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Post-Zionism Baffles Washington Post: The Media Project, November 28, 2014 November 28, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Soldiers_Western_Wall_1967It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for the Washington Post to believe it, too?

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classical model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem”. My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete, or lacking in context. Could it have been written from a mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here? The Post appears to be ignorant of the change of religious Zionist sentiment in Israel. Could the Temple Mount be a flashpoint between Muslim Arab and Israeli Jews in 2014 because Judaism has changed?

The story with a dateline of Amman opens with the Jordanian perspective on the recent clashes over the Temple Mount. The lede states:

Jordan’s king and his people are bristling with anger over Israeli actions at a sacred site for Muslims in Jerusalem, threatening to turn a cold peace between Israel and Jordan into a deep freeze.

After defining the issue from the Jordanian perspective, the second sentence states why this is of consequence.

The rising animosity between Jordan and Israel, whose governments are tethered by a peace treaty, could undermine U.S.-led efforts to fight Islamist extremists. It also threatens a multibillion-dollar natural gas deal that is important to both countries.

The story continues with analysis, ending with the line: “A king who cannot protect the mosque or that delicate arrangement may lose the support of his people.”

A quotation from a Jordanian official closes out this section, placing the blame on the changing “status quo” on the Israelis.

“The Israeli extremists are playing with fire.”

A counterpoint from unidentified Israeli officials is offered that serves to identify the actions in question.

Israeli officials say they were forced to temporarily restrict access to the mosque in response to rioting, after a Palestinian’s recent attempt to assassinate a prominent activist who agitates for Jews to have the right to pray at the site. The first and second Jewish temples once stood at the site, a spot considered the holiest in Judaism.

If the article ended at this point, the lack of balance would not be as problematic. Written from Amman, the parameters of the piece could have been set as the view from that country. However, at this stage of the story we are only a third of the way into the piece, and the article now opens up with further commentary and analysis from the Jordanian perspective.

The problem for the Jordanians — and from the tone of the story up to this point for theWashington Post, too — is the Israeli response to terrorist attacks launched by Palestinians against Jews who seek to pray at the Temple Mount.

Half a dozen descriptive paragraphs follow developing these arguments before we hear an Israeli voice — who speaks not to the issues raised by the Jordanians, or to the cause of the alleged change of the status quo — but to the problems instability brings to the region. This is followed — 23 paragraphs into the story — by a denial by the Israelis of any change in the status of the Temple Mount.

Immediately afterward, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel had no intention of changing a delicate “status quo” agreement that grants Abdullah custodial rights over al-Aqsa and other holy sites in Jerusalem, most prominently the raised esplanade known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The next day, Israeli police lifted age restrictions and allowed all Muslim men to attend Friday prayers at the mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

The article closes out with further Jordanian claims. A reader unencumbered with knowledge of the region or the religions involved, might well scratch his head and ask “what was all the fuss about?”

A terrorist attack led to the short term closing of the Noble Sanctuary. It has since been reopened and the Israeli government has reaffirmed the status quo. Why are the Palestinians and Jordanians so exercised about this?

If all one knew was what one read in the Post, it would not be unreasonable to conclude the Jordanians and Palestinians are a childish excitable people — full of bluster, quick to take offense, and slow to reason.

The story dances round the religious element in this story that provides the necessary context. There has been a shift in Israeli sentiment about the Temple Mount in recent years. As a detailed article in Ha’aretz pointed out last week, religious Zionists have a new attitude about the Temple Mount.

[B]efore 1967 – and afterward – all the leading poskim (rabbis who issue halakhic rulings), both ultra-Orthodox and from the religious-Zionist movement, decreed as one voice that it is forbidden to visit the Temple Mount, for the same halakhic reasons. … Indeed, in January 1991, Rabbi Menachem Froman could still allay the fears of the Palestinians by informing them (in the form of an article he published in Haaretz, “To Wait in Silence for Grace”) that, “In the perception of the national-religious public [… there is] opposition to any ascent to the walls of the Temple Mount… The attitude of sanctity toward the Temple Mount is expressed not by bursting into it but by abstinence from it.”

Ha’aretz reports that in 2014 this school has lost ground.

No longer. If in the past, yearning for the Temple Mount was the preserve of a marginal, ostracized minority within the religious-Zionist public, today it has become one of the most significant voices within that movement. In a survey conducted this past May among the religious-Zionist public, 75.4 percent said they favor “the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount,” compared to only 24.6 percent against. In addition, 19.6 percent said they had already visited the site and 35.7 percent that they had not yet gone there, but intended to visit.

The growing number of visits to the mount by the religious-Zionist public signifies not only a turning away from the state-oriented approach of Rabbi Kook, but also active rebellion against the tradition of the halakha. We are witnessing a tremendous transformation among sections of this public: Before our eyes they are becoming post-Kook-ist and post-Orthodox. Ethnic nationalism is supplanting not only mamlakhtiyut (state consciousness) but faithfulness to the halakha. Their identity is now based more on mythic ethnocentrism than on Torah study, and the Temple Mount serves them, … as an exalted totem embodying the essence of sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

The religious element is missing from the Post’s report. Could not an awareness of the change in Israeli society, a shifting center of religious-Zionism from halakha to ethnic-nationalism which if successful would see the restoration of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount motivate Muslim fears?

Without the context of religion to explain these currents, the article leaves itself open to charges of paternalism. By not rising above a parochial American mindset, the paints Arabs (Jordanians and Palestinians) as an immature and excitable people that cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Even if the Post is allergic to mentioning the topic of religion, there is the problem of context. The article tells us little about the Israeli side of the story. Why is the Temple Mount a source of controversy now? Since Israel defeated Jordan Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War and took possession of the Noble Sanctuary, as it is called by Muslims, what has changed?

The answer given by Jordan, and unquestioned by the Post, is that some Israeli officials are thuggish bully boys, engaged in loutish behavior for short term political gain. I have no doubt that some politicians fit the bill, but as an explanation for recent events, it is unconvincing.

First printed at The Media Project

Intended Consequences–The Times & Jewish Jerusalem: Get Religion, September 20, 2013. September 20, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Choosing determines all human decisions. In making his choice man chooses not only between various material things and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference.

Ludwig von Mises, On Human Action. (San Francisco: Fox  Wilkes, 1996 4th rev. ed.) p 3.

Newspaper writing is about making choices. They range from choosing a topic and its parameters to the style of writing, the story’s length and the degree of context down to the language used. Choices are conscious and unconscious. While I should think about the framing of a story — being aware of the worldview I bring to an issue — before I write. I do not do it as often as I should.

But the preconceived notions and assumption I bring add value as I can stories in their historical/political context. I am able to discern if issue X is important, urgent or tired. Spin from PR flacks seldom moves me. Yet I have never written a sports story and can draw upon no well of knowledge to make an informed choice.

The conscious and unconscious choice applies to language. When I write “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” I am making a political choice with my vocabulary that signals the editorial stance of the publication or my personal views. This was especially true when I wrote for the Jerusalem Post. Through my upbringing and culture I knew to write “Jerusalem” as it would not have occurred to me to write “Al Quds”. But I learned to say “Judea and Samaria” not the “Occupied Territories” and “separation barrier” not “the wall” in line with the newspaper’s editorial policies. The vocabulary I brought to a story, whether innate to my worldview or learned from my employers, framed the article.

Choice results in consequences, whether intended or not. Let me draw your attention to the work of The Times foreign correspondent Michael Binyon to illustrate this point.

Binyon has penned a superior piece on one of the major under reported stories from the Arab Spring — the plight of Arab Christians. Taking as its news peg a report on a conference of church leaders in Amman hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan The Times article entitled “Middle East Christians face a bleak future” takes an indirect, but highly effective route in telling its story. It is a master class lesson in the craft of newspaper writing.

Yet this story also rang alarm bells within the Jewish community in Britain. “Did conference speakers call for the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem?”, a prominent Jewish activist asked me after she read the article. “Had the Church of England gone over to the replacement theology camp?” This did not appear in a surface reading of the paper, but I immediately grasped her concern when I read the story again through her eyes.

The Times lede is beautifully written.

Their churches have been bombed, burnt and ransacked. Thousands flee their homes to seek safety in exile, as ­Islamist extremists incite mobs to ­attack the dwindling communities that remain. Christians in the Middle East are today facing the ­greatest dangers they have known for centuries.

Moving from a strong opening, the article succinctly gives the who, what, when and where — before moving into an extended treatment of the why. Again, this is nicely and professionally done — you see the hand of a professional at work here.

The article then passes to a serious of comments and observations from participants, that give substance to the theme articulated in the lede. And at the end we hear from Church of England (hurrah!).

The Anglicans were well represented. The Episcopal bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem were joined by the Rev. Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace and former Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter representing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mr Howarth made the point that Western Christians too often had a skewed assumption that Christianity was an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it. And he underlined the importance of intra-Christian and intra-Muslim dialogue.

He was also one of the few speakers to note the importance of women in faith issues. Only two nuns joined the panel of 80 male clerics. One male speaker said that if faith issues were left to women half the problems would disappear immediately.

Aside from the male cleric’s patronizing comment about women — and what did he mean by saying that if half the people (men) left you would have half the problems you now have? — there seemed little objectionable in these comments, and nothing that would suggest an anti-Jewish attack from the CoE.

But further up in the article, we read that Arab Christians

had taken a full part in the wars against Israel and were in the forefront in the fight to maintain the Arab presence in Jerusalem and prevent its judiacisation.

In the worldview of my British Jewish friend the “judiacisation” reference prompted concerns that at this conference Christian Arabs had called for a Judenfrei Jerusalem. Though former Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs of Iran are the best known proponents of driving the Jews into the sea, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world — from Morocco to Iran — in the years since 1948 is an open wound in the Israeli psyche. If some Christian Arabs had made this call — echoing their political leaders in the Palestinian Authority or other Arab states — had the Church of England and the bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem remained silent. By their silence were Anglicans implying consent to the calls to de-Judiaze Jerusalem?

If true, this was quite a story. “Church silence on Jew bating” would have been a fun headline, while the church journals would take a story on Anglican Replacement Theology.

To find out, I thought I would ask. A checked with Canon Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace (the shorthand way to refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff). Dr, Howarth told me he had no knowledge of any calls from conference speakers to expel the Jews. I also raised the issue with the Bishop of Egypt at breakfast on Thursday — we were both attending conference at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He had no memory of any anti-Semitic comments from the conference podium, but added that from the perspective of the Christian Arab, the judiacisation controversy was not about expelling Jews from Jerusalem, but Jews expelling Arab from Jerusalem.

The last patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem had been removed from office after he had been accused in acquiescing to the sale of church lands to Jewish businessmen. The gentrification of Jerusalem was forcing Arabs out of the city by pricing them out of the housing market or removing housing available to Arabs from the market, the bishop said.

Which perception is true? Both, none, one?

Had The Times intended to press this button in their story about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. I think it most unlikely. But the use of “judiacisation” without explanation prompted some readers hear things that other readers did not.

First printed in Get Religion.

Bishops downplay Palestinian terrorism in Middle East Statement: Anglican Ink, August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of England, Israel, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Bishop of Exeter and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton met last week with Israel’s Ambassador to the UK to share the churches’ concern over the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

In a statement released on 25 July 2013 that downplayed Israeli security concerns in the face of Palestinian terror attacks, the Rt. Rev Michael Langrish, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the Middle East Peace Process and the Rt Rev Declan Lang, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales department for international affairs, said in their meeting with Ambassador Daniel Taub they “discussed the grave problems confronting the peoples of the Holy Land, including the rise of extremism, settlement building and the impact of the separation barrier on communities.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Archbishop Welby to tour Holy Land: The Church of England Newspaper, June 30, 2013 p 6. June 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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The Lambeth Palace press office reports the Archbishop of Canterbury will make his first visit Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week.

Archbishop Justin Welby will meet with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, tour biblical sites and meet with government and civil society figures.

The press statement said the Archbishop was “making this trip early in his ministry because of the significance of the region, the importance of the relationships that his office has there, and because he is keenly aware of the particular pressures on the region at the moment – not least the devastating conflict in Syria, and its impact more widely.”

Accompanied by the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, the Bishop of Egypt and primate of the province and the Bishop in Jerusalem the Rt Rev Suheil Dawani, Archbishop Welby is scheduled to meet the Coptic Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb.

In Jerusalem, the Archbishop will meet the Patriarchs and Head of Churches in Jerusalem and representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

He had been scheduled to meet Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, but the Ashkenazi chief rabbi has suspended himself from ministry and will refrain from carrying out any official roles during a police inquiry into charges of fraud and bribery allegations. Police raided his home and office last week following an undercover investigation into his financial dealings. The Chief Rabbi denies  the allegations.

Archbishop Welby will visit the Church of the Resurrection, the Western Wall, and Yad Vashem as well as the church hospital in Ramallah.

The Israeli press has welcomed the new Archbishop’s visit. An editorial in Arutz Sheva noted: “Archbishop Welby’s visit is highly symbolic. It is a sign that he is willing to embrace Christianity’s (and his own) Jewish roots, which is particularly important at a time when many in the Church – especially on the Left – are distancing themselves from the biblical concept of the Jews as the people destined to reside in the land of Israel.”

Church of Scotland pulls anti-Israel report from its website: The Church of England Newspaper, May 19, 2013 p 7. May 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
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The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council has withdrawn a report that claimed Scripture provided no warrant for Jewish claims to the land of Israel.

Prepared for the 18 May meeting of the church’s General Assembly the ten-page report entitled “The Inheritance of Abraham” urged the Church of Scotland to join the boycott and divestment movement against Israel. It also said “claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory” were unfounded.

Scripture based claims raised “an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning,” the document said, adding that it believed Jews felt they had a right to take Palestinian land “as compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust”.

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Anti-Defamation League and the Israeli ambassador denounced the report and urged it be withdrawn. “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful,” Ambassador Daniel Taub said.

