July 15, 2012

C of E for EAPPI

Eh? Ok, a little clarity at the outset. The C of E is the UK's Church of England or Anglican Church. It is the UK state's official religion or so-called established church.  EAPPI is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.  Oh, by the way, I first saw this story on Bartholomew's Notes on Religion and he, Richard Bartholomew, draws on an article on the Ekklesia website.

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. Critics of the programme accused it of anti-Israeli prejudice, but their case was undermined when several of their claims were found to be factually inaccurate.
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).
All three houses of Synod – laity, clergy and bishops – approved the motion. In total, 201 members of Synod voted in favour, with 54 against and 93 abstentions.
The vote has been welcomed by Christian Aid, the BibleLands charity, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Quaker Peace & Social Witness.
EAPPI is run by the World Council of Churches. The UK and Ireland wing is administered by British Quakers. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), who come from many faiths and none, spend three months on the West Bank monitoring conditions and human rights abuses. Their work includes observing checkpoints and accompanying Palestinian children and farmers to protect them from violence by extremist settlers.
EAs observe demonstrations to monitor abuse, but make a point of not joining them. On returning home, they undertake speaking engagements about their experiences, often in churches and Quaker Meetings.
EAPPI say they adopt a position of “principled impartiality” in conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. They add that they are “on the side of human rights”.
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”.
In contrast, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) gave their backing to the motion and insisted that the Board of Deputies do not speak for all British Jews. They said, “JfJfP applauds the monitoring and protective activities of EAPPI”.
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.
Now see how the Jewish Chronicle reports on the whole business in a front page article headed, Church endorses Israel hate agenda:

In the worst rift between Anglo-Jewry and the Church of England in recent years, the president of the Board of Deputies has accused the Synod of “riding roughshod” over the Jewish community.
The attack by Vivian Wineman follows a vote by the General Synod this week to endorse the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), despite pleas from the Board, interfaith groups and the Chief Rabbi.
Mr Wineman said that EAPPI was “an inflammatory and partisan programme”. He continued: “While its aims may appear admirable, its programme lacks any kind of balance”, and “its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives. Members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings and yet Synod has completely dismissed their experiences.”
In a clear sign of anger, Mr Wineman declared: “The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace.”
Now I could well be missing something here but it's not clear to me that these C of E types were actually addressing "the Jewish community". Back to Bartholomew, Richard raises some concerns about the language used in the debate and the connections of EAPPI so let's have a little look:
 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.
Goodness! Harry's Place might not be a reliable source on something concerning Israel, zionism and the Palestinians. Whatever next? Richard Bartholomew has had cross posts on Harry's Place before now and he's received a few honourable mentions there. In fact he is one of the few apparently honourable people to get any sort of approval there but I don't think this post is going to make it onto the HP site.


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