of an entire people.
The second blog article has been reposted on twitter a couple of times by Jeremy Newmark, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council. I’m not sure I fully agree with how he reads anti-Semitism in the article ‘Land (f)or Peace’ – though read between the lines of the claim regarding the neglect of prophetic literature in Judaism and the way the same literature points towards Jesus in Christianity and you can understand Newmark’s point. However, I do think the post displays a chronic over-simplification of Jews and Judaism. I also think it plays too fast and loose with the rhetoric of ‘Chosenness’ which has historic resonances of anti-semitism. Moreover, I once had the misfortune of reading an anti-Semitic commentary on aspects of the Talmud and I’m afraid that the portrayal of a religious Jew in the blog post on the EAPPI website drifts into similar territory. The post lacks nuance and breadth of context and over-generalises the notion of religious Jews (Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox).
I only read a couple of articles and did not have time to comment at length. This is not intended to be an exhaustive review of the EAPPI or of all its blog postings, but I’m afraid these two posts are individually problematic and hint at the wider concerns raised by the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, Lord Jonathan Sacks, and the Board of Deputies and Ruth Gledhill (also in the JC). If the General Synod wants to support peace in the Middle East I suspect there would be less controversial, probably more balanced, constructive and inclusive relationships that could be built.