The report did draw support however from Palestinian activists. The Rev. Stephen Sizer, rector of Christ Church Virginia Water said “Church of Scotland is to be commended for their report.”

He defended the report from its detractors saying “in no sense does the report disenfranchise anyone from legitimate rights to citizenship in Israel and Palestine, merely the claim made by some Zionists that the Bible mandates an exclusive right to the land for the Jewish people alone.”

“On the contrary the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence was always conditional,” Mr. Sizer said on 8 May.

However on 9 May 2013 the report was removed from the Church of Scotland’s website and a statement posted in its place saying the Church and Society Council had agreed to rewrite the report with a “new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.”

IRS targeting Jews too?: Get Religion, May 13, 2013 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting  there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”

What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority?  There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.

But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Jewish Identity and the Western Wall: Get Religion, April 14, 2013 April 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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You couldn’t, he thought, find three Jews in the world who would agree on what it meant to be Jewish, yet there were apparently fifty million of these people who knew exactly what it meant to be German, though many of those on deck have never set foot in Germany.

Alan Furst, Dark Star, (1991), p. 380.

Who is a Jew? What is a Jew? Who decides who is a Jew? These questions lie beneath the surface of a Washington Post story that reports on the controversy of women worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The article entitled “Women challenge Orthodox practice at Israel’s Western Wall” links the political dynamics of the pressure being brought by American Jews upon the Israeli government to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worship at what the Post calls “Judaism’s holiest shrine” with an Israeli local news item. Yet the story could have fleshed out the religion ghosts — telling a non-Jewish, non-Israeli audience why this is the something more than a turf battle over worship space.

Because this article is written from an American secular Jewish perspective  — the Post states its support of the protesters in its lede — only half the story is told. The presuppositions of the author — call them biases or perspectives or relative truths — prevents a reader from understanding the political and religious calculus here. It begins:

JERUSALEM — A long-running battle over worship at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was rejoined Thursday as Israeli police arrested five Jewish women who wore prayer shawls at a morning service, contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site. The arrests came two days after disclosure of a potentially groundbreaking plan that could allow for non-Orthodox services to be held in the area on an equal footing with those conducted according to Orthodox tradition.

Note the verb being used in second clause of the lede sentence: “enforced”. The Post is characterizing the dispute as one of power — he who has power can enforce his will. What trajectory would the story have taken it different verb were used stating that Orthodox practice is not merely enforced but required by law? The story then moves to quotes from the women activists and an “ultra-Orthodox heckler”, before moving to the political, summarizing the history of the dispute, taking it up to recent discussions in the cabinet:

[Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to come up with a plan for worship at the Western Wall that would accommodate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are dominant overseas. The move signaled an increasing awareness in the Israeli government that the confrontations over ritual at the Western Wall are driving a wedge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.<

Sharansky’s solution presented to American Jewish leaders was to build a platform “south of the main prayer plaza; men and women could pray together there, and women could lead services.”

The article closes with a quote from the Western Wall Orthodox rabbi who said he was in favor of the separate facilities and an Israeli reform rabbi who is given free reign to sound off on his views on the Orthodox hegemony of Judaism in Israel.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern. “The Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.

Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”

I am not a Jew and have no dog in the fight between the traditional and progressive strands of Judaism. I am concerned with good journalism, though, and find this story unbalanced and incomplete.

Unbalanced because there is no explanation as to why the Orthodox object to bare-headed women leading prayers (as the accompanying photo from the Post shows) next to a gathering of Haredi men praying. While supporters of change have their say in this story supporters of tradition do not. I should say that I know the Talmud rejects the practice — but I do not know if other non-Jews know this. Without an explanation of the religious issues a casual reader might well assume that this is an issue of power.

It was an issue of power in 1928. On the Day of Atonement that year, 28 September 1928, a riot erupted when British police torn down wooden barriers separating male and female worshipers at the Wall. Protests from Jewish communities around the world greeted this action which in turn were followed by protests from Arabs in Palestine against Jews worshiping at the Wall. The British ban on sex segregation barriers became a ban on Jews at the Wall from 1948 1967 when it was under the control of Jordan.

When Israel took control of the Temple Mount area the Wall came under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the 1980s American and English emigrants to Israel began the Women at the Wall movement which sparked a riot by Haredi men at the wall in 1989. In 2003 Israel’s Supreme Court disallowed women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza built by the Ministry in front of the Wall. However, it held the government must build a second area for women and mixed sex groups — as well as non-Orthodox Jews — on the site of Robinson’s Arch.  Sharansky’s solution is to expand this site — which is not under the control of the Ministry.

Without explaining the religious elements — the objections of the Orthodox or the determination of Jewish women to worship at the wall rather than near — the story is incomplete. Without touching upon the history behind this section, it’s context, a casual reader might well suppose this is just about power.

What does the wall symbolize for the religious Jew or the secular Israeli? Is this a continuing chapter in the saga of who is a Jew, what does it mean to be a Jew, and who gets to say who is a Jew? Written for an American or Diaspora audience — the story is incomplete.

First published in Get Religion.

Is Christian Zionism off the radar for the NY Times?: Get Religion, January 24, 2013 January 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

The controversy was also an example of the importance of fleshing out religious ghosts in a story. The American and Israeli press that picked up this issue focused on the political angle. If they had developed the religious elements of the story they would have turned a campaign “gotcha” story about one politician into a better story about the links between Christian Zionists in the U.S. and conservative religious political parties in Israel. Looking into the faith element would have made this a better political story.

Let’s run through the coverage first then ask the faith questions that were left unasked.

On Saturday Ha’aretz’s English language website ran a profile of Gimpel following a broadcast the previous day on Channel 2 of comments made by the rabbi in 2011 to a church in Florida.

The Times of Israel summarized the controversy this way:

Fending off a frenzy of political criticism over a 2011 speech in which he appeared to speak with relish of the theoretical prospect of the Dome of Rock being “blown up” and a new Jewish Temple being built in its stead, prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel claimed in a TV interview on Sunday that he had actually been telling a joke meant to “parody” the extremists who want to destroy the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine.

Statements Gimpel has made in the past, examined by The Times of Israel, indeed show no record of him explicitly calling for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. They do indicate that he considers the golden dome atop the Temple Mount an alien element which he wishes would be replaced by the third Jewish temple.

A candidate for the Orthodox, right-wing Jewish Home party, Gimpel also sports a long history of hard-line statements that would raise eyebrows in many circles in Israel and large parts of the Jewish world, including calling the Jewish outlook of non-Orthodox Jewish movements “nonsense” and questioning whether Israel is truly a democracy because it forbids freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli political left jumped on Gimpel, with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s  liberal Hatnua party calling for his disqualification from the election for allegedly having uttered hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League’s Israel office weighed in also, saying they were appalled a rabbi would condone terrorism, Forward reported.

The New York Times‘ Israel correspondent picked up the story and it appeared in Monday’s edition on page A9 under the headline: “Rightist Israeli Candidate’s Remarks Cause Stir”. I imagine the American angle — Gimpel is a dual Israeli-American citizen and the Florida setting of the speech — prompted the editors to give the story space. The Times‘ article repeated the basic facts of the story of the speech and fleshed out the Israeli political context. It also carried the incendiary quotes that raised the ire of the left.

During a November 2011 lecture about biblical prophecies at the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Fla., Jeremy Gimpel, who is now a Jewish Home candidate, told the audience: “Imagine today if the dome, the Golden Dome — I’m being recorded so I can’t say blown up — but let’s say the dome was blown up, right, and we laid the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? I mean, none of you would be here, you’d all be like, I’m going to Israel, right? No one would be here. It would be incredible!”

After this mention of religion, the Times moves back into politics. This was unfortunate for if they had done some simple internet searching they would have learned some interesting things about the Florida church that calls into question Gimpel’s explanation.

A look through the website of the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs shows it to be a non-denominational Protestant Church that identifies itself as being part of the Christian Zionist movement. Among its outreach projects are the Temple Mount Faithful, whose mission according to its website is:

The goal of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement is the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in our lifetime in accordance with the Word of G-d and all the Hebrew prophets and the liberation of the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation so that it may be consecrated to the Name of G-d.

How credible is Gimpel’s explanation that he was making a joke that satirizes the views of those who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and replace it with the Third Temple?

There are also questions that were left unasked as to what Gimpel meant when he told the Christian audience that if the Third Temple were rebuilt they would all “going to Israel.”

The question “why” a group of Central Florida Christians would go to Israel is not examined. Perhaps this statement from the Temple Mount Faithful website provides context for Gimpel’s words.

It is the view of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful that the redemption will proceed in an orderly fashion according to G-d’s plan.

  • First is the foundation of the modern state of Israel and the miraculous victories that G-d gave the people of Israel in the wars against 22 Arab enemy states.
  • Second is the regathering of the people of Israel from all over the world to the Promised Land.
  • Third is the liberation and consecration of the Temple Mount and fourth is the building of the Third Temple.
  • The final step is the coming of the King of Israel, Messiah Ben David.

The existence of the state of Israel and the return of the people of G-d to the Promised Land is the biggest G-dly event and miracle in the history of mankind – ever. This was predicted by the prophets of Israel. We are calling all the nations to link arms in support of this people and the State of Israel to help her complete this process of redemption. We are not allowed to forget that the redemption of the people of Israel is a condition for the redemption of the earth. Also, we remember what G-d said over 4,000 years ago to Abraham, the father of the Israelites: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”.

The articles note that Gimpel states he was conducting a Bible study on prophecy — but again does not ask what prophecies and why they would be of interest to a non-Jewish audience? By not exploring the religious angle the Times is missing the story. Politicians say dumb things all the time. Leaving the story on that plane makes it old news the moment the it is printed. Exploring the faith angle opens up far more interesting and important questions.

Did the Times simply play follow my lead and not bother with the religion angle? Did they choose not to follow it, or just did not see it? And does the reason for the omission matter? Did ignoring the faith element in this political story leave this incomplete? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Church of Sweden backs Israel boycott campaign: Anglican Ink, November 21, 2012 November 22, 2012

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Archbishop Anders Wejryd addressing the Swedish Church Assembly on 21 Nov 2012

The Kyrkomötet  –  the Church Assembly of the Church of Sweden — has asked its government to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for membership at the United Nations and called for a boycott of Israeli products manufactured in Judea and Samaria.

On 21 Nov 2012 the annual synod of Sweden’s state Lutheran church adopted a series of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel resolutions during its annual meeting in Uppsala.  A longtime critic of Israeli policies, the Kyrkomötet today also gave its backing the Kairos Palestine Document and called for Israel’s withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the “occupied” territories.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Romney on the Palestinian work ethic: Get Religion, July 31, 2012 July 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of God by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability. … Brotherly love, … is expressed in the first place in the fulfillment of the daily tasks given. … This makes labor in the service of impersonal social usefulness appear to promote the glory of God and hence to be willed by him.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism (1905/2002),pp. 108-9.

Reporters on the campaign trail have a difficult task. They must report faithfully on the words and actions of their subject — while at the same time rendering these words and actions interesting and intelligible to their readers. The two do not always go hand in hand as campaign handlers works very hard to make sure their candidate does not stray from a script, keeping “on message” at all times. It is a good day then, when a candidate says something new, interesting or controversial for it allows a good reporter to show his command of the craft.

The presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate has been taking some hits for comments made on his latest overseas tour. Some members of the press corp have been putting a bit of stick about in their coverage of Mitt Romney, characterizing his latest comments as insensitive gaffes. Romney is not ready for prime time is the song playing on the campaign radio right now.

A 30 July 2012 story in the Washington Post entitled “Romney faces Palestinian criticism for Jerusalem remarks as he heads to Poland” is representative of this style of reporting. But in their zeal to play gotcha with the Mittster and focus the criticisms, the five WaPo reporters credited on the story have overlooked ethical and religious ghosts that might well have made this a better piece. And what is better? Better is an article that peals away on campaign cant giving a fresh look into the mind of Mitt Romney.

Let me walk you through this story and show you what I mean. The lede begins:

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”

Palestinians said that Romney was ignoring long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which are an enormous drag on commerce.

“All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education. He doesn’t know the region, he doesn’t know Israelis, he doesn’t know Palestinians, and to talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement,” Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview.

Though this appears in the domestic politics section of the Washington Post, the Post’s reporters have written a story about the opinions of second-tier Palestinian government officials. An accusation of racism is leveled at the top of the story by a Palestinian official in response to Romney’s comments on culture.

The article notes Romney’s  comments on the sharp economic disparity between Israel and Palestine and recounts the words that led to the racism charge. Citing a 1998 book by Harvard economics professor David Landes entitled “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Romney said:

“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from the book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

A decision was made by the authors of this narrative to enter the story through the door of response to comments. Why? As we go deeper into the article there are signs the Romney campaign were unhelpful. It moves to denials by the Romney campaign of any “attempt to slight the Palestinians.” The article did note that Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, pushed his boss deeper into the mire: “Reporters pressed him to explain what Romney meant by ‘culture,’ but he declined to do so.”

The action shifts to Washington with comments from the Obama campaign and World Bank officials before it moves on to the next leg of Mitt’s overseas adventure. A diagram of the article’s content and perspective would be: Key Sentence: Romney is a racist Palestinian official claims — Palestinian quote — Romney quote — Romney campaign non-explanation — Obama response critical of Romney — Expert voice critical of Romney — Close as scene moves to Poland.

The Romney campaign appears to have been unhelpful and their man comes off badly from their actions. Yet what is also missing is an inquiry by the Post into Prof. David Landes and his book — which would go a long way toward answering the question of “what is culture?”.

And it is here was have the ethical and religious ghosts to this story for Landes’ book places great stress on the role of religion in economic development.

Two avenues of inquiry immediately present themselves — corruption and Islam. Is Mitt Romney saying that the Muslim culture of the Palestinian Authority is less conducive to economic advancement than the Jewish culture of Israel? Sociologists have been debating the role of religion and economic growth for over a century — most famously we have Max Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper last year entitled “Religious Identity and Economic Behavior” that found in the U.S. there were differences between the faith groups/denominations on their attitudes toward work.

