The Israeli Embassy has accused St James’s Church in Piccadilly of attempting to “incite against Israel and Israelis” by unveiling a replica of the West Bank barrier.
Embassy officials were originally signed up to speak during the “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival which opened on December 23.
It includes comedy, music and a “Bethlehem feast” prepared by celebrity chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. But the embassy pulled out this week amid heated protest from UK Jewish bodies.
In a statement addressed to the Anglican Church, an embassy spokesperson said: “Our intention has always been to conduct an open dialogue with church institutions, and it is rare that we would turn down an invitation to participate.
“However, we have closely followed the unfolding of the Bethlehem Unwrapped event this past week, and have been brought to the inescapable conclusion that this is not an event which is intended to deepen understanding or promote reconciliation”.
According to the embassy, the festival “has proven to be a one-sided affair that unfortunately does nothing to bring the sides together” and to participate would be “disservice to the hundreds of Israelis, Jews and Christians alike, murdered in acts of suicide terrorism which the barrier was established to prevent”.
Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush described the church’s actions as a “poor model of interfaith dialogue” and “highly biased against Israel”.
According to the church, the festival was organised in response to the Kairos document 2009, calling on Christians across the world to help the plight of Palestinian Christians.
“Some people are very moved and grateful,” church warden Jo Hines said. “But then, there is a very vocal minority who are quite hostile and accuse us of being all sorts of things that we’re not.
“This is not anti-Israel. It is about being able to discuss, rather than take sides.”
The replica wall stands eight-metres high and stretches across the façade of the 350-year-old church.