Britain’s Jews and the Israel-Palestine Debate

From Canon Paul Oestreicher
A letter to the Church Times

Sir, – That the Bishop of Newcastle and his Roman Catholic colleague cancelled their attendence at a meeting on “Justice and Peace in the Holy Land” (News, 2 November) organised by members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme was a predictable, but very sad, sign of the times.

The Board of Jewish Deputies, supported by the Council of Christians and Jews and equivalent bodies in the United States and across Europe, has seen to it that any public criticism of Israel’s policy is decried as proof of a revival of anti-Semitism. It is usually, as in this case, nothing of the kind.

A whole series of German churches have recently been leaned on to cancel their support for an exhibition that shows the past and present suffering of the Palestinian people. Only one version of a complex history is deemed to be fit for public consumption.

No charge is more painful to sensitive Christians than that of anti-Semitism. It is a highly effective weapon, silencing even those with a proven record of fighting against anti-Semitism. The two Bishops, with the best intent in the world, were intimidated, not to say blackmailed, because they had been told that “many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset.” What they were not told is that other Jewish people in Britain and in Israel with no official voice are deeply ashamed of many aspects of Israeli policy. They are usually dismissed by the Jewish establishment as self-hating Jews, a ludicrous charge.

History repeats itself in strange ways. When Hitler’s persecution of the German Jews began in the 1930s, their best friend in our Church was Bishop Bell of Chichester, who roundly condemned Nazi policies. Even some of his fellow bishops then accused him of being anti-German. Later events proved him to be the very opposite, when he was a lone voice protesting against the blanket bombing of German civilians.

Why will this issue not leave me alone? Because of my Jewish heritage, because of my grandmother, who was one of Hitler’s victims. I care passionately for the future of the people of Israel, but, if that future is to be bought at the price of the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people, then it flies in the face of all that is good in Judaism.

Critical solidarity with both Israelis and Palestinians need be no threat to Christian-Jewish friendship. On the contrary, it should strengthen our common struggle against the dual poisons of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.


(From Stephen Sizer, on Facebook)

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

9 thoughts on “Britain’s Jews and the Israel-Palestine Debate”

  1. The following allegation by Canon Oestreicher is provably untrue:
    “The Board of Jewish Deputies, supported by the Council of Christians and Jews and equivalent bodies in the United States and across Europe, has seen to it that any public criticism of Israel’s policy is decried as proof of a revival of anti-Semitism.”
    What is provably true is that some public criticism of Israel’s policy is made using anti-Semitic language and standard anti-Semitic references. Consequently, for instance, a PSC demonstrator here in Brighton was this week charged with racial hate speech against Jews and his case comes up in court in a couple of weeks’ time.


    1. Probably untrue? Euphemistically speaking, isn’t it?
      Probably true? Let’s be serious. This is typical Zionist propaganda, under the guise of decency.
      This kind of propaganda is killing now innocent children in Gaza.


  2. That was not rhetoric from me. I just thought that you had misread my English.
    Paul Oestreicher is a leading figure in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Brighton, England. Two of its members were arrested and charged by the police in Brighton this week for acts of anti-Semitic violence. That is a provable fact and I can provide the online news evidence. So SOME anti-Israel agit prop obviously also has an anti-Semitic dimension. Why can’t you and Oestreicher accept that inevitable fact?


    1. Is there a court decision on this? Or in Britain you do not believe any more that people are innocent until proven guilty?
      As to the fact that some anti-Israel people are anti-semitic, this is an obvious fact. As obvious as the fact that for some people, any criticism of Israel, as legitimate as that may be, like the one about killing innocent children in Gaza, are anti-semitic stances. This is not only cheap rhetoric, but also gross manipulation and a form of (anti-Arab) racism, often rooted in perverted fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible.


  3. No court decision yet, given that they were so recently arrested.
    At least we both agree that some anti-Israel people are also anti-Semitic. So how can the Jewish Board of Deputies also always be wrong to sometimes object to hate-filled words and actions of some pro-Palestinian activists on that basis? (rhetorical question).


    1. I never said they are ALWAYS wrong. But the abusive manners of Jewish lobbies in both US and the UK are well known; so using the hermeneutic of suspicion is legitimate protection against that.


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