We randomly vary religious identity salience in laboratory subjects to test how identity salience contributes to six hypothesized links from prior literature between religious identity and economic behavior. We find that religious identity salience makes Protestants increase contributions to public goods. Catholics decrease contributions to public goods, expect others to contribute less to public goods, and become less risk averse. Jews more strongly reciprocate as an employee in a bilateral labor market gift-exchange game.

While Islam did not play a part in this study, recent academic studies have sought to include the attitudes toward work in the Muslim world and define an  Islamic work ethic. Is the economic success of Israel due to its Jewish culture — and are the economic failures of the surrounding states tied to their Muslim cultures?

And then there is corruption. It is odd the Washington Post article would stress the economic disadvantages of the security check points and trot out an expert to say this is a cause of the problem — some commentators have taken this idea and rather foolishly run with it even further. Why I saw it is odd is that the World section of the Post has featured articles discussing the problem of corruption for the economic, social and political development of the Palestinian Authority. A March 2012 Palestine Public Opinion Poll identified corruption as a significant problem in the PA.

73% say there is corruption in the PA institutions in the West Bank while only 62% say there is corruption in the institutions of the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip. These percentages are similar to those obtained three months ago. In the context of the recent step by the PA in the West Bank to submit corruption cases to courts, we asked the public if it thinks the PA is serious about fighting corruption: 53% said it was serious and 43% said it was not serious.

Is corruption a Muslim problem or a Palestinian problem? I don’t think so. In my own work I have reported on the problems of corruption within the Christian churches of the Palestinian Authority, and have written dozens of stories over the years about corrupt and crooked bishops from the U.S. to Africa.

Also, please hear what I am not saying — I am not saying Israeli security measures do not have some degree of harm for the Palestinian Authority’s economy — I am saying that there are other factors involved that may play as great or a greater role.

And, I am also saying the Washington Post story missed an opportunity to tell us more about Mitt Romney. There is a hundred years of sharply contested scholarship on the intersection of religion and economic advancement. Given Romney’s Mormon faith and its pronounced views on this topic I would have thought that this area would be explored in any story on culture and the economy emanating from the campaign. What we have is a rather tired and predictable story that advances a silly claim by a Palestinian functionary and partisan campaign officials. It is not really worth the time it takes to read.

What say you Get Religion readers? Did the Post miss the story? Was it justified in playing “gotcha” in light of the apparent unhelpful Romney campaign? With five reporters on the story should it have cracked open the covers of the book that formed Romney’s thinking on nations and culture? Or, because I write about religion, do I see it everywhere? Was this really just a Romney gaffe story? Or, has the press decided the trip was a failure and hence everything that arose from it must be deemed a failure?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. First published in Get Religion.

Jewish leaders urge Synod to reject Palestine motion: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2012 p 7. June 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Judaism.
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The Board of Deputies of British Jews has urged General Synod to reject a private member’s motion to endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The chief executive of the Board of Deputies, Jon Benjamin told The Church of England Newspaper “there are many programmes and organisations seeking to promote tolerance and understanding, bringing both sides of the conflict together. EAPPI doesn’t claim to try to do that, but just focuses on the perceived iniquities of the Israelis — and by implication Jews abroad who support Israel.”

The first clause of the motion “Palestine and Israel” brought by Dr. John Drinnen of the Diocese of Hereford will ask synod to “affirm its support for: (a) The vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants.”

General Synod Paper 1874a states the EAPPI programme was established in 2002 at the request of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and its volunteers “spend about 3 months in Israel and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.”

“In Hebron they escort Palestinian girls to Cordoba School which lies between two Israeli settlements in the heart of this Palestinian town and the girls often suffer threats and attacks by extremist settlers on their way to and from school. Across the West Bank they monitor checkpoints at the separation barrier, where people queue for up to four hours every morning in order to get to work, school or hospital. The International Red Cross and UN humanitarian and human rights agencies rely on the statistical data and eyewitness accounts collected by the EAs at check points or house demolitions. Local people, say they feel safer, and that the world is watching, when they see EAs at work,” the paper said.

In a letter published in the Jewish Chronicle, Mr. Benjamin said Synod would be mistaken if it assumed the EAPPI was the “gold standard in dispassionate and fair reporting from the Holy Land.”

EAPPI’s “lack of balance” was “no mere oversight”, he argued. “The stated purpose of the EAPPI programme is to bear witness to hardships faced by Palestinians at checkpoints or caused by the security barrier,” but “to hear only those voices, and to compound these views further by meeting only Israelis on the political fringes, no effort is made to engage with ordinary Israelis or to appreciate their own aspirations for peace. Instead, they become inclined to a view that there can be no dialogue with Israel, except through boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Dr. Drinnen did not respond to our request for comments but Ben White writing in the Electronic Intifada denounced the board’s comments as a “misrepresentation” and “smear” of the EAPPI. A spokesman for EAPPI told Mr. White that “EAPPI is surprised and disappointed at being described as ‘anti-Israel’ when we work closely with many respected Israeli NGOs.”

However, the independent Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor last year stated EAPPI was a “biased” organization that “presents a one-sided Palestinian narrative, participating in activities commemorating the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) and promoting the ‘right of return’. The organization ignores terror attacks against Israelis and blames Israel for the conflict.”

“EAPPI consistently demonizes Israel, making accusations of ‘apartheid,’ ‘war crimes,’ and ‘Bantustans’.” NGO Monitor said, and was active in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel.

Mr. Benjamin told CEN there “clearly are hardships faced by Palestinians and they should be addressed,” but to “blame Israel alone is clearly absurd. The EAPPI methodology cannot fail to promote bias.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pray for conversion of the Middle East, Jerusalem conference urges: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2012 p 6. June 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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The Altar of Christ Church, Jerusalem

A conference of Middle Eastern Christians and Messianic Jews meeting in Jerusalem has pledged to work and pray for  the conversion of the Middle East through building the “kingdom of God” in the Middle East and fostering peace and harmony amongst Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Meeting from 7-12 May 2012 at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem with a grant of support from the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church – a ministry of the CMJ — the “At the Crossroads” conference brought together more than seventy delegates from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Armenia, Turkey, Europe and North America with worship and presentations in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew and English.

While the bulk of the conference was closed due to security concerns over Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) protests, two talks were opened to the public.

The Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White and Pastor Ali Pektash spoke to the power of conversion and reconciliation.   Pastor Pektash shared his conversion story also, stating that he had been a Muslim and while on pilgrimage to Mecca he had a dream where Jesus spoke to him – sparking his conversion to Christianity and a road that led to the ordained ministry.

The second public address was given by Taysir Abu Saada, author of Once an Arafat Man, who spoke to the power of Christ to reconcile enemies.  The love of God, he told the conference, allowed believers to rake risks crossing ethnic, political and religious divides “to work together to expand God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in this troubled and unstable region,” a statement from the conference reported.

Delegates adopted a six point statement that sought to evangelize the region, work towards piece between Christians, Muslims and Jews, to protect and advocate for persecuted Christian groups, to foster communications amongst the churches, and to “proclaim that ‘Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’ will indeed become a blessing in the midst of the earth.”

“It is all too easy for Christians in the Middle East to become ghettoized due to their minority status and the many ethnic and political divisions,” one conference organizer noted in an email to The Church of England Newspaper.

“Consequently we often fail to see how God is working in our midst. Our focus must extend beyond these conflicts and only the survival of existing Christian communities. Without ignoring the suffering and injustice in so many parts of our region, we should focus on the call of Jesus to expand God’s sovereignty by making disciples, recognizing the crucial role Jewish believers in Israel have in the Great Commission to bless their neighbors with the Good News,” the organizer said.

“ And equally so, the followers of Jesus in the surrounding nations have a unique role in helping Israel become part of the blessing that God intends for this region,” he added.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Conservative applause for Katharine Jefferts Schori: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, The Episcopal Church.
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Conservative groups in the United States have applauded Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s rejection of divestment from Israel, saying they hope her words guide the churches’ debates on boycotting Israel.

In a 25 March 2012 speech in Los Angeles, Bishop Jefferts Schori stated “the Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott.”  She told those attending a “Middle East Peacemakers” luncheon that “a two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis” and for “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories” was the way forward for peace in the region.

“It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically,” the presiding bishop said.

The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani told the luncheon that he hoped Anglicans would continue to show their solidarity with their compatriots in Israel and Palestine.  Building Christian institutions was a major goal of the diocese, he said, as “we are losing so many young families and young people who leave and look for a better future outside our land,” the bishop said.

Jerusalem must “remain open for all,” the Bishop said, adding, “We need your support to work for peace and justice.”

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, a pro-Israel lobbying group, applauded the Presiding Bishop’s comments.

“We are totally supportive of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori,” said the Rev. Bruce Chilton, Professor of Religion at Bard College and Fair Witness Executive Committee member.  “Fair Witness has long held that if the American Church can play a role in ending the occupation and bringing peace to this region it will be by helping to build up a viable sovereign Palestinian state through economic investment, while simultaneously avoiding boycott and divestment to allay the parties’ fear and distrust so they can find their way back to the negotiating table and a just two-state solution.”

“Prophetic Christian peacemaking is not a particularly easy venture,” he said, noting that “far too often we fall into the trap of simplistic blame casting, accusing either the Palestinians or the Israelis of not wanting peace and seeking to punish whichever party we perceive to be in the wrong.  But that approach only hardens leaders on both sides and makes it less likely that they will take the brave step of returning to the negotiating table and making the necessary compromises.”

“I am pleased and proud to see my church take such a highly principled and productive stand,” Dr Chilton said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop returns from private tour of Israel: The Church of England Newspaper, February 10, 2012 p 6. February 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury met with Anglican, Muslim, Druse and Jewish leaders last week during a private tour of Israel and the West Bank, returning on Feb 2 in time for the start of General Synod.

The Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani reports that Dr. Williams met with the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem, Muslim and Druse leaders at St Margaret’s Guest House in Nazareth, and the heads of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem.  Dr. Williams and his party also toured Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Dr. Williams’ tour demonstrated the “importance of constructive dialogue and co-existence between all religions,” the diocese said, as well as the need to “consolidate the peace process between the people of this region.”

The archbishop and his party pilgrims also visited St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in the village of Zababida in the northern West Bank and met with the mayor and the governor of Jenin.

Lambeth meeting for Mahmoud Abbas: The Church of England Newspaper, January 18, 2012 January 19, 2012

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Dr. Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace on 17 Jan 2012 : Photo - Marcin Mazur, CCN.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The President of the Palestinian Authority has met with leaders of the Christian Churches of Britain in London following his talks with the British government over the stalled Middle East peace process.

The meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Dr. Rowan Williams comes at a nadir in Anglo-Israeli relations and on the same day the Israeli Foreign Ministry chided Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as being grossly “ill informed” about the conflict in the Middle East.

According to a statement released after the 17 Jan 2012, President Abbas told the church leaders that Israel and the Palestinians must resume peace talks.  The Arab Spring provided a “rare opportunity” to bring peace to the region, the Palestinian leader said.

President Abbas and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams were joined by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland David Arnott in the private meeting at Lambeth Palace.

Dr. Williams said the British church leaders “continue to share the hopes of the Palestinian leadership for a lasting and just peace in the Holy Land, and we pray for the courage on all sides to break the current deadlock.”

He noted that “young people in Israel and in the Palestinian territories long for justice and stability and they must not be let down. We were deeply grateful to President Abbas for taking time to share with us his concerns and aspirations” Dr. Williams said.

Archbishop Kelly, who last week travelled with other Catholic bishops to Israel and Palestine to meet with Christian leaders, said “we witnessed the effects of occupation and insecurity on the people of this land. There is an urgent need for strong and creative leadership in order to address the core issues of this long conflict.”

On 17 Jan, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Israel Hayom newspaper that Mr. Clegg’s accusation that Israel was carrying out “deliberate vandalism” by building settlements in disputed territories was “gratuitous and ill informed.”

The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments served to harm the peace process as it would allow the Palestinians to continue to refuse to negotiate or compromise.

At a London press conference on 16 Jan, Mr. Clegg standing alongside Mr. Abbas said: “The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable.”

“That, in turn, will do nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself or of Israeli citizens. That is why I condemn the continued illegal settlement activity in the strongest possible terms,” he added.

Speaking through a translator, President Abbas told reporters, “This is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom.”

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians had no interest in resuming peace talks. “For the last three years, the Palestinians have refused to enter negotiations, thinking they could impose preconditions upon us,” the Israeli press reported Mr. Netanyahu telling Israeli lawmakers at closed parliamentary committee meeting.

“The Palestinians have no interest in entering peace talks. I’m ready to travel now to Ramallah to start peace talks with Abu Mazen [Abbas], without preconditions. But the simple truth is that Abu Mazen is not ready.”

Acceptable lies and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 23, 2011 December 24, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Press criticism.
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The New York Times has an extraordinary article that extols the virtues of lying and doublespeak in a recent “Memo from Jerusalem.” Well, you might ask, what of it? How does a dodgy story on the Arab-Israeli conflict fall within the ambit of GetReligion? What is the religion/journalism hook you ask?

To which I respond: lying is a sin or bad manners or ethically challenged behavior from a Western perspective. Lying is not always a sin in Islam — that is to say lying to non-Muslims is not a sin, bad manners or ethically challenged behavior. The Times ties itself in knots trying to excuse lying by the Palestinians, even going so far as to raise instances of Israelis behaving badly. However, the moral equivalence argument expressed in the Times-patented insouciant world-weary tone, which holds that as both sides are dissemblers we should not cast aspersions, does not work here.

Ignorance of Islamic moral standards, or perhaps the reluctance to raise the precept of taqiyya has placed the Times in the position of endorsing cant.

