This week, Hinde Street Methodist Church is installing a replica of an Israeli checkpoint in their church. It is a move that singles out Israel and attempts to call into the question the legitimate means used by democracies to defend their peoples from terrorists.
As someone who was raised and grew up in the Methodist Church I find it shocking to see how this denomination is being hijacked and politicised. Hinde Street Methodist Church boasts on its website of being an “inclusive church”. Yet with the decision to turn the church into a place for the demonisation of Israel, I have to ask how inclusive such a place can ever be for people like myself who happen to believe that Israelis have a right to protect themselves from terrorism—just as other countries all around the world do. In the age when “safe space” is in vogue, you have to question how safe a space Hinde Street is for Jews and Israelis.
After all, the organisers at Hinde Street Church presumably must have heard of Palestinian terrorism. It’s hardly any secret. Indeed, by all accounts, Katherine Fox, one of the leading figures behind the exhibition, recently travelled to Bethlehem and she can’t have been unaware of the recent spate of attacks in Israel during her stay. So perhaps she and the other people at the church just don’t care.
If you think that Israeli civilians being shot, blown up and stabbed is a bad thing, something you think should be prevented, then you would surely recognise that checkpoints are a crucial and non-violent means of protecting people from terrorists. So why go out of your way to delegitimize these security measures? There is something deeply disturbing about people who are more troubled by the security put in place to prevent terrorism, than they are by the terrorism itself.
It’s all the more disturbing that Hinde Street Methodists appear to have singled out Israeli Jews as being uniquely undeserving of being protected from terrorism. The church’s website may feature a declaration about opposing discrimination, but where the welfare of Israelis is concerned it seems the church does discriminate. There are no shortage of conflict zones around the world where barriers and checkpoints have been setup. From Northern Ireland to Iraq, barriers have been constructed when one group of people posed a threat to another. In fact, at this very moment several countries in Eastern Europe are hastily constructing barriers in an effort to keep out refugees. Might that not be a subject of interest if the Methodists of Hinde Street have genuine humanitarian concerns?
But what if this has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns at all? What if this is about something far uglier within the Methodist movement? In recent years there have been a number of incidents that make one wonder if some people in the Methodist Church might actually have a problem with Jews.
In 2010 the Methodists singled out Israel for boycott action. A move that clearly involves systematic targeting and discrimination against Jewish Israelis in a way that no other ethnic group is subjected to. What was particularly concerning was the kind of language and rhetoric adopted by the Methodists when advocating their boycott. During the 2010 convention at which the anti-Israel boycott measures were adopted, it wasn’t simply Israeli policy that was condemned, but rather an extremist form of anti-Jewish replacement theology was invoked. Rev Nicola Jones, who proposed the motion supported her call for boycotts by dabbling in a discussion about Jewish chosenness (never a good sign) before going on to promote the Supersessionist idea of a “new covenant”. She then completed her speech by remarking that “God is not a racist God, with favourites.” The implication was clear. The Jews and their religion are racist, with belief in a racist God, and as such they should be punished; with boycotts. It was the age old basis for the worst form of Christian anti-Semitism being revisited.
There is no getting away from the fact that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an outspoken anti-Semite. The logical conclusion of this Jew hatred would ultimately be borne out with tragic consequences during the Holocaust. During the German occupation of Channel Islands, it was a local Methodist Minister called John Leale who collaborated enthusiastically with the Nazis by disclosing the names of the Island’s Jewish residents. Given that history you might have thought the Methodists would show a little more humility on the subject. But instead, one of the members of clergy speaking at the 2010 conference accused Jews of using the Holocaust as a “Zionist tool.”
It is noteworthy that there has been much discussion in recent years of preventing Mosques from being used by extremists to promote intolerance or bigotry. But given the recent moves by Hinde Street Methodists to use their church for these kinds of political purposes; demonising Israel and playing into the hands of terrorists by seeking to undermine the security measures that keep civilians safe, one has to wonder if more consideration should now be given to countering incitement in other places of worship. Places like Hinde Street.