The Council of Christians and Jews, reacting to the General Synod of the Church of England’s recent vote on the motion concerning the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) wrote that:
Interfaith relationships can be sensitive at best and it takes little to upset the balance. The call is always for sensitivity to the other.
I campaigned against Dr. John Dinnen’s private motion to the General Synod of the Church of England.
That this Synod affirm its support for:
(a) the vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants;
(b) mission and other aid agencies working amongst Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region;
(c) Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area, such as the Parents Circle – Families Forum; and
(d) Palestinian Christians and organisations that work to ensure their continuing presence in the Holy Land.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester, Rt. Rev. Nigel McCulloch, cautioned Synod and tabled the following amendment (which I supported):
Leave out paragraph (a) and insert –
(a) the vital work of those people who volunteer in Palestine and Israel to promote peace, dialogue and the welfare of Palestinians and Israelis, encouraging Churches and Synods to make use of their experiences
Bishop McCulloch emphasised that the Church of England should take care not to damage the carefully built up relations between Jews and Christians in the UK.
Reverend Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons supported Dr. Dinnen’s motion as tabled. Canon Fitzsimons mentioned receiving an email from Anglican Friends of Israel and refuted claims that EAPPI is anti-Israel. Claims that ‘over-lobbying’ materially affected Synod’s decision seem rather disingenuous to its collective intellect. Selective deafness I could believe.
I am rather more disposed to support the view of the Council of Christians and Jews:
That the Synod has given open support to that named programme above all others will appear also to give an endorsement to its UK reporting which in our opinion needs very careful monitoring and scrutiny. This is an unfortunate if not dangerous position for the church to be in.
The Very Revd Dr Alan MacDonald similarly endorsed Dr. Dinnen’s motion with a meandering statement conflating apartheid South Africa and the Middle East. Thinly-veiled allusion to the influence of ‘powerful lobbies’ seemed both capricious and clichéd.
Asymmetric discourse flowed from Reverend Jonathan Alderton-Ford, Reverend Jeremy Fletcher and Professor Helen Leathard, all determined to score hollow points by labeling a security fence a ‘separation wall’. Infantile and inaccurate, this reminds me of Irish republican jargon which refers to Northern Ireland as ‘the occupied six counties’.
Christian Friends of Israel’s UK Executive Director, Jacob Vince spoke in favour of the Bishop of Manchester’s amendment. Vince highlighted that EAPPI presentations he attended gave an unhelpful one-sided picture of the Middle East. He informed Synod that one presentation was vehemently anti-Israel, verging on anti-Semitic.
Synod was unmoved and voted down Bishop McCulloch’s amendment. It went on to adopt Dr. Dinnen’s private motion.
Responding to acceptance of the motion by General Synod, the Council of Christians and Jews said:
The grave reservations held by the CCJ – an organisation of Christians and Jews who regularly dialogue together – is not with the purpose of EAPPI itself, but rather with some of its methodology and the problematic reporting by some returned Ecumenical Accompaniers in the UK.
Apolitical interfaith experts voiced concern about the naming of EAPPI in this motion. The United Kingdom’s oldest interfaith organisation warned that EAPPI’s UK reporting requires “very careful monitoring and scrutiny.”
The Church of England finds itself in a difficult position. To secure peace we must take risks, and often accept unpalatable compromise. Synod’s approach in this matter however appears rash.
In the erudite estimation of CCJ:
The Church’s impatience with Israel will be feared by some in the UK Jewish community that this will translate into impatience with British Jews and where that may lead.
The lesson from the Motion at General Synod is for more listening and greater sensitivity: there seems to be a paucity of both.
Concerns remain about the further injury this motion may cause. Sensitivity and listening will deliver. Any uneven narrative from EAPPI will not. At odds with Synod’s decision, I do see an opportunity for the church to provide leadership to the programme. The Church of England must now actively engage with, and critically review EAPPI’s training methods and reporting. In the ratification of Dr. Dinnen’s motion, the church accepted this responsibility. It must deliver on its duty of care to the decades of productive interfaith development in the United Kingdom.
Steve Nimmons is Community Relations Director at Anglican Friends of Israel and a member of the Council of Christians and Jews.