Take a look at this 20 Dec 2011 article entitled “Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages That Aren’t So Public.” The editorial voice of the story states that news agencies that translate into English the statements made in Arabic by Palestinian leaders are doing a disservice to the cause of peace.

The Times argues that statements in English that are tailored to a Western audience by Palestinian leaders that speak of peace and reconciliation should not be juxtaposed against by statements made in Arabic by the same Palestinian leaders to their constituencies that call for the destruction of Israel and death to Jews.

The article begins by observing that:

A new book by an Israeli watchdog group catalogs dozens of examples of messages broadcast by the Palestinian Authority for its domestic audience that would seem at odds with the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution.

This claim is “not new” the Times notes. As:

For years, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have said that what Palestinian leaders tell their own people in their own language — as opposed to English-language statements tailored to opinion in the rest of the world — is the truest reflection of their actual beliefs. This has had the effect of further entrenching the sides to the conflict and undermining confidence that it can ever be resolved.

Let’s stop and think about what the Times has just said. It is true, the article concedes, that Palestinian political leaders are saying one thing to the West and another to their own people. The lede sentence in the story soft peddles the results of this lying: it “would seem at odds” with the peace process. However, the follow up sentence states this explicitly: it has had “the effect of further entrenching” Palestinian revanchist views.

The article quotes one of the lead authors of the study on Palestinian media doublespeak on why this is problematic, but the story then pivots with a sentence that sets the theme and context of the article.

Some Israelis struggle with the practice of monitoring the Palestinian news media, acknowledging the importance of knowing what is being said in Arabic, yet disturbed by how its dissemination is exploited by those not eager to see Israel make concessions.

The article offers examples of this doublespeak, but then introduces contrary Israeli and Palestinian voices that criticize the book. This criticism, however, is not that the results of the study are untrue, but that these truths are inconvenient to the political agenda of the Israeli left, which the Times also conflates as being co-equal to the cause of peace.

The Times then offers its critque.

Some of the examples publicized by the Israeli monitoring group are old ones that have been repeated over the years, and some of its interpretations are arguable.

A Palestinian critique is offered.

“This is not a serious attempt to solve the problem of incitement,” said Ghassan Khatib, the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. Mr. Khatib said that the authority had significantly reduced the level of incitement on the Palestinian side in recent years. “The question is,” he said, “are the Israelis improving or reversing in this regard?”

And the story concludes with voices from the Israeli left.

“There is peace making and there is peace building,” said Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria and as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, explaining why the contentious messages in Arabic are so damaging. The lack of peace building, he said, is part of the failure of the Oslo peace process that began with accords signed in 1993 but has not yet produced a Palestinian state.

In one of the most egregious examples of Palestinian doublespeak, Yasir Arafat spoke in a mosque in South Africa in May 1994, only months after the signing of the Oslo accords, and called on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process.

Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”

Where is the religion hook then? It comes in the form of a religion ghost — meaning that there is a religion element to this story that is omitted. And this omission is crucial, I believe, in understanding the story.

As it is written, the Times piece is a defense of sophistry and comes across as being morally dubious at best. By excusing the doublespeak the Times engages in the “soft bigotry of low expectations” — to quote a favorite of its editorial board, President George W. Bush. It belittles those who expose this duplicity by arguing that truth telling will block a two-state solution.

Are the Palestinians masters of moral duplicity then, as the Times would have us believe? Or are they acting according to the lights of their own moral and ethical system?

Writing in the Winter edition of the Middle East Quarterly, Raymond Ibrahim discusses the concept of dissimulation [taqiyya] in Shia and Sunni ethics.

While the Qur’an is against believers deceiving other believers—for “surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar”— deception directed at non-Muslims, generally known in Arabic as taqiyya, also has Qur’anic support and falls within the legal category of things that are permissible for Muslims.

Ibrahim explains that Shia communities living as minorities in Sunni areas were permitted to dissemble about their religion in order to avoid persecution. But among the Sunni community,

… far from suffering persecution have, whenever capability allowed, waged jihad against the realm of unbelief; and it is here that they have deployed taqiyya—not as dissimulation but as active deceit. In fact, deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal—sometimes superior—to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.

Palestinian leaders have used taqiyya in their war with Israel. In an incident dismissed in the Times article as being “old” news, Ibrahim reports on a speech by Yasser Arafat that offers an example of this strategy.

More recently, and of great significance for Western leaders advocating cooperation with Islamists, Yasser Arafat, soon after negotiating a peace treaty criticized as conceding too much to Israel, addressed an assembly of Muslims in a mosque in Johannesburg where he justified his actions: “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca.”  In other words, like Muhammad, Arafat gave his word only to annul it once “something better” came along—that is, once the Palestinians became strong enough to renew the offensive and continue on the road to Jerusalem.

The implications of this way of thinking offend Western sensibilities, Ibrahim writes.

Yet most Westerners continue to think that Muslim mores, laws, and ethical constraints are near identical to those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Naively or arrogantly, today’s multiculturalist leaders project their own worldview onto Islamists, thinking a handshake and smiles across a cup of coffee, as well as numerous concessions, are enough to dismantle the power of God’s word and centuries of unchanging tradition. The fact remains: Right and wrong in Islam have little to do with universal standards but only with what Islam itself teaches—much of which is antithetical to Western norms.

What then are we to make of this story about Palestinian doublespeak? The Times concedes it exists, but down plays its importance and gives prominence of place in its article to those who see the exposure of lies as being harmful to the cause of peace.

Would ascribing all divergence between what the Palestinian leaders say to the West and what they tell their own people to taqiyya answer the questions raised in this story? Or does cant play a role in any of this? What say you GetReligion readers?

But where ever the line may be found between lying to advance the faith and cant, the omission of this religion element to the story by the Times does a disservice to its readers.

First printed in GetReligion.

Jerusalem residency row ends: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 30, 2011 p 6. October 1, 2011

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Bishop Suheil Dawani

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Israel’s Ministry of the Interior has granted a residency permit for the Bishop in Jerusalem allowing the Rt Rev Suheil Dawani to live in Jerusalem. In an email to supporters, the bishop reported that on 26 September the Ministry approved his permit, ending over a year’s bureaucratic obfuscation and delay.

In August 2010, the Ministry declined to renew the bishop and his family’s residency papers, claiming the bishop had been engaged in fraudulent land deals on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Bishop Dawani and his family were ordered to leave the country, “immediately.”

The bishop denied the allegations, and after the Ministry declined to respond to the bishop’s letters, his lawyers initiated legal action in February, 2011.

International and domestic political pressure was quickly brought to bear. On 6 April, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem released a statement saying they “strongly support the religious freedom rights” of Bishop Dawani, and were “deeply concerned by the precedent of the attempt to deny residency in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities to a leader of one of the Churches of this Holy City.”

On 28 March, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell stated the British government was “very concerned” by the revocation of Bishop Dawani’s residency permit, adding that Foreign Secretary William Hague had “raised this with the Prime Minister of Israel.” Private representations had also been made on the bishop’s behalf by the US government, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other Anglican leaders with the Prime Minister’s office.

No reason has been given for the government’s change of mind, the bishop reported. But he did want “to thank all of you, my friends and colleagues throughout the Anglican Episcopal Communion and the worldwide Christian community, for your continued support throughout this time. It has been deeply appreciated and most encouraging knowing that we have been kept in your thoughts and prayers as we awaited this most heartening outcome.”

Diplomatic stand-off over the site of Jesus’ baptism: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 9, 2011 p 9. September 8, 2011

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Jordan River between the Israeli and Jordanian sites

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Israel was guilty of falsifying history and breaking international law, Jordan’s tourism ministry has declared, after it formally re-opened to pilgrims the Qasr al-Yahoud—the traditional site of Christ’s baptism on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Closed following the 1967 Six Day War, the Qasr al-Yahoud is located in a restricted military area in Israel and is directly across from the al-Maghtas (Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan), the site Jordan claims is the true place of Christ’s baptism.

The two sites have long played host to pilgrims, but the closure of Qasr al-Yahoud since 1967 has given the Jordanian site a leg up in the battle for Christian tourist cash.  In March 2010 media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s two daughters were baptized at the al-Maghtas site in a service attended by Jordan’s Queen Rania.

The ceremony sparked controversy last week after Wendy Murdoch told Vogue magazine that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of the children’s godfathers and had participated in the ceremony.  An 18-page photo spread in Hello! magazine of the service pictured film stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman as godparents, but omitted mention of the former prime minister.

In 2000 the Qasr al-Yahoud was opened by Israeli to pilgrims who could visit the shrine under military escort.  The outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in 2001 closed the shrine, which was only re-opened for religious ceremonies during the Orthodox Epiphany, the Catholic Annunciation and the Orthodox Easter. Last September however, the site was opened to visitors and the area cleared of land mines and barbed wire.

According to a translation made by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) of the Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm, on July 27, 2011, the Jordanian Tourism and Antiquities Minister Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh filed a complaint with the Vatican that Israel had “violated international law and charters by establishing the place called Qasr al-Yahoud and a baptismal site [there], and by holding an [inauguration] ceremony attended by [representatives of] several [Christian] religious streams, in order to provoke Jordan and mislead the world regarding the location of the real baptismal site, which is on Jordanian soil.”

Dr. Abu Ghazaleh added that “grave violation is a provocation [both] to Jordan and to the Vatican, represented by Pope Benedict XVI, which recognizes that the site of Christ’s baptism is on the Jordanian side of the river. It is also a violation of international law because… the [Israeli] site was established on land that the international charters recognize as being under occupation… This is one of an entire series of grave violations of the international laws, charters, and principles, and an attempt to falsify the facts of human history.”

The dispute prompted a meeting between Jordanian officials and Israeli army officers at the midpoint of the King Hussein Bridge that links the two countries, but no accord was reached.

On July 30 the Jordanian interior ministry convened a meeting of government officials, MPs and Christian leaders to defend its claim to possession of the true baptismal site.  The meeting generated a statement which said: “The archeological findings, and all testimony, prove that the [authentic] baptismal site is on the east [bank]. It is important to distinguish the baptism of Christ from the baptism [of other Christians], which can take place anywhere. From a historical and religious perspective, the [real] spot where Christ was baptized is on the east [bank] of the river and is called al-Maghtas, [and is] in Jordan.”

Anglican Archdeacon Luay Haddad told the Khabarjo.net website: “For the Christians, this issue is a very important one, and the reaction should be addressed [to people] both inside and outside [Jordan]. It is not enough to issue a communiqué stating that the site of Christ’s baptism is on the east [bank], because everybody [already] acknowledges this fact. We must inform our brothers west of the river that we remain loyal to the [Jordanian] site…

“The opening of the site on the west [bank] comes at an unsuitable time, and contains an element of provocation. [The authenticity of the Jordanian site] is firmly established in the eyes of the church and from the perspective of archeology, religion and tourism. The church documents clearly confirm this, and it is acknowledged by the church’s supreme authorities… It is also supported by the New Testament and by testimonies of the fathers of the early church.”

The Anglican Church believed the opening of the Israeli site was “a grave mistake in terms of history and religion.”   He called on Christians to “disregard Israel’s plans whose transparent [goal]… is to spark a conflagration and create new confusion in the region.”

“We hope that all the Christians, especially those in the Holy Land, will be wary of these dubious [Israeli] plans, will take a clear stand against this [new baptismal] site, and will announce that the site on the east [bank] is the only [authentic] site of Christ’s baptism.”

However the archdeacon’s claims appear to be stronger than history would allow, as both sides can show ample historic evidence for their claims.  The Vatican Information Service noted that while Pope Benedict XVI visited the al-Maghtas in 2009, he had expressed no opinion on the dispute between the two claimants.

In the sixth century the Emperor Anastasias order a basilica to be built to mark the spot and St John’s Monastery was constructed on the west bank.  The east bank of the river has also yielded Byzantine ecclesial ruins tied to Jesus’ baptism, but the historical record remains unclear.

The sixth-century pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza (Intinerarium 12.4) reported that “Not very far from the Jordan where the Lord was baptized there is the monastery of St John.”  The actual spot of the baptism was marked by a votive column crowned by a metallic cross, planted in the middle of the river between the two banks.

However, this report is also suspect as The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) notes that Antoninus was “the last writer who saw Palestine before the Moslem conquest. Although he covered in his travels nearly the same extensive territory as the Spanish nun, [Egeria] his work contains but few details not found in other writers; it is, moreover, marred by gross errors and by fabulous tales which betray the most naive credulity.”

Christian population in the Middle East rising: The Church of England Newspaper, July 15, 2011 p 8. July 18, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched an appeal to sustain the Christian communities in the Holy Land.

The Archbishop’s call comes amidst a sharp decline in the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East over the course of the 20th Century. However, in recent years the Christian population of Israel has grown sharply, with the Pontifical Mission to Palestine reporting the return of Christian emigrants from abroad to the Holy Land.

In his address to the General Synod’s July 2011 Group of Sessions, Dr Rowan Williams said that he “returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there… We know our brothers and sisters there are suffering; and we don’t always ask ourselves often enough what our response needs to be.”

He asked Anglicans to support the financial appeal “with which we might assist projects of community development and work creation, especially among Palestinian Christians.”

A demographic study published in 1998 by the Oxford University Press entitled Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East noted that in 1914, Christians constituted 26.4 per cent of the total population in what is now Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, while by 1995 they represented 9.2 per cent of the population.

However, the decline has not been evenly spread. While Christians have fled from areas controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, in Israel their numbers have grown rapidly. The Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 reports that Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 per cent — a rate faster than the growth of the country’s Jewish population.

Dr Williams’ appeal comes ahead of a joint conference with the Archbishop of Westminster scheduled for 18/19 July at Lambeth Palace. “The rate of emigration from Christian populations in the Holy Land has been growing steadily for a long time” the Archbishop of Canterbury said in an introductory video.

“People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance… not just its historical reality, but to its present and future viability” added Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

However, the Pontifical Mission to Palestine, an agency created by Pope Pius XII in April 1949 to coordinate all the Catholic aid activities in favour of the Palestinian refugees and victims after the War of 1948, reports that Christians are now returning.

