In the worst rift between Anglo-Jewry and the Church of England in recent years, the president of the Board of Deputies has accused the Synod of “riding roughshod” over the Jewish community.
The attack by Vivian Wineman follows a vote by the General Synod this week to endorse the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), despite pleas from the Board, interfaith groups and the Chief Rabbi.
Mr Wineman said that EAPPI was “an inflammatory and partisan programme”. He continued: “While its aims may appear admirable, its programme lacks any kind of balance”, and “its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives. Members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings and yet Synod has completely dismissed their experiences.”
In a clear sign of anger, Mr Wineman declared: “The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace.”
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board, said: "We were due to meet at Lambeth Palace the day after the Synod vote but agreed with them that a period of assessment was needed before we meet. Lambeth has acknowledged our concerns about the vote and the language used by a small number of people in the debate."
The Bishop of Manchester and chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, attempted to remove references to EAPPI from the motion, saying it could “seriously impair” relations between Christians and Jews in the UK. But his words were ignored by the Synod, which voted heavily in favour.
Twenty-one bishops backed the motion, with only three against and 14 abstentions. The clergy voted 89 in favour, 21 against and 44 abstentions; and the lay members voted 91 in favour, 30 against with 35 abstentions.
According to the vice-president of the Board, Jonathan Arkush, who was present at the debate, the language used evoked “nothing but simple antisemitic themes from history”. There were references to “powerful lobbies”, the money spent by the Jewish community, “Jewish-sounding names” and the actions of the community “bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust”.
The debate was initiated by a Private Member’s Motion from Herefordshire pathologist, Dr John Dinnen, who has a track record of anti-Israel activism. He told the Synod: “Citizens of the West Bank and Gaza endure the devastating social and economic effects of occupation or blockade, with Jewish settlements, hundreds of barriers to movement and the separation wall built largely on Palestinian land.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury began his contribution with an attack on the pro-Israel material that had been sent to Synod members. He said: “There are some people, in their uncritical assumption that the government of Israel can do no wrong, who are clearly going to be very irritated by information being disseminated of the kind that EAPPI does.”
The Bishop of Manchester later appeared to back the Archbishop’s stance, saying: “There was over-lobbying by some members of the Jewish community.” He told the Times of Israel that some Synod members had said “all the lobbying from the Jewish side led us to vote the other way.”
In his speech, the Archbishop of Canterbury drew a parallel between the Holocaust and Israeli checkpoints: “Half an hour at Yad Vashem will persuade you, if you need persuading, why the state of Israel needs to exist securely. Half an hour at a check-point will persuade you, if you need persuading, that there are forms of security that are indefensible and unsustainable.”
He said, however, that he wanted “to understand exactly why it is that local Jewish communities are so worried by EAPPI. I want to engage and find out about that and challenge it where necessary.”
Dr Williams abstained in the vote.
Mr Wineman said in his statement: “The Church of England has a duty to examine the situation in the Middle East in a balanced way. Instead, by passing this motion, it has chosen to promote an inflammatory and partisan programme at the expense of its interfaith relations.
Justifying its decision using the views of marginal groups in Israel and the UK, the Synod has ridden roughshod over the very real and legitimate concerns of the UK Jewish community, showing a complete disregard for the importance of Anglican-Jewish relations.”
“…The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace, themes which originated in our tradition. Moreover, to hear the debate at Synod littered with references to “powerful lobbies”, the money expended by the Jewish community, “Jewish-sounding names” and the actions of the community “bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust”, is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about the motivation of those behind this motion.”
The Chief Rabbi warned last week that if the motion were passed, it would do “serious damage to Jewish-Christian relations”.
During a House of Lords session on Tuesday, the Bishop of Exeter, Rt Revd Michael Langrish, asked for the government’s assessment of EAPPI’s work.
Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell said EAPPI officials were in “regular contact with the British consulate-general in Jerusalem” and that the government believed the programme “provides a useful independent monitoring service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
He said EAPPI’s reports and statistics on movement through checkpoints helped the international community “monitor the impact of restrictions on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.”