There must be no Culture of Silence


AFI Community Relations Director, Steve Nimmons

In an article yesterday at the Times of Israel I commented on the latest report on anti-Semitism in Britain from the Community Safety Trust.

The statistics record a 30% fall in the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents, 311 in the first half of 2012, down to 219 in the first half of 2013. This reduction is of course welcome, but echoing the words of Communities Minister Eric Pickles every one must be considered “an affront to decency.”

Viewed through a ‘statistical lens’ this story has positive overtones. We must remember however that every crime of this nature is a hate crime. Every crime of this nature has an impact on the lives of its victims. Every crime of this nature leads to personal and communal hurt and fear. Every crime of this nature must be robustly and vocally condemned. Every crime of this nature highlights the importance and urgency of the work we must progress together to tackle anti-Semitism at local, national and international levels.

The report is published in a week that a group of Hasidic Jewish children were subjected to a shocking attack on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Their tour bus was stoned in broad daylight in the High Street in Sheerness. The perpetrators were reported to have been a group of around seven teenage boys and girls.

Kent Online reported that Heather Thomas-Pugh, chairman of Sheppey Tourism Alliance, said: “We are extremely disappointed that this sort of behaviour has happened on our island.

“When people take the time and trouble to come and visit us, they should expect Islanders to provide a warm welcome.

“It is incidents like this, from a minority, that prevent the Isle of Sheppey being seen in the correct light.”

I agree with Heather Thomas-Pugh that this is a wanton act by a small minority. I am however immensely disappointed by the lack of public condemnation of this incident from local politicians, community leaders and other groups.

My cri de coeur is that local leaders, schools, police and faith groups put in place education programmes and anti-Semitism initiatives and immediately and publicly condemn this incident in the strongest terms. The toxicity of these incidents will only be increased by a ‘culture of silence’.

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EU Blacklists Hezbollah

Monday 22nd July 2013, the European Union takes the unanimous decision to proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah. Britain and the Netherlands had been pressing EU partners to act against Hezbollah following the terror attacks against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in July 2012.

Israel, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and Britain had previously added Hezbollah to their lists of designated terrorist groups.

The EU’s decision is symbolic and largely superficial but opens debate on Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, Syria and across the Middle East.

AFI Community Relations Director Steve Nimmons said:

The European Union has finally acted to  proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah. Although this is a welcome development, the practical impact will be marginal.

The political wing, assuming one accepts the description of Hezbollah as being so sub-divided, does not fall within the bounds of this sanction and will continue to receive funds and political legitimacy from within some European states.

Many will view the timing of this decision to be rather cynical. The European Union did not act following the terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The EU’s disinclination appears to have been diminished by Hezbollah’s significant military support for Bashar al-Asad.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the news and praised EU leaders for the decision. He pointed out that Hezbollah “has imposed terrorist rule on wide sections of Lebanon, has converted them into an Iranian protectorate and is stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets”, a continuing threat to Israeli security.

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An open letter to the archbishop of Canterbury

By Fran Waddams

The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars in aid. Where, exactly, has this money gone?

The Jewish Leadership Council of the UK recently led a group of leaders from several Christian organizations to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This group had the opportunity to meet with and question Israeli officials, citizens and clergy.

Fran Waddams of Anglican Friends of Israel, one of the organizations represented on the trip, responds to a report by the archbishop of Canterbury on his visit to the Holy Land which took place a few days later.

Dear Archbishop Justin,

I toured the Holy Land, together with Christian leaders of other organizations, on a visit organized by the UK Jewish Leadership Council just a few days before you last month, and read your reflections on your own visit to the region wondering whether you would be as attentive and impartial as you were at a meeting a few years ago at which I spoke and you were chair.

It’s heartening that you support the rights of all people in the region “to peace, security, and justice.”

The issues you touch on also arose on our three days of visits and meetings with Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, and Palestinians, and some questions sprang to mind as I read your piece.