The mission’s regional director Sami el-Yousef told EWTN News the number of Christians living in the Holy Land had stopped falling, and perhaps even increased slightly.

“In recent years I think we have not witnessed any waves of emigration out of the Holy Land,” Mr el-Yousef said. Some families that emigrated in past years have recently returned, he reported.

Fury over Dr. Williams’ Palestine remarks: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2011 p 6. July 6, 2011

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has come under sharp criticism from Palestinian activists, who have accused Dr. Rowan Williams of being an ill-informed right-winger bent on “demonizing Islam” and supporting the Israeli government.

However, a spokesman for Dr. Williams tells The Church of England Newspaper that Kairos Palestine had improperly construed the archbishop’s remarks about the plight of Christians across the Middle East to be an endorsement of Israeli government policies.

In a June 14 interview with the BBC Radio 4 programme World At One, Dr. Williams noted that life for some Middle East Christians was “becoming unsustainable.”

There was a “hemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land,” the archbishop said, adding that the “fact that Bethlehem, a majority Christian city just a couple of decades ago, is now very definitely a place where Christians are a marginalized minority.”

“It’s not ethnic cleansing exactly because it’s been far less deliberate than that I think,” Dr. Williams said.

“What we’ve seen though is a kind of Newtonian passing on of energy or force from one body to another so that some Muslim populations in the West Bank, under pressure, move away from certain areas like Hebron, move into other areas like Bethlehem. And there’s nowhere much else for Christian populations to go except away from Palestine,” the archbishop told the BBC.

On June 18, Mr. Rifat Odeh Kassis, the coordinator for Kairos Palestine wrote to Dr. Williams stating his remarks on Muslim extremism as the “the greatest threat facing Christians in Palestine and the primary reason for our emigration” were “inaccurate and erroneous.”

He added the archbishop’s “statements about Bethlehem are particularly faulty and offensive especially when you say that the movement of Muslims into the Bethlehem area, where space is limited, is forcing Christians to leave.”

“Equally shocking,” Mr. Kassis said, was Dr. Williams’ silence on Israeli actions that Kairos Palestine believed were one of the “major reasons that push not only Christians to emigrate, but also many other Palestinians.”

Kairos Palestine was disappointed that Dr. Williams did not speak with a “different voice than the one in mass media and other right wing political parties, which exploit our sufferings to fuel some Islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam.”

No stranger to the Middle East’s political fracas, Kairos Palestine was formed by a group of Palestinian clergy in 2004.  According to the Jerusalem-based think tank NGO Monitor, Kairos “advocates a supersessionist theology, exploits related themes to demonize Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel, and ignores the extreme harassment and violence committed by Palestinians against Christians.”

A spokesman for Lambeth Palace told CEN Kairos’ concerns were overblown.   “This is partly a fall out from a misquote on the BBC website,” he said.

The spokesman noted that on June 14 the BBC’s website stated:  “Dr Rowan Williams said there was a ‘haemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land’ because of violent extremism, and in Bethlehem they were now a ‘marginalised minority’.”

The following day, the BBC rewrote the introduction to the story.  The introduction to the link to the interview now read: “Dr Rowan Williams said there was a ‘haemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land’, violent extremism driving Christians from Egypt, and in Bethlehem they were now a ‘marginalised minority’.”

Jerusalem hearing for Bishop Dawani cancelled: The Church of England Newspaper, May 27, 2011 p 8. May 30, 2011

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Bishop Suheil Dawani

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The May 18 court hearing to review the Israeli government’s refusal to renew the residency permit of the Bishop in Jerusalem has been postponed, following a motion by the Attorney General of Israel to move the case to the country’s Supreme Court.

Bishop Suheil Dawani reports the original hearing was to have been held in the Jerusalem District Court last week.  However, government prosecutors filed a motion for a change of venue.

In August 2010, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior declined to renew the bishop and his family’s residency papers.  The government claimed the bishop had been engaged in fraudulent land deals on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.   Bishop Dawani and his family were ordered to leave the country, “immediately.”

The bishop has denied the allegations, protesting his innocence.  After the Ministry of the Interior declined to respond to the bishop’s letters, his lawyers initiated legal action in February.

International and domestic political pressure has been brought to bear in support of the bishop.   On April 6, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, the umbrella organization for the Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops of the Armenian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches released a statement in support of Bishop Dawani.

The Heads of Churches said they “strongly support the religious freedom rights” of Bishop Dawani, adding they were “deeply concerned by the precedent of the attempt to deny residency in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities to a leader of one of the Churches of this Holy City.”

In a written statement released on March 28, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell stated the government was “very concerned” by the revocation of Bishop Dawani’s residency permit, adding that Foreign Secretary William Hague had “raised this with the Prime Minister of Israel.”

Private representations have also been made on the bishop’s behalf by the US government, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other Anglican leaders with the Prime Minister’s office, but so far have had no effect on the dispute.

No date has yet been scheduled for the Supreme Court hearing.

Govt backs Jerusalem bishop in residency row: The Church of England Newspaper, April 1, 2011 p 9. April 1, 2011

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Bishop Riah Abu al-Abbas

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The government has given its backing to the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, in his dispute with the Government of Israel over the bishop’s right to visit Jerusalem.  However, the intervention by the Foreign Office appears not to have shifted the Israeli government’s views, which may be driven more by factional battles within the diocese, than the Arab-Israeli dispute.

In a written statement released on March 28 in response to a query from the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell stated the government was “very concerned” by the revocation of Bishop Dawani’s residency permit.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague had “raised this with the Prime Minister of Israel last November. Our embassy in Tel Aviv continues to press regularly,” Lord Howell said.

On March 3, the Diocese of Jerusalem released a statement saying that “all Anglican bishops” in Jerusalem, who had not held Israeli passports, historically had been “granted residency permits to allow them to live in Jerusalem where the Bishop’s residence, diocesan offices and cathedral are located.”

The bishop and his family had renewed their permits in 2008 and 2009, but when they attempted to renew their permits last year, the bishop was told by the Ministry of the Interior that his documents would not be renewed.  The government said “Bishop Suheil acted with the Palestinian Authority in transferring lands owned by Jewish people to the Palestinians and also helped to register lands of Jewish people in the name of the Church.”

“There were further allegations that documents were forged by the Bishop. The letter also stated that Bishop Dawani and his family should leave the country immediately,” the diocese reported.

Bishop Suheil Dawani

Bishop Dawani responded that the allegations leveled against him were false,.  His letters protesting his innocence of the charges have so far gone unanswered nor have his accusers been publicly identified.  On advice of legal counsel last month the bishop filed suit in a Jerusalem court seeking legal redress.

The diocese stated that private representations had been made on the bishop’s behalf by the UK and US governments, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other Anglican leaders with the Prime Minister’s office, but so far had no effect on the dispute.

The bishop’s residency dispute appears to have begun at the same time as the long-drawn out legal dispute between Bishop Dawani and his predecessor, Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal, came to a close.

Last year, an Israeli court banned Bishop Riah, an Arab Israeli, from trespassing on diocesan property and has rejected his claims of ownership of a church school in Nazareth.  Over the course of the three year battle, charges and counter charges of fraud, forgery and violence were leveled against the bishops by their partisan opponents.

The Jerusalem bishops’ battle centered round a dispute over Christ Church School in Nazareth.  Shortly before his retirement in March 2007, Bishop Riah established a charitable trust staffed by members of his family and sought to transfer the assets and administration of the diocese’s Christ Church School over to the “Bishop Riah Educational Campus.”

The diocese said Bishop Riah had collected tuition fees from the students while the school’s expenses, including staff salaries, were being paid by the diocese.  In his court filings Bishop Riah countered that he had provided the funds for building the school, which employed his son as headmaster, and that he had raised funds for the school in his personal rather than episcopal capacity.

Following attempts at mediation, the diocese brought suit against Bishop Riah and his family trust for possession of the school and the tuition fees, and on Jan 22, 2008 a magistrate court granted the diocese control of the assets pending final adjudication.  In April 2010 a final decision was handed down by the Israeli courts on the real estate.  It denied Bishop Riah all rights and access “without express written permission of the diocesan Bishop Suheil Dawani,” or involvement “at all in any matter, without exception, in the matters of church and the school.”

Bishop Dawani’s troubles with the Ministry of the Interior began shortly after the court handed down its decision in the Christ Church Nazareth school case.

CMJ staffer murdered in Israel: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 7, 2011 p 6. January 12, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel, Mission Societies/Religious Orders, Terrorism.
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Kristine Luken

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An American staff member with the CMJ UK, the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people, has been murdered while on vacation in Israel.

Kristine Luken (44) an administrator with the CMJ in Nottingham was hiking in a forest southwest of Jerusalem on Dec 18 with fellow CJM staffer, Kay Wilson, a British-born Israeli, when they were approached by two Arab men asking for water.  The men attacked the two women, stabbing each repeatedly.  Ms. Wilson feigned death and survived the attack, but Ms. Luken bled to death.

“They came to kill,” Ms. Wilson said, telling the Israeli media that one of the attackers ripped a Star of David from around her neck and stabbed her where in the place where the star had lain.

“I saw that the stab had not penetrated my heart, and I played dead. While I lay there, I could hear my friend dying. Her breath sounded like bubbles,” Ms. Wilson told Haaretz.

“I waited two minutes, we lay in the corridor. Our hands tied behind our backs and something was covering my mouth,” she said. “It was terribly hard for me to get up, but I managed to go. I saw that we were in a bush area and I did not know then that they had fled. I felt myself getting tired, all I wanted to do was sleep but I knew I could not.”

Ms. Wilson, bleeding from 12 stab wounds, was able to make her way to a parking lot near the popular recreation area, where a passerby found her and alerted the police.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place near the border with the West Bank, nor have any suspects been detained.  Israeli police are treating the attack as a political crime, though they have not ruled out sexual assault as a motive.  Ms. Luken’s body was returned to her family last week and was buried near her home in West Virginia.

The murder has been “an incredible shock,” said Rev. David Pileggi, the vicar of Christ Church Jerusalem said. “We were just weeping. I would describe it as one wave of sadness after another. We still have not recovered from this by any means,” he told an Israeli newspaper.

The CEO of the CMJ, Robin Aldridge, stated the organization was “deeply shocked” by the murder of their “much loved administrator Kristine Luken.  Kristine had worked for the ministry for one year having previously worked for the American government.”

Ms Luken had “just taken on responsibility for Shoresh Tours, a CMJ company that organizes tours to Israel” and was out hiking with her close personal friend, Kay Wilson, Shoresh’s senior tour guide, when they were attacked, he said.

The murder of Ms. Luken was a “tragedy,” and the staff of the CMJ was “praying for her friends and family at this tragic time.  However, CMJ will continue to share the gospel with the Jewish people and to work for forgiveness and reconciliation in Israel.  This is a mandate that God gave us 201 years ago and we are confident that the best epitaph we could give Kristine is to continue to that to which she was totally committed to supporting,” Mr. Aldridge said.

Israel is an apartheid state, archbishop declares: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 1, 2010 p 6. October 2, 2010

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Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, Archbishop Barry Morgan told the Governing Body of the Church in Wales last week, in a speech where he compared the relationship between Gaza and Israel to the former apartheid system in South Africa.

While the Church in Wales can do little to change the situation in Israel and Gaza, “we ought to acquaint ourselves with what is going on, and fight against injustice, and demand that the rule of law be upheld wherever it is being flouted for whatever reason,” Dr. Morgan said on Sept 22.

“We have a duty to speak out.  What happens to one person or nation affects us all,” he declared at the start of the Governing Body’s two-day meeting at the University of Wales Trinity St David, in Lampeter.

In his speech to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, Dr Barry Morgan outlined what he believed was the situation on the ground.  “The situation in Israel/Palestine is appalling and the UK bears a historical responsibility for that particular region,” he said.

While, “no-one denies that Israel has the right to exist and defend itself, and it is indeed surrounded by states that want its destruction, and one cannot condone the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas.  But the longer things continue as they are then moderate, ordinary Palestinians become more resentful and are in danger of being radicalized,” Dr. Morgan said.

“The situation resembles the apartheid system in South Africa because Gaza is next to one of the most sophisticated and modern countries in the world – Israel.  Whereas Israel has excellent technology and infrastructure, in Gaza people carry goods by horse and cart.  Whereas Israel has an educational system second to none, next to it children live who are denied even a basic education because their schools have been bombed,” Dr. Morgan said.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy called the archbishop’s remarks “troubling.”

“The incitement of terrorist violence against Jews and similar radicalisation, characterised the region long before the establishment of the modern state of Israel,” the spokesman said, adding “we must not forget that the same organisation who continue this trend today, by bombarding Israelis with the deadly rockets that the Archbishop kindly ‘cannot condone’, are condoned, and were indeed, elected by the Palestinians.”

“The subsequent investment of foreign aid in warfare and ammunition rather than welfare and education by this Hamas government, is responsible for the economic disparity highlighted,” the embassy spokesman said.

Dr. Morgan told the Governing Body that he expected his remarks would cause a stir.  “Whenever I say anything about this matter, I will be accused of being anti-Semitic, but our own Prime Minister has described Gaza as a prison camp,” he said.

The analogy of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians to the South African Apartheid regimes relations with black Africans is not new, and has been a stock critique of Israel by the left.  In 2004 South African law professor John Dugard, the special rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, told the UN General Assembly that “there is ‘an apartheid regime’ in the territories ‘worse than the one that existed in South Africa.”

The response to the Israel-Apartheid analogy has been equally strong.  “Labeling Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ is the embodiment of the new anti-Semitism that seeks to deny the Jewish people the right of equality and self-determination among the nations,” Prof. Gerald Steinberg of   Bar-Ilan University wrote in the Jerusalem Post following publication of Prof. Dugard’s claims.

