Quakers to ‘improve’ Israel work through EAPPI programme

A controversial human rights programme on the West Bank, which caused a rift between the Church of England and the Board of Deputies last year, is set to include a new Israel component.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme to Palestine and Israel was branded “inflammatory and partisan” by the Board, which was dismayed when the scheme was endorsed by the Church’s governing Synod.

But the Quaker-run programme has responded to overtures from rabbis in the UK to give participants more contact with Israeli families.

In future, they will spend a few days in Haifa, according to Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who chairs the UK branch of Rabbis for Human Rights.

“They will come to Israel, stay in Jewish houses and hear other sides,” she said. The move would “counterbalance some of the initial discord between Jews and Christians that came as a result between of the Synod vote and reaction to it.”

EAPPI volunteers spend several months mainly on the West Bank, engaged in “concerted efforts” to end Israel’s occupation, the programme’s website explains. On their return, they are expected to speak about their experiences.

The Church of England’s inter-religious affairs adviser, the Reverend Toby Howarth, welcomed the planned new Israel sessions. “This is a positive development which we support and to which, with our sister churches, we are contributing financially,” he said.

No one was available from EAPPI to comment.

Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman said: “While we cautiously welcome any effort by EAPPI to give their participants greater context and perspective, this is, at best, a first and tentative step.”

He added: “The fact remains that we continue to receive reports of polemic and divisive talks from Ecumenical Accompaniers around the country, including serious allegations directed at Israelis which EAPPI have subsequently been unable to substantiate.

"We continue to call upon EAPPI to institute a rigorous process by which their speakers can be held to account and Accompaniers can contribute to a useful and constructive dialogue about the Middle East, rather than simply demonise the state of Israel.”

Last updated: 6:45pm, February 21 2013