Outrage over church Israeli 'war crimes' show

Manchester's Jewish communal leaders have raised serious concerns with the Church of England's senior churchman in the city this week after its principal cathedral hosted an exhibition which its organisers claim is evidence of Israeli war crimes.

Manchester Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Manchester, is hosting the Loss of Innocence exhibition, 50 drawings by Palestinian children which include gruesome depictions of Israel's 2009 Gaza operation.

It was opened on Saturday by Mona Baker, the pro-Palestinian activist and Manchester University professor who sacked two Israeli academics from her journals.

David Berkley, president of Manchester's Zionist Central Council, who visited the exhibition on Monday, wrote to the cathedral's authorities after a Methodist church member handed out propaganda leaflets accusing Israelis of war crimes, as part of the exhibition. Linda Clair, a senior activist with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, was also providing a tour of the drawings.

Mr Berkley said: "What she said in front of those pictures was that Israel is a rogue state and an apartheid one. She trivialised rocket attacks on Israel while openly promoting boycott and isolation of Israel."

He said that the drawings themselves were a poignant reminder of the effect of armed conflict upon children, "but what's happened is they've hijacked it and exploited the exhibition - and as if getting the imprimatur of the church."

Joy Wolfe, who campaigns for awareness of suffering of Israelis in Sderot, is asking the cathedral and Marple Methodist Church in Stockport, which is to host the exhibition in August, to display photographs of Israeli children affected by war alongside the Palestinian drawings.

She said the exhibition was inappropriate for the cathedral. "How naive when people try to say these things are not political."

Manchester Cathedral's Reverend Canon Andrew Shanks said the cathedral had no "big political agenda". He said that he disagreed with Mona Baker's involvement, but had only been told shortly before the event that she would speak. Canon Shanks added that he had seen organisers giving out postcards asking people to sign a petition to support boycotts of Israel, and that he had made it clear that they had "overstepped the mark" by doing so.

He said: "I'm quite pro-Israel myself and I would strongly disagree with the view of the people putting on this exhibition. But the cathedral promotes prayerfulness, and we are not going to shy away from tough situations."

The president of Manchester's Representative Council, Lucille Cohen, has written to the Bishop of Manchester, Reverend Nigel McCulloch.

She said she was working closely with Marple Methodist Church's Rev Chris Ambler over concerns that Loss of Innocence "purports to show suffering in Gaza, but is a carefully planned piece of propaganda."

Mrs Cohen said she believed that the exhibition was part of a concerted campaign "to infiltrate the churches, along with unions and universities, to demonise Israel."

    Last updated: 12:56pm, July 29 2010