US and South African church leaders call for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza: The Church of England Newspaper, June 18, 2010 p 6. June 24, 2010

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Bishop Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Makgoba at Lambeth 2008

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has urged US President Barack Obama to press Israel to end its blockade of Gaza.

In a statement released in the wake of the deaths of ten Islamist militants in a confrontation with Israeli commandos aboard the Turkish flagged Mavi Marmara on May 31, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the naval blockade was not serving Israel’s goals of ending rocket attacks of Israel, destabilizing Hamas, and freeing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

The Archbishop of Cape Town also released a statement calling for an international investigation of the incident, which he described as an “attack by Israeli commandos on the humanitarian aid shipments headed for Gaza.”

Middle East experts have rejected claims that the naval blockade of Gaza was illegal. On May 31, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, commented that “Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this.”

On June 4, Archbishop Makgoba stated that he wished to express his “dismay and distress at the Israeli military assault on the humanitarian convoy in the international waters of the Mediterranean, and my condemnation of the needless loss of life.”

The archbishop hoped the clash would not harm inter-faith relations in South Africa, and rejected “any attempt to use this incident to damage our hard earned mutual respect among our communities of faith in the Western Cape.”

He urged the international community to “press for a full and transparent investigation; as well as to redouble their efforts to support a just and lasting solution in the region in line with international norms.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori wrote to President Obama that “on behalf of the Episcopal Church, I write to express deep concern for the circumstances surrounding Israeli forces’ interception of a flotilla of ships bound for the Gaza Strip earlier this week,” and urged the president to use his powers to end “blockade of Gaza” and to press “toward a two-state solution.”

“The deaths of civilians working to deliver humanitarian aid could not have happened absent the counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said, adding that the “Episcopal Church strongly supports American leadership toward ending the blockade. There are far better ways to protect Israel’s security and promote moderate political leadership in Gaza than a blockade that intensifies human suffering and perpetuates regional insecurity.”

Critiques of President Obama have argued that the reduction of the US Sixth Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean from forty ships in 2003 to one today precipitated the crisis. President Obama has drawn down the fleet in order to avoid provocations, however the “projection of American naval power isn’t the world’s problem; it’s the world’s one working solution” to international insecurity Arthur Herman argued in the New York Post.

“If the carrier USS Harry S Truman had been on patrol in the Aegean instead of the Atlantic — or if a pair of destroyers had been holding station off the Israeli coast with Sea Knight helicopters and P-3 Orion patrol planes circling overhead — would that Israeli raid have been necessary? Would the flotilla have even dared to set sail on its mission of provocation?,” Dr. Herman wrote in on May 4.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Mr. Gelb stated Israeli commandos “badly mishandled the situation.  But theirs was a mistake in pursuit of a legal goal, not a war crime. And as for calls for international investigations, they represent the usual hypocritical nonsense that will go nowhere. Except for those who routinely fool themselves about the judiciousness and effectiveness of action by the United Nations or the European Union, everyone understands their ‘investigations’ will amount to nothing.”

Blockades are quite legal in time of war, he added, it would only have been illegal “if the hostile actions against the ships took place in waters under the jurisdiction of another sovereign state.”

However, the presiding bishop urged the president to use his powers to “shift our nation’s posture toward the Gaza blockade and make clear to Israel that its own interests, as well as our nation’s and those of the Palestinian people, would be well served by lifting the blockade.”

Tutu condemns Gaza flotilla deaths as ‘inexcusable’: The Church of England Newspaper, June 4, 2010 p 3. June 16, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Turkey.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The deaths of nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Turkish flagged motor vessel Mavi Marmara in a clash with the Israeli navy was “inexcusable” the former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu said on May 31.

Nine civilians died on May 31 when Israel Defence Forces marines boarded the Mavi Marmara and attempted to re-direct a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships that were seeking to break the blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory.

Videos released by the IDF show masked activists attacking the IDF, who were armed with non-lethal crowd control weapons when they boarded the ship to search for weapons. After several IDF marines were attacked and the side arm wrestled away from one, the IDF was given permission to return fire.

Pro-Palestinian activists have denied this account and have accused Israel of piracy and breaching international law. Human Rights Watch released a statement on May 31 saying it had not been able “to conduct its own investigation to determine which account is accurate,” but reiterated its call for a lifting of the blockade, calling it an “unlawful collective punishment.”

On May 31 a spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Cameron “deplored the heavy loss of life off the coast of Gaza earlier today. He reiterated the UK’s strong commitment to Israel’s security, but urged Israel to respond constructively to legitimate criticism of its actions, and to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of this unacceptable situation.”

After a prolonged debate the United Nations Security Council on June 1 condemned the “acts” that led to the deaths of the nine activists, but under pressure from the United States, did not exclusively condemn Israel. The UN called for an impartial investigation of the incident and added that it believed the blockade of Gaza was “unsustainable.”

Archbishop Tutu, joined by former US President Jimmy Carter and former Irish President Mary Robinson, condemned “Israel’s attack on the aid shipment and the resulting killings and injuries as completely inexcusable.”

They called for a “full investigation of [the] incident and urged the UN Security Council to debate the situation with a view to mandating action to end the closure of the Gaza strip.”

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the raid was an “unnecessary loss of human life,” and reiterated the Vatican’s concern over the situation.

“It’s a very painful fact, especially for the unnecessary loss of human life,” Fr Lombardi told reporters on June 1. “The situation is being followed in the Vatican with great attention and concern.”

Ecumenical News International reported the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA “strongly condemns this massacre against unarmed civilians which visibly violates international law and human rights.”

Pro-Palestinian NGOs also denounced Israel for its lethal response to the attack. War on Want released a statement saying that “for too long the international community has ignored international law over Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and allowed its government to act with complete impunity. Now Israel has turned its fire on international human rights activists, the world must finally say enough is enough.”

However, NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based think tank, criticised as inaccurate and intemperate these claims saying they displayed a “façade of morality exploited for … political warfare.”

They argue the flotilla was a deliberate provocation that was designed to create an incident. The flotilla was funded in part by the Turkish Islamist group, the IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi) a member of the Union of the Good, an umbrella group of Islamic organisations that channels money to Hamas, NGO Monitor reported.

It further stated that French analyst Jean-Louis Bruguiere “claimed that IHH maintained contacts with al-Qaeda in Milan and Algerian terrorists in Europe; recruited militants for fighting in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan, and planed a ‘central role’ in the al-Qaeda bomb plot targeting the Los Angeles airport.”

In 2008 Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak banned IHH for its links to Hamas, and deported its agents to Turkey.

Church powerless to support Middle East believers: CEN 2.26.10 p 8. March 6, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Persecution.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams

The Church of England is powerless to support Christians in the Middle East, the Archbishop of Canterbury said during his four day tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, telling the Jordanian Petra news agency the concerns of the church are not priorities for the British government.

Dr. Rowan Williams arrived in Jordan on Feb 19, and on Saturday laid the cornerstone of the Great Church of St. John the Baptist east of the Jordan river at the site of Jesus’ baptism on land donated to the church by the King of Jordan.

In his audience with King Abdullah II on Feb 21, Dr Williams discussed a range of issues “from peace-building to inter-faith dialogue” and “shared profound concerns about the increasing fragility of Christian communities across the region,” a statement from Lambeth Palace said.

The King appealed to Dr. Williams for the Church of England to protect the Christian holy sites in Israel. “The king underscored the importance of the efforts that can be exerted by western churches to back peace efforts in the region and contribute to the protection of holy places in Jerusalem,” a statement released by the royal household said.

Abdullah also urged the Church of England “to intensify efforts to force Israel to stop its unilateral measures that threaten the Christian and Islamic holy places and seek emptying the holy city of its Arab inhabitants, both Muslims and Christians.”

In an interview with the official Petra news agency Dr. Williams said the emigration of Christians from Middle East was of “extreme concern for us,” however, “we always put up this issue to the British government, but it appears that this question is not among its priorities.”

Canadian charity denies anti-Semitic claims: CEN 1.15.10 p 6. January 22, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Canada, Church of England Newspaper, Israel.
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A church charity defunded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) last month after accusations it was anti-Semitic has defended its political activism in the Middle East, arguing that anti-Zionism is not equivalent to anti-Semitism.

Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice, a coalition of church groups including the Anglican and Presbyterian churches and the Mennonite Central Committee that seeks to affect “social change through advocacy, education and research programs” denounced the government cuts, saying politics should play no part in aid funding decisions.

On Nov 30 the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would not be renewing its financial support for the agency for “after completing due diligence it was determined that its projects does not meet CIDA’s current priorities.”

The defunding decision led to protests from Anglican Church of Canada which said the decision would have a “devastating impact on Canadian education programs and Kairos international partners, many of whom face human rights and humanitarian crises.”

On Dec 14 the Canadian Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney told the Global Forum to Counter Anti-Semitism meeting in Jerusalem that the Harper government had “defunded organizations … like Kairos for taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel.

Kairos responded on Dec 18 that this “charge against Kairos is false. Kairos did not lead this campaign. In 2007, Kairos took a public position opposing sanctions and a boycott of Israel.”

“Criticism of Israel does not constitute anti-Semitism,” Kairos charged, adding that the minister’s comments “raises very disturbing questions about the integrity of Canadian development aid decisions” and questioned whether future funding requests would be “based on political rumour rather than on due diligence, development criteria and CIDA’s own evaluation process.”

In his new year’s address Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz urged the government to restore funding to Kairos. “We believe the cut of CIDA funding for KAIROS denies hope for millions of people throughout the world and damages our reputation among the nations,” he said, adding that he had made a “personal appeal to the Minister of International Co-operation” for a restoration of funding.

However the Jerusalem based think tank, NGO Monitor, stated Kairos “is a main supporter of the anti-Israel divestment movement in Canada, coordinating this agenda on behalf of member church groups.” Citing a 2008 paper released by Kairos entitled “Economic Advocacy Measures: Options for KAIROS Members for the Promotion of Peace in Palestine and Israel,” NGO Monitor reported the Kairos paper included a document from the Palestinian NGO Sabeel, which calls for divestment from companies that are complicit in Israel’s “illegal and immoral behavior” and “apartheid practices.”

While Kairos seeks to promote social change, NGO Monitor stated it “promotes a political agenda” at odds with Canadian government policy on Gaza.

Presiding Bishop outraged over Israeli evictions: CEN 8.07.09 p 5. August 19, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, The Episcopal Church.
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US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has joined the international chorus of voices expressing outrage over the Aug 2 eviction by Israeli police of two Arab families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

In an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton published on Aug 5, Bishop Jefferts Schori said “this action undermines the quest for peace led by you and President Obama and represents a step backward in the peace process and a likely precursor to further violence.”

On Aug 3 Mrs Clinton called the eviction “deeply regrettable” and “provocative,” and told reporters the “the eviction of families and demolition of homes in east Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations.”

The European Union expressed its “serious concerns” as well. Sweden, which holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, summoned the Israeli ambassador to its Foreign Ministry last week, handing over a note stating, “house demolitions, evictions and settlement activities in East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.”

However, the Aug 2 evictions were not directed by the Israeli government, but followed a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court in favour of Jewish families who claimed ownership of the land.

The Jewish litigants argued their ancestors had purchased the land at the end of the 19th century from the Ottoman government, however during the British mandate in the 1930s the Jewish owners moved out following attacks by Arabs.

According to The New York Times, the evacuated houses were built in the 1950s by the UN for Arab refugees who had fled west Jerusalem during the 1948 war. When Israel captured east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab families were permitted to stay on as tenants. The Arab tenants, however, stopped paying rent, arguing the Ottoman-era deeds showing Jewish ownership were forgeries — prompting the lawsuit which the Israeli Supreme Court settled in favour of the Jewish litigants.

In her letter to the US government, Bishop Jefferts Schori called for the “immediate return of the Palestinian families to their homes.”

The US “must not allow Israel to act with impunity,” she said, and “no matter how many times the Israeli government may declare East Jerusalem to be part of Israel, under international law it remains occupied territory.”

The Presiding Bishop said the Episcopal Church endorsed a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis with “Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states.” She told Mrs Clinton she prayed “through your efforts Israel may come to realize that continuing to build and develop settlements presents a severe barrier to a just peace, and that an immediate freeze is required, beginning with vacating these Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

‘Time is running out for Middle East peace’: CEN 6.12.09 p 5. June 13, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, The Episcopal Church.
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Time is running out for a peaceful two-state solution to the crisis in Israel and Palestine, an open letter to US President Barack Obama endorsed by over 50 American Christian leaders warns.

Representatives from the Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, including US Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori have applauded President Obama’s plan to make peace in the Holy Land a top priority, and endorsed the proposals made in the presidents Cairo speech to the Muslim world last week. But while the world awaits a diplomatically negotiated settlement, the Palestinian Christian community is in danger of being wiped out, they said.

“In the birthplace of our faith, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities is dwindling rapidly, and with them the possibility of a day when three thriving faith communities live in shared peace in Jerusalem,” the June 4 letter said. And unless action is taken soon, “Christians in the Holy Land may cease to exist as a viable community.”

Actions by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government had had dire consequences for the Christian minority. “Continued settlement growth and expansion are rapidly diminishing any possibility for the creation of a viable Palestinian state,” the letter said.

At the same time, “targeting of Israeli civilians through ongoing rocket fire and the insistent rejection by some of Israel’s right to exist reinforces the destructive status quo. These actions, along with the route of the separation barrier, movement restrictions and continued home demolitions, serve to undermine Palestinians and Israelis alike who seek peace. As hope dims, the threat of violence grows and hardliners are strengthened.”

Church leaders urged the Obama administration to act swiftly as the present “window of opportunity” was “rapidly closing” for peace in the Middle East. They urged the president to “present proposals that go beyond the mere principle of two states and lay out a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples.”

Charity ordered to cut links with al-Qaradawi organisation: CEN 3.20.09 p 10. March 19, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel, NGOs.
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A member of the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI) has come under sharp criticism from the Charity Commissioners and has been ordered to break off relations with an organization headed by radical Muslim cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradwi.

