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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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London, but no Olympic spirit

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The 2012 Summer Olympics opened last week in a festival of pomp and pageantry for which the British are so notably and justifiably famous. London was a fairy-tale postcard of spectacle, grandeur, light, sound, music and fireworks.

For athletes, promoters, organizers, the British government, television networks, sponsors and billions of viewers around the world, all seemed well and right on the storied, historic streets of London.

But barely three weeks earlier, a different pageant ran its course on the cold cobblestone network of old London.

The General Synod of the United Church of England voted by large majorities among its bishops, clergy and lay leaders to endorse the work of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

Despite its lofty title, the EAPPI inculcates the most brazen of anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish behaviour in the “graduates” of its program and in the countless individuals whom they influence. The very first words of the EAPPI’s website set off alarm bells in the mind of the experienced reader of anti-Israel propaganda: “The EAPPI brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation.” And so on.

The ubiquitous reference to “peace” in the numerous entries on the website cannot mask, indeed care little to mask, the anti-Israel orientation of the organization.

The editorialist of the London Jewish Chronicle referred to the group as being  “grotesquely partisan.” The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Vivian Wineman, called EAPPI “an inflammatory and partisan program” that “lacks any kind of balance. Its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives” who have harassed and abused Jews.  

But disappointment in the church’s wholehearted embrace of EAPPI was only part of the bitter fare swallowed by the Jewish community in England. Indeed, given the charged anti-Israel climate covering much of the terrain of the academic and intellectual world of Britain, the outcome was probably no surprise.

Rather, it was the manner of the rejection of the community’s pleas to the Synod – brusque, crude and entirely offensive – that may have been lethal poison to inter-faith relations. As reported in the Jewish Chronicle, Wineman accused the Synod of “riding roughshod” over the Jewish community.

“The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace,” Wineman added in equal measures of anger and pain. A week before the Synod meeting, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks warned that uncritical endorsement of EAPPI would do “serious damage to Jewish-Christian relations.”

Jonathan Arkush, senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies, told the Chronicle that he was as troubled by the language used in the debate as in its outcome. The language, Arkush said, evoked “nothing but simple antisemitic themes from history.”

The propounder of the motion that launched the debate, Rev. John Dinnen, set the revealingly disheartening tone by touching upon all of the familiar, vulgar tropes.

The Chronicle explained the significance of the vote: “No one should be in any doubt about what is going on here. A debate about Israel in which speakers refer to ‘powerful lobbies,’ the money supposedly spent by Jews on lobbying, ‘Jewish-sounding names’ and the actions of Jews ‘bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust’ is not a debate about Israel. It is a debate about Jews.”

And that is precisely the point that has been made for many years now by many scholars and observers, including Irwin Cotler and Irving Abella, about the obsessive, single-minded, fanatical, near pathological focus upon Israel. In many cases it is propelled by an unsubtle antisemitism. For such critics of the Jewish state, Israel is “the Jew” among nations that – just as individual Jews were throughout most of European history - must be isolated, punished, excoriated and despised.

Finally, as noted by the Chronicle,  “perhaps the most extraordinary comment came from the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury in his explicit comparison between the Holocaust and the deprivations of Palestinians crossing at checkpoints.”

In the same edition of the Chronicle, there was a small news item that pro-Palestinian activists and organizers were planning to disrupt performances by Israel’s famed Batsheva Dance Company at the upcoming Edinburgh International Festival.

London and the proud people of England greeted the visiting Olympic athletes last week in an effusively humanitarian spirit. It is a shame they are not extending that spirit to the Batsheva dancers later this summer and that they have never extended it to the Jewish state itself, which the dancers happen to represent.

– MBD

 

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