Methodists: Zionism is legitimate

Reverend Alison Tomlin

Reverend Alison Tomlin

The head of the Methodist Church has held out an olive branch to the Jewish community after its controversial vote on Israel, saying it does not seek to rule Zionism as illegitimate.

The Reverend Alison Tomlin was replying to a sharply-worded letter from Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of the Deputies, who condemned the Church's recently passed policy as "unqualified Israel bashing".

Accusing the Church of having voted for "an appalling piece of political propaganda" at its conference last month, Mr Wineman said "it could no longer be business as usual" between the Jewish community and central Methodist institutions.

Ms Tomlin, president of the Methodist Conference, replied on Friday: "I would wish to immediately offer reassurance that the Methodist Conference has in no way sought to rule Zionism as illegitimate."

But she asked for more time to respond to various points he had raised.

Mr Wineman said this week that the Board was "pleased" to receive the letter but noted: "It is only a holding response. We look forward to receiving a substantive reply addressing
our concerns."

In his letter, Mr Wineman criticised the "shameful process" that led to the compilation of a "biased" report and its approval at the conference.

The report largely blamed Israel for the failure to achieve Middle East peace and called for a review of Zionism - particularly Christian Zionism - to assess its compatibility with Methodist values.

Mr Wineman accused the Church of having shown "patent disregard" for the Jewish community in its failure to consult over the Israel policy.

He also pointed out that whereas no representative of the community had been invited to speak at the conference, the Palestinian cleric Naim Ateek had addressed a fringe event and a session of Methodist ministers.

Mr Wineman wrote: "If the Methodist Recorder reports his comments accurately, it appears that the Revd Dr Ateek abused his platform to call the Holocaust a 'tool' for the Zionist cause and categorised religious Zionists as believing that they had a right to 'drive out' or 'exterminate' non-Jewish inhabitants of the land. That Revd Dr Ateek could dismiss the mechanised slaughter of six million Jews as a 'tool' is utterly perverse and disgraceful."

Dr Ateek is one of the founders of Sabeel, whose advocacy of Palestinian liberation theology has influenced the views of Christians abroad.

Meanwhile, synagogue leaders
have approved an establishment task force to challenge the Methodists over their policy.

The Community Consultative Committee - a liaison forum for the United Synagogue, Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements - agreed to form what one member called a "high-powered group" of scholars and rabbis.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board, who attends CCC meetings as an observer, said the group would seek to put its point of view across at a meeting with Methodist representatives.

"In particular, they will explain the theological centrality of Zionism in the Jewish faith, and express the anger and pain felt across the Jewish community over the report and resolutions adopted by the Methodist Conference," he said. 

Lucian Hudson, the chairman of
Liberal Judaism, said he believed that not everyone at the conference had "understood why the report is so sensitive and wrong from our point
of view".

He added: "We also want to make sure that these red lines are understood by other Christian groups."

    Last updated: 3:49pm, July 22 2010