You were shocked at the contrast between west Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Next time you visit, would you ask Palestinian leaders why there is such a contrast? The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars in aid. Where, exactly, has this money gone? It doesn’t appear to have gone into infrastructure, public buildings and utilities, nor created Palestinian jobs nor gone onto Palestinian tables. It might really help our understanding if we knew the answers to this question.

Palestinians may find passing through IDF checkpoints inconvenient, or even humiliating.

But air travelers of every nationality accept the indignity of intrusive security searches, understanding that there are those who would blow airliners out of the sky if measures were not taken to stop them.

Israel’s security fence and checkpoints exist for the same reason. They were put into place only after dozens of murders and hundreds of mutilations caused by Palestinian suicide bombers who drove unhindered into Israel to carry out their missions. Several people loaded with explosives have been stopped at checkpoints over the years. Every week the Israel Defense Forces intercepts weapons and explosives and prevents indiscriminate death and mutilation of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Israel’s security measures save lives.

One young Palestinian woman has written that “most Palestinian Christians and peace loving Muslims acknowledge (privately) that the wall was built as a direct response to suicide bombers from within the Palestinian community.”

However unwilling the Ecumenical Accompaniers Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is to believe it, it is a fact that the number of terror attacks, which reached epidemic proportions by 2003, has dwindled to almost nothing.

Like us, you were alarmed by the danger with which the citizens of Sderot live daily. It’s one thing to read dispassionately the few reports that appear in the UK media, quite another to be on the spot, wondering whether the nearest bomb shelter (at every bus stop) could be reached within the 15 seconds between the Red Alert and the missile exploding. The morning after our visit, terrorists were lobbing missiles toward Israel.

They missed this time. But missing was not the intention, and it didn’t stop Sderot’s parents having to make agonizing decisions on whether they had time to get all their children to shelter in time.

Then we met young IDF soldiers, amazed that British Christians wanted to show appreciation for their dangerous work. Most Christians they encounter are scrutinizing their behavior for faults as they work at checkpoints or try to prevent violence at demonstrations.

These Christians seem indifferent to the dangers they face as they try to distinguish between peaceful Palestinians and those smuggling explosives or weapons.

Finally we had the privilege of visiting Baptist Pastor Naim Khoury in Bethlehem. Brought up to believe that the Jewish Scriptures were irrelevant, he began to read them for himself as a 17 year old. He has discovered that the whole Bible is God’s Word, not just the New Testament and as a result insists that Palestinian Christians are obliged to love all their neighbors, Muslim and Jew.

He also learned that God has given the Jewish people a right to live in the Holy Land. Pastor Khoury does not endorse all that the Israeli government does. Nevertheless, he insists that Jews’ right to live unhindered on the land promised to them by the God is clearly set out in the Bible.

As a result of his courage, Pastor Khoury is shunned by fellow Christians, his church has had its right to conduct official marriages and baptisms withdrawn by the Palestinian Authority, his church has been bombed 14 times, and he was once shot. Nevertheless, his Arab congregation numbers in the hundreds, the largest in the Territories. What an irony.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is complex.

It is about land and it is about justice. And your question is excellent – what constitutes a “just solution.” There are many voices that you won’t hear by sticking to “official” channels. The truths told by the “other voices” are out there, but so often those voices have to be sought out.

They’re worth listening to.

They really are.

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Sanctions Against Ward are ‘Soft Option’

Anglican Friends of Israel welcomes the news of the removal of the Liberal Democrat Party Whip from Bradford East MP David Ward.

Ward made comments in the run up to Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2013 which caused significant revulsion:

Having visited Auschwitz twice -– once with my family and once with local schools -– I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.

Ward made further comments on Twitter earlier this month:

Am I wrong or are (sic) am I right? At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle -– how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?

Following a meeting with Party officials (including the Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael), Ward received written notification of a 2-month suspension.

