December 31, 2013

Israeli Embassy places barrier between itself and Bethlehem Unwrapped

This has really caught me on the back foot.  There's been quite a remarkable series of events taking place in London from the opening of a replica apartheid wall at St James's Church in Piccadilly, London on 23rd December just gone and continuing up to, I suppose, the last day of Christmas.  Well, the last actual event is on 5th January 2014 and I'm guessing the wall comes down the next day.

See this youtube video about the whole thing:

 And here's how the Bethlehem Unwrapped website announces the panel discussion:

PANEL – Jan 4th 8pm: ‘Both sides of the Barrier – Separation or Security?’ – speakers include Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD),  Leila Sansour, Bethlehem resident, filmaker and founder of Open BethlehemYiftah Curiel, public affairs spokesman at Embassy of Israel, London and Alan Johnson, Britain Israel Communications and Research CentreChaired by David Loyn, BBC foreign correspondent.

Now, as you can guess, zionists weren't happy with the whole thing and many made their displeasure known on Richard Millett's blog.  Here's the man himself:

I understand that there are due to be a couple of last minute voices putting Israel’s case at the panel debate with Halper “Both sides of the Barrier: Separation or Security?” on January 4th but it is a drop in the ocean when compared to what is taking place over the entirety of the festival.

"Last minute voices"?  Now I'm not sure of Dan Judelson's status with Bethlehem Unwrapped but here is his response to Millett's post:
Richard, good to see you at the launch last night. A couple of important corrections to your piece. Far from being a last minute addition, the Israeli Embassy were one of the first people, in the person of the ambassador, to be invited to join the panel. In fact, although neither could make it, Ambassador Taub was invited before I wrote to Ambassador Hassassian. You may recall I emailed you at the beginning of December to ask for Chas Newkey-Burden’s contact details as I was very keen for him to speak.

In terms of corrections, the other point to make is that it is Lucy Winkett rather than Julie. The rain did not make for good acoustics last night I guess.

People are welcome to write whatever they like on the wall, ask whatever questions they like at the panel discussion and Q&A after the film screening. We’ve made that clear in all our invitations and discussions with, among others the Board of Deputies (though this is not to suggest they were content). I hope people will take part and listen to one another, rather than retreat into fixed positions that brook no challenge as so many of the respondents here appear to have done.
He made a couple more comments in the same thread which is well worth a look at but with 247 comments so far I won't reproduce it all here. Well, whatever it was that led to the invitation to the Israeli Embassy and whenever it was sent and accepted, the Israeli embassy has now decided to withdraw. They made their new position known by way of a tweet with a twitpic of a letter:

The letter is hardly legible in the twitpic and googling some of the words I could only find one website with the letter in a copyable format and that's the Jews Down Under website which I'd never heard of before.

Here's their intro:
The Israeli Embassy had been invited to attend a ‘debate’ on Saturday night by the organisers of ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ 

They were only invited after much pressure by the Board of Deputies and The Jewish Leadership Council.. Please find letter from Embassy explaining their decision to not attend, says it all really…
So the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the UK's Jewish Leadership Council got on the case to pressure Bethlehem Unwrapped to invite the Israeli embassy in London to attend a discussion?  Is that right?  Well that doesn't quite tally with what Dan Judelson said above.  Also it seems strange that the BoD, which often seems to double as an Israeli embassy in London would press an organisation into inviting the Israeli embassy only to have the Israeli embassy eventually decline but here's the Israeli embassy's letter.  See what you can make of it:
I’m writing to inform you that our embassy’s representative will not be able to participate in Saturday’s panel on the security barrier. As you know, our intention has always been to conduct an open dialogue with Church institutions, and it is rare that we turn down an invitation to participate in a church event, especially when it concerns Israel.

However, we have closely followed the unfolding of the ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ event this past week, and have been brought to the inescapable conclusion that this is not an event which is intended to deepen understanding, or promote reconciliation but rather is a transparent attempt to incite against Israel and Israelis.

A prominent quote on the homepage of the event states
“The most unhelpful thing you can do is be pro one side; it just adds to the  conflict”
This week’s event has proven to be exactly that, a one-sided affair that unfortunately does nothing to bring the sides together.  One of your event speakers, Jeff Halper, spoke in front of the replica will stating  it had nothing to do with security, while much of the writing on the wall, contrary to our previous understanding, is clearly political and divisive in nature

Where we feel that there is an openness to genuine discussion, we are committed to participating and engaging in genuine debate. However, to participate in an event of this nature would in our view be a disservice to the hundreds of Israelis. Jews and Christians alike, murdered in acts of suicide terrorism, which the barrier was established to prevent.

We believe that today, as Christians are being persecuted on an unprecedented scale across the Middle East, churches burned and whole communities forced to flee, to focus on a temporary defensive barrier built to prevent terror, is to do an injustice not only to Israel but to Christian communities across our region.

For these reasons, we will not be able to participate in Saturday's panel.  We will be glad to co-operate with the Church in the future on activities that truly promote understanding and foster peace building.

So all that Board of Deputies pressure came to nothing.  The main thing I don't understand is why the Israeli embassy withdrawal from the event is low key.  Israel advocates are usually quite a noisy bunch.

Aha, that reminds me. I did hear rumours that zionists are planning a picket of St James's Church in 4th Jan.  Someone told me that emails were coming out from these people, Sussex Friends of Israel summoning the faithful.  Maybe Israel's embassy staff would be embarrassed by some of the people who turn up at these things.

Anyway, happy new year to anyone reading this....


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