‘Partisan’ Christian project in Israel-Palestine angers Jewish leaders
Controversial plans for Jewish settlements have been targeted by the Christian churches
The Board of Deputies has urged members to lobby the Archbishop of Canterbury over a project which it says promotes hostility towards Israel among Christians.
A resolution calling for support of a volunteer programme in the West Bank is to be discussed by the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly, at its meeting next month.
But the Board says that the scheme — known as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) — produces “very partisan but very motivated anti-Israel advocates who have almost no grasp of the suffering of normal Israelis”.
EAPPI, a joint project of the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and Christian Aid, sends around 20 participants a year to the West Bank. According to the programme’s website, its mission is “to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and to carry out concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation”.
Administered by the Quakers, EAPPI is supported by other churches including the Methodists.
But the Board says that EAPPI participants spend only a single day in Israel out of three to four months in the region, while a preparatory two-week training programme includes just two hours on Israel. Volunteers have “virtually no contact” with mainstream Israelis, it says.
According to the Board, it would be inappropriate for the Synod to endorse a project which creates “partisan” spokesmen whose “narrow” experiences help generate a climate of hostility to Israel in the churches.
The resolution is being proposed by Dr John Dinnen, a Synod member for Hereford, who several years ago backed an attempt to force the Church to divest from companies said to be profiting from Israel’s occupation.
He told the JC that EAPPI was “not a biased organisation. It is one that is working for peace and justice and observance of international law”.
The purpose of his resolution, he said, was to “encourage the Church of England to study the situation in Israel and Palestine” and “support those who work for peace and justice”.
Dr Dinnen said that he had been told by one participant on EAPPI, Stanley Rowe, that the Israeli point of view had been explained to those on the programme “on many occasions.”
Mr Rowe, he said, “visited Israel many times and spoke to other Israelis… Stan and I are not anti-Israeli. He condemns Palestinian transgressions such as suicide bombs and rockets, as well as infringement of international law and human rights by the Israeli authorities.”
He noted that his resolution also called for support for the Parents Circle-Family Forum, which brings together Palestinians and Israelis who have lost children in the conflict.
Dr Dinnen said that growing up in Northern Ireland had led to a concern to support those who work for reconciliation in divided communities.
David Gifford, chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, said that EAPPI volunteers would “need to be ever mindful of the danger of whipping up anti-Israel and anti Jewish sentiment in British churches and Christian communities”.