The trustees of Interpal—which has been banned in the US, Canada and Australia for its links to the terrorist group Hamas—had “not taken sufficiently rigorous steps to investigate allegations about some of their partner organizations”; had not “put in place adequate due diligence and monitoring procedures to be satisfied that these organisations were not promoting terrorist ideologies or activities”; and had “not adequately managed” its relationship with Al-Qaradwi’s “the Union for Good.”

The Charity Commissioners “concluded that the charity’s continued membership of the Union for Good was not appropriate.” However the commission said there was insufficient evidence presented to its investigators to substantiate claims that beneficiaries were promoting terrorism.

Interpal and the IMRI have been at the forefront of lobbying efforts before the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group and General Synod calling for divestment from Israel.

A London-based charity set up in the early 1990’s to provide healthcare to refugees in the West Bank, Interpal was investigated by the Charity Commission in 1996 and in 2003 after allegations that it its funds were sent to Hamas, and the current investigation was prompted by a 2006 Panorama programme which reported that some of its funds had gone to Hamas supporters. No evidence however has been unearthed by the Charity Commissioners in support of these charges.

However in 2003 the US and Australian governments banned Interpal followed by the Canadian government in 2006, stating they believed it to be a front organization for Hamas and terrorist financing.

While it could not substantiate these charges, the Charity Commission said Interpal “must disassociate itself” from the Union for Good led by Al-Qaradawi. Its association with Al-Qaradwi, who “promoted violence as a legitimate form of resistance in support of the Palestinian cause” was questionable the commission said.

The Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water told The Church of England Newspaper, that although he could not speak for IMRI, “for the third time the Charity Commissioners have vindicated Interpal and I am delighted to be associated with their charitable and humanitarian work. ”

The inquiry found that “there has been nothing brought to the inquiry’s attention that suggests that the charity’s funding has been siphoned off for inappropriate or non-charitable purposes,” he said. “Please can we leave these folk to get on with their vital humanitarian work?”

Israel Chides US Presiding Bishop: CEN 3.13.09 March 13, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s ReligiousIntelligence.com section.

Claims that the Israel discriminated against Jerusalem’s Anglican and Lutheran bishops by blocking their attempt to entre Gaza last month are unfounded, the Israeli government has declared.

On March 10, the Israeli Embassy in Washington released a statement chiding US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Lutheran Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson for erroneously concluding the two bishops had been singled out

The two church leaders wrote Ambassador Sallai Meridor on Feb 6 to express their “grave concerns” and to seek an explanation for “the denial of entry to Gaza” on Feb 4 of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, and the Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, the Rt. Rev. Munib Younan.

“Although they had received assurances from the Israeli government that they would be allowed to enter, and while the other three members of the delegation were allowed to proceed” the two bishops were prevented from carrying out their “pastoral” visit to Gaza.

“We are concerned that they were not allowed freedom of movement into Gaza to carry out their pastoral responsibilities,” the two presiding bishops wrote, and “we hope that, having discovered the cause of their denial, you will assure that they will be permitted to enter as soon as possible.”
The Israeli government responded that on March 10 “Israel facilitated a pastoral visit to the Gaza Strip,” granting them a “special pastoral exemption” to “fulfill their religious duties.”

Minister Counselor at the Israeli Embassy Martin Peled stated that the two bishops Feb 5 letter “strongly implied that Israel was somehow discriminating against Bishops Younan and Dawani as Palestinians. However, quite to the contrary, as you would have discovered had an inquiry been made in an appropriate manner, the Bishops were denied entry because they were being treated as any Israeli citizen or legal resident would be treated.”

It was “unfortunate” that the two bishops had “seized” upon the incident to “to imply that Israel was denying Palestinian clergymen the ability to perform their pastoral duties.”

“It is truly a shame that both of the American church bodies chose to turn what was a resolvable issue into an excuse for disseminating a baseless and slanted account of the incident,” Mr. Peled-Flax noted.

The Anglican Communion has been caught up short in recent years, accepting assertions made by Anglican leaders in the region that have not been borne out. In 2005 a harsh report on Israel presented to the Anglican Consultative Council provoked controversy while in 2002 claims by Anglican Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal that Israel had perpetrated a massacre in Jenin and that its “army regularly seized male civilians of all ages from their homes and used them as human shields,” were distributed by the Anglican Communion News Service. Subsequent investigations proved this to be baseless.

English bishops call for Israel to be punished over Gaza attacks: CEN 1.07.09 January 7, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel, Scottish Episcopal Church, Terrorism, The Episcopal Church.
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First published by The Church of England Newspaper’s ReligiousIntelligence.com section.

The bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Bath and Wells have lent their support to a campaign to punish Israel for its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza. On Jan 5 the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, the Rt. Rev. Michael Langrish and the Rt. Rev. Peter Price joined over 200 public figures in calling upon Prime Minister Gordon Brown to block plans to lower trade barriers between the EU and Israel for being in what they claim is the Jewish state’s breach of international law.

The Jan 5 petition published in the Guardian comes amidst growing unease from Anglican leaders over the battle for Gaza. Church leaders have criticized Israel’s “disproportionate” response of invading Gaza to put an end to rocket attacks launched by the extremist group Hamas.

Rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel began in 2001 from territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The pace quickened in 2005 following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza with the number of launches rising from 50 per month before the withdrawal to 50 per day by early 2008, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reported. By December the number of attacks had increased to 80 per day, prompting Israel to move into Gaza to put an end to the violence.

Following the invasion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams released a statement on Dec 31 condemning the escalating violence. He called upon “all those who have the power to halt this spiral of violence to do so.”

Dr. Williams urged world leaders to bring a “new initiative” to that would bring a ceasefire to the region. “Without such a sign of hope, the future for the Holy Land and the whole region is one of more fear, innocent suffering and destruction,” he said.

The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church echoed the call for peace. The Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway, Dr. Idris Jones said the “escalation of violent reaction to the situation in the Gaza strip by both communities involved is to be greatly deplored,” for military means alone would not bring a “peaceful and just settlement.”

The Anglican and Roman Catholic Primates of Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper and Cardinal Seán Brady also issued a joint statement calling upon the “authorities in both Israel and Gaza immediately to disengage and cease all hostilities to enable a permanent ceasefire to be negotiated. Only when violence has ceased will it be possible to begin to negotiate a peace that will last,” they said.

The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani declined to blame either side for the latest outbreak of fighting, but lamented the loss of life. “The heavy loss of Palestinian lives and the serious wounds and injuries to many hundreds of innocent bystanders require the immediate cessation of hostilities for the well being and safety of both the Palestinian and Israeli communities, and especially for Gaza and the nearby Israeli population centers,” he said.

American Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori however called upon Israel to pull back as the incursion into Gaza could spark a regional war. “Israel’s disproportionate response to the rockets being fired into its cities may well encourage violence beyond Gaza and Israel,” she warned, calling for “all parties [to] unite behind an immediate ceasefire.”

The petition endorsed by the three bishops called for immediate action in light of the “horrific events of the past days.” It demanded the British government “revoke its support” for new trade agreements and for the European Parliament to “to refuse to endorse any extension of existing agreements and to use its influence to prevent any upgrades of EU benefits to Israel until it abides by its international legal and humanitarian obligations.”

Church supporters of Israel however called the unilateral ceasefire demand naïve. Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East said that while many church leaders were calling for a ceasefire, “we challenge them to acknowledge not only the human suffering, but the political realities in the region.”

“In November 2001, Hamas, which openly declares its commitment to the destruction of the State of Israel, began a terror campaign launching rockets from Gaza into civilian targets within Israel,” stated the Rev. Bruce Chilton, Professor of Religion at Bard College in New York.

“It was Hamas that chose not to extend the existing cease-fire on Dec 18, resuming hundreds of attacks on the civilian population in Southern Israel. It is Hamas that chooses, with the Israeli army sitting right outside Gaza, to continue to target civilian areas in towns behind the army,” he said.

Israel Minister welcomes Gafcon ‘pilgrims’ to Jerusalem: CEN 6.26.08 June 26, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, GAFCON, Israel.
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JERUSALEM: “Christians and Jews must unite against a common foe” the Deputy Tourism Minister of Israel, Rafi Ben-Hur told pilgrims from the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem.

Speaking to over 1,200 Anglicans on the southern steps of the Temple on Mount Zion, Rafi Ben-Hur thanked Archbishop Peter Akinola for bringing the Gafcon conference to Jerusalem, and called the gathering a sign of solidarity between the Jewish state and the Anglican world.

“It is time for Jews and Christians to be blood together,” Ben-Hur told the gathering, with many African bishops shouting “Amen” and “Hallelujah” in response. “We have enemies across the world” and must stand together, he said.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Israel Minister welcomes Gafcon 'pilgrims' to Jerusalem

Middle East call: CEN 6.13.08 p 3. June 18, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Israel.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane has joined Catholic and Reformed church leaders in endorsing an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calling for a negotiated settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Archbishop Aspinall, Uniting Church president the Rev. Gregor Henderson, Caritas Australia chief executive Jack De Groot and 53 other church leaders urged the government to work towards ending 60 years of dispossession, military occupation, armed hostilities and violent deaths.

They urged a negotiated settlement acceptable to all parties, greater recognition of the plight of Palestinians after 41 years of military occupation; and a quadrupling of Australia’s aid contribution to the social and economic development of Palestine.

The June 3 letter urged the Labor government to come out from the shadows of Anglo-American policy towards Israel as followed by the Liberal-National government of former Prime Minister John Howard and take an activist independent approach to the Middle East.

Pilgrimage marred by cross controversy: CEN 5.09.08 p 6. May 11, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland, Israel.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Controversy marred the final days of the Archbishop of Armagh’s pilgrimage to Israel, following a blow up with Jewish settlers who took umbrage with the public display of crucifixes at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

On May 1, Dr. Alan Harper, Cardinal Sean Brady and the moderators of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches of Ireland along with the Lutheran bishop in Jerusalem, Munib Younan, paid an unscheduled visit to the Wall following a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

After passing through a security check point to reach the wall, a Jewish settler took exception to the cleric’s crosses, and blocked their way. An argument ensued in Hebrew between the settler and Bishop Younan that attracted police attention.

In an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE, Cardinal Brady said, “we encountered some difficulty in gaining access. There was a difficulty about us wearing our crosses,” he said. “We were under constraints of time … and we decided to move on.”

The rabbi of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz told the Associated Press that while members of all faiths are welcome to visit the Wall, they must not offend Jewish sensitivities. “They should have covered up the crosses to respect the place, just like Jews wouldn’t wear their ritual prayer shawls when entering a Christian holy place,” he said.

Following the incident, Israel’s Minister for Social Affairs Isaac Hertzog apologized to the four churchmen for the incident. The April 29-May 2 visit was an “opportunity to show the solidarity of churches in Ireland with people living in the Holy Land and especially the Christian community,” Dr. Harper said before his departure.

“By sharing our experiences of living through troubled times and listening and observing we hope to share an authentic message of peace and reconciliation which will offer hope in this awful situation,” he said.

Gaza action demanded: CEN 3.07.08 p 5. March 9, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Politics, The Episcopal Church.
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US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has endorsed a letter prepared by a coalition of American church groups that calls upon Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to use America’s influence to end Israel’s police action in Gaza.

On Feb 29, Churches for Middle East Peace—a coalition of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches and NGOs urged Secretary Rice to “take urgent action to address the still unresolved Gaza crisis.”

They denounced the “continuing violence and suffering experienced by Palestinians and Israelis” that “is hindering progress on the peace process” and its baleful consequences for the 2500 member “Christian community in Gaza.”

On Jan 17 Israel closed its borders in the wake of rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel launched by Hamas.  Fighting has intensified in recent days with clashes between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militias drawing blood on both sides.

The church letter stated “The blockade of Gaza and the frequent occurrence of rocket attacks against southern Israel cannot be tolerated.”

“The blockade results in power outages, water and food shortages and a lack of adequate access to medical supplies that create a humanitarian crisis felt by all Gazans, while rocket attacks on Israel have targeted civilians indiscriminately and made normal life impossible in the areas affected,” the church leaders said.

Bishop Schori and the church leaders also expressed their “particular distress” with the Feb 15 bombing of the Gaza YMCA.  “Though authorities in Gaza have denounced this action, it follows the killing of a Christian bookseller last fall and is symptomatic of the deteriorating social conditions and instability that threaten the safety of all the residents of Gaza.”

Arab Christians were being trapped between a warring Hamas and Israel the letter said.  “A reduction of tensions in Gaza and the easing of daily life will strengthen the tiny Christian community just as progress on the peace process will help sustain Christian communities elsewhere in the region. Such steps are vital to preserving the cultural and religious pluralism that has long enriched the Middle East.”

Bishop’s plea over action for Gaza: CEN 2.01.08 p 6. January 31, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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bishop-riah.jpgThe former Bishop in Jerusalem has called upon the Anglican Churches of the West not to turn a deaf ear toward the people of Gaza, caught between the government of Israel and the militant group Hamas.

The people of Gaza “continue to be strangled.” They are “being caught in a situation that requires wisdom rather than might; that requires moral courage rather than the power of the gun,” the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal wrote in an email to supporters.

The government of Israel has halted fuel shipments to Gaza in retaliation to a campaign of rocket attacks by Hamas upon towns in southern Israel. Egypt also has blockaded its border with Gaza due to the collapse of civil authority under Hamas. However, refugees overwhelmed the border crossing with Egypt at Rafah last week and have streamed into the Sinai to purchase provisions. Israel has responded by reinforcing its border with Egypt as Hamas terrorist cells are reported to have redeployed along the frontier for strikes into the Jewish state.

