Charity group chairman explains Chief Rabbi resignation

The chairman of a dialogue group has defended its work on Israel and the Palestinians and attempted to explain the episode which led Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks to resign as its patron.

Canon Guy Wilkinson insisted that the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust had not encouraged its members to back an anti-Israel campaign when it circulated details of an initiative in a newsletter.

He contacted around 40 Jewish community leaders, interfaith workers and rabbis to outline the “particular pain” he felt following the Chief Rabbi’s resignation last week.

Canon Wilkinson said the information on the attack on European Union trade links with Israel in the newsletter had been carried “without comment” by the Trust.

“As with all the other 15 articles in that edition, there was not the slightest endorsement of any kind. This was quite simply the reporting of a matter of interest in relation to the EU,” he wrote.

The WPCT newsletter had included the suggested wording of a letter for anti-Israel campaigners to send to MEPs criticising the proposed adoption of an agreement with Israel on pharmaceutical products. But there had been no intention to pick sides in the Middle East, maintained Canon Wilkinson.

He added: “I have been involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue and in friendships across the Jewish communities for many years and have a deep respect for the chief rabbi and for [trustee] Sir Sigmund Sternberg. I also count myself as a friend of Israel.”

A former interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Canon Wilkinson was awarded a CBE last year for his work at Lambeth Palace.

Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Inter-Religious Affairs, said the episode reflected “irresponsible administration” from the WPCT.

But he added: “There is no doubt in my mind that Canon Wilkinson is a genuine friend of the Jewish people and Israel. His role in the establishment and ongoing development of the AJC with the chief rabbinate of Israel was critical in the success of this bilateral body.”

One interfaith organisation leader, who did not want to be named, said the WPCT had made “the wrong decision”, and “a stupid mistake”.

“It’s sad because we need more interfaith work. It was a cock-up, but the WPCT will now change how it does things; that’s the only positive.”

Last updated: 9:32am, August 23 2012