Monday, July 11, 2011

The Rabbinate’s Exceedingly Strange Bedfellows

Good to be back after a hiatus caused by lifting a cute & small, but surprisingly heavy little niece...

Why is the Israeli Rabbinate “fig leafing” for the Church of England? By “fig leafing” I mean serving as a cover for a fair amount of nasty business which appertains to the Church as a whole, as well as members of its clergy.  In 2006 the Chief Rabbis, Yonah Metzger and Shlomo Amar signed what was trumpeted as a historic agreement between Christians and Jews.

Along with a slew of kumbaya proclamations about the importance of dialogue and mutual respect, two actually salient points were raised. The first issue, raised in item 7 of the Joint Declaration, reads, “Neither evangelism nor conversion has a place amongst the purposes of the dialogue and we emphasise the importance of respect for each other’s faith and of rejecting actions intended to undermine the integrity of the other.” If the Rabbinate was led to believe that this constituted a renunciation of missionary activities, they were deceived. This statement in no way obligates the Church to desist from their ongoing attempts to recruit Jews to Christianity.

In fact, the Church of England runs an entire subgroup called the “Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People” (CMJ), which has been around since 1809. This group is active in six countries, including Israel, where it runs and cultivates “Jews for Jesus” congregations and activities throughout Israel. Another Church of England missionary group, the Church Mission Society, also operates in Israel and runs tours of the based in Bethlehem and Nazareth. These tours allow participants to meet with Palestinian Christian and Muslims, while meeting with Israelis holding anti-Israeli viewpoints as well as “Messianic Jews”.

It is important to note here is that neither of the Chief Rabbis is fluent in English, and it is highly unlikely that the Talmudically-oriented staff at the Rabbinate spent time poring over Church internet sites to find out exactly to whom they were talking. The facilitator of this historic meeting of clerical minds, was Rabbi David Rosen, who was described recently by a Rabbinate staffer as “masterful” in his dealings with the Christians. However, on this point, if the Rabbis demanded a statement decrying missionary work, score one for the Church, zero for the Rabbinate.

The second key issue, already hinted at is the anti-Israel slant of Church positions, as well as highly visible clergy and affiliated organizations. The Church of England has stated that it is in basic agreement with the Kairos Palestine Document which compares Israeli policy to apartheid. The Church of England states that, “the cause of the crisis rests with the Israeli’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”. Furthermore, the Church itself has already acted in accordance with groups like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in divesting its holdings in Caterpillar Corporation, as Caterpillar sells machinery to the IDF.

Christian Aid UK is a development agency linked to the World Council of Churches (WCC), a group which has admitted its anti-Israel bias. It is also the preferred charity for members of the WCC, including the Church of England. The board of Christian Aid UK is chaired by Anne Owers, who has strong ties with the Church of England, and three Church of England clerics also sit on the board. NGO Monitor points out that: Christian Aid engages in a highly politicized approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its reports disproportionately focus on alleged Israeli "violations" and dismiss the impact of Palestinian terrorism.”

But Christian Aid does more than whitewash terrorism—NGO monitor also notes that: “Many of its partners are among the most radical NGOs involved in the conflict, including Sabeel, ICAHD, and the Alternative Information Center. These NGOs, and other Christian Aid partners, attempt to isolate Israel internationally through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).”

The Church also has highly visible clergy such as the Revd George Pitcher. Pitcher was hired as Press Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury less than a year after he expressed in print his general “disgust” with Israel and for “shooting [Gaza's] children in the back of the head” as if this were an actual policy, instead of a patent blood libel. But Pitcher is not alone in his anti-Israel ranting. Revd. Garth Hewitt, who styles himself as a guitar-playing peace lover, rages against Israel in a similar but much more heated manner. Hewitt is a Guild Vicar in London, and an honorary canon at St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, and runs an anti-Israel group, the Amos Trust. The Church does not condemn Hewitt either.

None of this squares with the text of item 12 in the Joint Declaration, in which the Church states they: condemn without reserve those who deny a place for Israel and especially those who engage in the evil work of seeking to bring about its destruction.”

Interestingly, a recent Christian Aid propaganda flyer for the “World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel”, lists among its “Ecumenical and International links with useful worship and campaigning resources”, not only the organizations cited here, but also the organization founded by the “masterful” Rabbi David Rosen, Rabbis for Human Rights.

 A document put out by the UK Methodists remarks on Israel’s right to exist vis-à-vis the Palestinians, “In connection with attitudes to the 'land' of Israel, some Jews are also aware that holy texts can be abused. ‘We have a battle for our holy texts' declared Rabbi David Rosen, of Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem, at a session on theologies of the ‘Land' at the Parliament of World's Religions in Barcelona.”

In the same text, a member of the interfaith commission from the Church of England which meets with the Rabbinate, the Archdeacon Michael Ipgrave, complains that Yad Vashem, as a national institution is creating a victim ideology for “Oriental” Jews, whom he wrongly claims were unaffected by the Holocaust. Note that Rosen is an International Committee Advisor at the ecumenical Parliament as is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man of much stature, and who falsely claims that Israel is an apartheid state.

While the Joint Declaration is certainly another fine feather in Rosen’s ecumenical cap, it is clear that his collegial connections not only fail to support Israel, but they include Israel’s vituperative detractors and delegitimizers. It is time to admit that this was a bust, and stop the taxpayer-funded junkets and hours spent at meetings here and in England. There is no reason for our Israeli Rabbinate to serve as the fig leaf for the Church of England's proselytizing and hateful activities.

By Chanah Shapira 

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