Bishop Riah, who last week addressed a rally at Damascus’ largest mosque, the Al-Jame’a Al-Akbar, in support of Gaza, implored the West to act. “Must those children of Gaza continue to feel the hunger in their empty bellies, the cold and darkness of their black nights, while we continue to enjoy the fruits of the earth and the warmth of our home? Must the words of Jesus Christ become true of us when he said “They have eyes but do not see, and have ears but do not hear?”

“The situation in Gaza has moved from being difficult to being tragic; and from being tragic to becoming catastrophic,” he said on Jan 23. “It is time for action.”

The charity Christian Aid has also denounced Israel’s response to the Hamas rocket attacks, condemning “in the strongest possible terms Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which did not begin last week as commonly thought, but has been going on since June 2007”.

“Since Hamas took power last June, Gaza has been subjected to severe restrictions on movement that have allowed in only a drip-feed of aid, preventing a full-scale humanitarian emergency but keeping the population in a perpetual state of economic crisis,” said Janet Symes, Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Programme.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper. 

Israel eases visa rules for Catholic clergy: CEN 1.24.08 January 24, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel, Politics.
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Israel has extended an olive branch to the Vatican by relaxing visa rules for Catholic clergy entering that country. The concession comes in the wake of Foreign Office and US pressure on the Jewish State to restart stalled talks between Jerusalem and Rome on the legal rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel.

On Jan 14 Israel’s embassy to the Holy See released a statement saying Minister of Interior Affairs Meir Shitrit (pictured) had “proposed some easing up in the issue of visas for church personnel in Israel.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Israel eases visa rules for Catholic clergy

UK applauds resumed fuel flow to Gaza: JP 1.11.08 January 14, 2008

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Israel, Jerusalem Post.
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Britain on Friday applauded Israel’s decision to restore diesel fuel supply to the Gaza Strip to normal levels.

In a statement, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Minister for International Development Douglas Alexander said the UK welcomed “Israel’s recent decision to increase the supply of industrial diesel and continues to urge them to lift all restrictions on fuel with immediate effect.”

Read it all in The Jerusalem Post.

Warning over Anglican conference: CEN 1.02.08 January 2, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, GAFCON, Israel.
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THE BISHOP in Jerusalem has urged organizers of the Jun 15-22 Jerusalem conference of conservative Anglican bishops to move the meeting outside the Holy Land, saying the gathering would inflame sectarian tensions.

The Rt Rev Suheil Dawani stated the GAFCON conference could inject the Anglican Communion’s political disputes into the diocese, and could have ‘serious consequences for our on-going ministry of reconciliation in this divided land.’

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.


Anglicans choose Jerusalem for key June conference: JP 12.30.07 December 31, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, GAFCON, Israel, Jerusalem Post, Lambeth 2008.
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The battle over homosexuality that has threatened to split the Anglican Communion could be decided at a June meeting in Jerusalem. On December 26, a conservative coalition led by the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, announced a June 15-22 conference in the Holy Land to chart the church’s future course.

Divided into liberal and conservative factions, the 80-million member Anglican Communion is on the verge of breaking up over the consecration in 2003 of a gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire.

However, Anglicans are as divided over Israel as they over homosexuality. While the meeting will focus on the current crisis facing the church, some Anglican and Jewish supporters of the gathering hope the presence in Jerusalem this June of conservative Anglican bishops from every continent will present an opportunity to broaden Israel’s support in the developing world.

Read it all in The Jerusalem Post.

Israel rebuked over Palestinian issue: CEN 12.21.07 p 8 December 26, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Israel.
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The Primate of Australia has rebuked Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, saying its policies were “inhumane.”

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from Jerusalem at the close of a nine day tour, Dr. Phillip Aspinall said Israel faced a difficult task in combating Palestinian terrorism, but its current policies were wrong headed.

On Dec 12 Dr. Aspinall said his delegation of Australian Christian leaders had met with “Israeli leaders and we understand their concerns. I mean, where there are acts of violence and terrorism, it does make them want to secure their own lives.

“Our concern is that in doing so, they don’t then oppress another group of people and behave in an inhumane way to another group,” he said, adding that the “wall and some of the restrictions that are imposed on Palestinians do have those inhumane effects.”

It was difficult for visitors to judge the situation clearly, he noted, but “if steps are taken which then lead to great frustration and feelings of being pressured and hemmed in and oppressed on the part of another group of people, that may well have the effect of leading to more anger and more frustration and more violence,” Dr. Aspinall said.

Bishop’s Unity Plea:CEN 12.14.07 p 7. December 14, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey.
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The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt led the Anglican delegation to last week’s meeting of the 9th General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches. (MECC)

Gathered in Paphos, Cyprus from Nov 26-30, church leaders from the Coptic, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical traditions released a statement affirming Christian unity amidst continued political and social upheaval. The MECC is a fellowship of churches in Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Cyprus that seeks to foster cooperation among the disparate Christian minorities of the region.

Dr. Anis reported that the plight of Iraq’s Christians was a topic of concern for the Assembly, which “expressed its deep sorrow for the oppression and injustice with which the region’s population is afflicted, of wars and occupation, of destruction and death, of capacity and suppression.”

The delegates expressed their hope that the recently concluded Annapolis summit would break the cycle of violence in the region and urged Western Christians to stand in solidarity with their fellow believers in the Muslim world.

The final communiqué “looked forward to the day when people in the Middle East are liberated from the occupation and the injustice in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Cyprus.”

They also called upon the people of Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon “to be united and to cease being apart and killing each other” such that “the unity that accepts the other with all its differences is strengthened through the honest and free dialogue.”

While united in their opposition to the political and ideological forces facing Middle Eastern Christians, concerns over the “sheep stealing” underlay the deliberations. Evangelical Christian groups have made in roads amongst the younger members of the Orthodox and Coptic communities, creating friction between the regions traditional churches and its newer arrivals.

American intellectuals question Dr. Williams: CEN 11.30.07 p 8. November 30, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Iraq, Israel, Politics.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury has sparked a firestorm of controversy over comments he gave to a British Muslim magazine attacking Anglo-American policy in Iraq and lauding the British Raj.

In an interview published in Emel Dr. Rowan Williams said America had lost the moral high ground it had in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York.

“We have only one global hegemonic power at the moment,” he said. America was “not accumulating territory; it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working.”

This was the “the worst of all worlds,” he said, adding that “it is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it.”

“Rightly or wrongly that’s what the British Empire did – in India for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together -Iraq for example.” Dr. Williams told the Muslim lifestyle magazine.

He also condemned Israel’s security wall, designed to halt Palestinian terror attacks against civilians. “Whatever justification given for the existence of the wall, the human cost is colossal,” he said.

The archbishop was also less than sanguine about the state of Western civilization, noting that “Our modern western definition of humanity is clearly not working very well.” There was “something about western modernity which really does eat away at the soul, lamenting the cultural mindset to “speed us up” or that we have “to fix everything.”

A self-professed “hairy lefty,” Dr. Williams’ opposition to the Anglo-American overthrow of Saddam Hussein is long standing, and his comments reflect “nothing new” aides to the Archbishop tell The Church of England Newspaper.

However, the Archbishop’s foreign policy comments have been dismissed as naïve and historically and intellectually incoherent. Indian newspapers have scoffed at Dr. Williams’ suggestion that the British Raj was a benign influence, motivated by the ‘white man’s burden’.

davis_hanson.jpgWriting on the website of the US conservative magazine the National Review, Prof. Victor Davis Hanson urged Dr. Williams to “read a little history about the British experience in India before he offers politically-correct but historically laughable sermons like the one he gave to a Muslim ‘lifestyle’ magazine.”

A Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and syndicated political columnist, Dr. Hanson disputed Dr. Williams’ conclusions and suggested his concerns about the decline of the West were misplaced.

“If he is worried about the soul of civilization in general, and the U.S. in particular, he might equally ask his Muslim interviewers about the status of women in the Muslim world, polygamy, female circumcision, the existence of slavery in the Sudan, the status of free expression and dissent, and religious tolerance—he should try to visit Mecca on his next goodwill, interfaith tour.”john-bolton.jpg

The US government rejected as factually inaccurate Dr. Williams’ claims. The US was the “largest donor of aid of any country in the world” and poured “billions of dollars of financial, technical, and medical assistance” into Iraq a statement released by the US embassy in London said.

The former American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme Dr. Williams’ comments were “incoherent” and urged him to “concentrate on his day job”.

Aides to the Archbishop denied Dr. Williams’ disparaging comments about the US and Israel were purposely released two days ahead of the latest round of Middle East peace talks.

‘Sambi criticism of Knesset was his own’: JP 11.21.07 November 22, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Israel, Jerusalem Post, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Pietro Sambi.

The Vatican has distanced itself from comments made by its former ambassador to Israel, who last week charged the Knesset with lacking the political will to make the hard political decisions necessary if it means to honor Israel’s international commitments.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi (pictured) accused Israel of dragging its heels over implementing the terms of the 1993 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Jewish state. However, the Vatican quickly distanced itself from the comments, saying they were the archbishop’s personal views, not church policy.


Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski

Dr. Williams and the Rabbis November 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Judaism.
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Archbishop Rowan Williams and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger at Lambeth Palace on Sept 26, 2006.

Jim Rosenthal photo

Inter-faith response to Muslims: CEN 11.09.07 p 5. November 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Iran, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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The Anglican Communion’s response to last month’s overtures from world Muslim leaders will be made in consultation with the leaders of Orthodox Judaism, a joint statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbis of Israel said last week.

The announcement came at the close of Dr. Williams’ Oct 31 flying visit to Israel and marks a significant opening toward cooperation and collaboration between the two faiths.

Joined by the Church of Ireland’s Bishop of Clogher, Dr. Williams met with Israel’s Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger and the Chief Rabbi of Haifa Shear Yashuv Cohen in the second of a series of inter faith dialogues initiated last year.

“These conversations are an invaluable opportunity to cement the relationship between our communities,” Dr. Williams said, and “build on the opportunities that inter religious cooperation provides. Our shared scriptural understanding led us to reaffirm our understanding of the Sanctity of Life. Dialogue and mutual respect are the seed beds within which understanding and common cause can flourish, sometimes, by the grace of God, in the most unpromising of circumstances.”

In a joint statement, Dr. Williams and the Jewish leaders expressed concern over the plight of Iraq’s Christian community and the “wellbeing of the ever increasing numbers of refugees from Iraq.”

They issued a call to Islamist terrorists to release kidnapped Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, and Gilad Shalit, and denounced the “continuing use of aggressive language by President Ahmedinajad of Iran towards Israel” saying his rhetoric was “wholly unacceptable.”

The two sides noted that although the “recent letter from Muslim scholars and religious leaders”, a “Common Word” had been addressed to the churches, it “also makes clear its respect for Hebrew scripture in citing directly from the Book of Deuteronomy and in acknowledging the inspiration that this provided for their understanding of the Quranic teachings on the unity and love of God and of neighbour.”

“In promoting these values we commit ourselves and encourage all religious leaders to ensure that no materials are disseminated by our communities that work against this vision,” the Anglican and Jewish leaders said.

“We have agreed that in responding to the Common Word, it will be important to consider carefully together how the perspectives of Christians and Jews are properly held together,” the communiqué said.

Members of both Dr. Williams and the Chief Rabbis’ teams told The Church of England Newspaper they were pleased with the tone and content of the talks.

Chief Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, told CEN, “the purpose of the “reciprocal visit between the principals is above all simply deepening the relationship and trust between them. Symbolically it is an important demonstration of the Archbishop’s dedication to dialogue and deepening the relationship with the Jewish People and his commitment to Israel’s wellbeing and desire to live in peace and security.”

Archbishop’s visit aims to repair ties after divestment vote: JP 10.29.07 p 6. October 31, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Israel, Jerusalem Post, Judaism.
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Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams arrives in Jerusalem on Tuesday for two days of meetings with the Chief Rabbinate in a bid to improve relations damaged by the Church of England’s 2006 decision to back divestment from Israel.

An outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, Williams denounced American neoconservatives last month for advocating preemptive action against Iranian and Syrian nuclear stockpiles. A military strike, he said, would be a “criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly.”

“I can’t understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there,” Williams told the BBC upon his return to London following a September 27 meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The spiritual head of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion has also been a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and at the meeting of the Church of England’s parliament last year endorsed a call for divestment from “companies profiting from the illegal occupation” of the territories.

Fallout from the 2006 divestment vote, which led former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to say he was “ashamed to be an Anglican,” prompted a formal dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate and Williams to heal the rift.

On September 5, 2006, Williams and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger endorsed a joint declaration in London creating a dialogue commission between Anglicans and Jews to “advance interfaith relations” and foster “trust and cooperation.”

A spokesman for the archbishop told The Jerusalem Post Williams hoped this week’s meeting would build upon that first encounter and “deepen their friendship.”

Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, said the trip to Jerusalem was “an important demonstration of the archbishop’s dedication to dialogue and deepening the relationship with the Jewish people, and his commitment to Israel’s well-being and desire to live in peace and security.”

There were signs of “real seriousness” on the part of the Anglicans, which boded well for future relations, he said.

Williams’s staff has also denied the veracity of accounts printed by the official Syrian news agency, SANA, of his September 27 trip to Damascus to meet Assad and Syrian religious leaders. SANA reported that in talks with Williams, the grand mufti of Syria “pointed out the Israeli suppressive practices in the occupied Palestinian territories, which violated all religious laws and international norms.”

Williams’s office denied this, saying his talks with the grand mufti “concerned issues internal to Syria and focused on the secular character of the Syrian constitution.”

(This article is not on line, but appears in the print edition only)

UK Palestinians put heat on Brown over JNF patronage: JP 10.14.07 October 15, 2007

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, British Jewry, Israel, Jerusalem Post.
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Palestinian activists in Britain are pressuring Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step down as patron of the Jewish National Fund UK, claiming the JNF’s refusal to sell land in Israel to Arabs is a discriminatory practice that taints the prime minister.

“Scottish public opinion, if made aware of the true nature of the JNF, would join us in condemning your association with such an organization,” the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign said in an October 13 letter to the prime minister.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.