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.
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.