AFI Community Relations Director Steve Nimmons said:

We broadly welcome the news of Mr. Ward’’s sanction although this appears to be a very limited gesture. The removal of the whip during the summer recess and expiring the day before the Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference is a soft option. We take some solace from the fact that the Liberal Democrats have informed Mr. Ward that he should use balanced and proportionate language in future discussions of Israel/Palestine.

Given the potential for renewed peace talks we especially urge him to heed Party advice and to consider the responsibilities he has as an elected representative.

The Liberal Democrats are no strangers to dissention and fall-out over Israel. Baroness Tonge courted controversy for many years. finally resigning the Liberal Democrat whip in 2012 having received an ultimatum from party leader Nick Clegg to do so or to apologise for inappropriate comments she made at an event at Middlesex University.

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Book Review: The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism

The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism, revised edition, edited by Calvin L. Smith.

A welcome resource with a little way to go

by Fran Waddams

Calvin SmithHaving watched Calvin Smith debate so effectively on TV with fierce opponent of Christian Zionism, Stephen Sizer, a couple of years ago, I awaited this series of essays ‘The Jews, Modern Israel and the new Supercessionism’ with some impatience.

That the essays would be scholarly was beyond doubt. But Smith wants more than that. His aim is to give ‘everyday Christians’ a toolbox of ‘resources to draw upon’ as they debate issues around the topic of the relationship that Christians should have with the modern State of Israel. Smith is driven, he writes, by ‘an urgent desire to respond to growing anti-Israel sentiment and Christian anti-Zionism among some Evangelicals.’

With his choice of essayists Smith certainly succeeds in ‘challenging disingenuous efforts by … supercessionist commentators aimed at portraying all (Zionist) Christians …….. as a somehow narrow, peripheral and fanatical segment of the church.’ Written by such varied authors as Calvinist Stephen Vantassel and Charismatic Steve Malz, the range of Zionist Christians can scarcely be described as narrow.

There’s a useful arrangement of material too, as readers can see the roots of supersessionism in Plato and his Christian admirers through to New Testament writers and the Early Church rejection of its Jewish roots, culminating with the baleful effects of Supersessionism from 19th Century until today.

Any reader would find valuable information in these essays, depending on the questions they are asking or being required to answer. I found Jacob Prasch’s exposition of Jewish hermeneutics – which can broadly be defined as a ‘both and’ approach as opposed to the typical Western Christian ‘either / or’ approach – particularly enlightening. And who could fail to be horrified by the anti-semitism in the polemic of the so-called ‘Church Fathers’ chillingly described by Barry E Horner and their interpretations of New Testament literature as explained by Ronald Diprose.

I hadn’t reflected before on the effects that the new Supersessionism is having on Jewish (Messianic) disciples of Jesus. So Brian Brewer and Richard Gibson’s essays made for sobering reading, showing how the lives and witness of Messianic Jews are made that much harder as their identity is robbed of meaning by a view that Christians worship a God who is no longer ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’.

There was just one niggle at the back of my mind as I read these essays. As well as thoughtful engagement with the Scriptures and with history, I wanted some direct engagement with arguments presented in widely read Christian anti-Zionist authors – say, Steven Sizer or Colin Chapman or Naim Ateek, and I found not a lot. The sort of thing I mean is in Smith’s cracking example in his final essay Faith and Politics in Today’s Holy Land, as he challenges two prevalent myths – that of a monolithic hatred of Israel amongst Arab Christians, and Israel as a haven of peace and security for all followers of Christ. The essays would, I think, have been even more effective tools of debate had each author related the insights they gave to at least one point raised by Israel’s Christian opponents.

Nevertheless, this is a timely enterprise as Evangelicals watch with dismay, their fellow Churchmen turning their backs on what Scripture has to say about the Covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in pursuit of a new doctrine of ‘human rights’. And this at the expense of people who have suffered horribly for centuries at the hands of a Church too often determined to exalt its own standing with God by demeaning the ancient olive branch from whom the Scriptures and the Messiah Himself have come and into which we, by God’s grace, have been grafted.

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