Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Methodist exhibition 'demonises' Israel, says former Archbishop George Carey

An exhibition at London's Hinde Street Methodist Church focusing on the difficulties faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation has been criticised by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.

The exhibition entitled 'You Cannot Pass Today', depicting the limitations on Palestinian travel between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, sparked criticism from Jewish organisations including the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD),which accused it of harming Jewish-Christian relations.

It includes a replica checkpoint and features photographs by Peter Morgan, along with accounts of Palestinians' experiences. 

It was organised by Katherine Fox, who has recently returned from monitoring human rights in Bethlehem with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which is supported by the Methodist Church. She said: "Londoners know what it is like to be constantly late for work, miss hospital appointments and get crushed on a lengthy commute through no fault of their own. But most are shocked when I tell them the extent of what I witnessed daily at the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem."

Lord Carey backed criticisms of the exhibition, saying yesterday: "Jewish people across Europe are increasingly being targeted and killed by terrorists, who often attempt to justify their actions by demonising Israel. It is therefore particularly sad to see a church in London demonising and singling out Israel's defensive actions against terrorism."

He added: "Checkpoints in Israel are sadly needed in order to save lives. The methods used by democracies to defend their civilians should not be undermined by religious leaders in places of worship and brotherhood."

However, Jeremy Moodey, the chief executive of Embrace the Middle East, told Christian Today: "Having visited this exhibition myself, I can't really see what all the fuss is about. It is very low-key and simply highlights the daily humiliations and indignities inflicted on the Palestinians by the checkpoints, which incidentally are, along with the separation barrier of which they are part, illegal under international law. This is a matter of fact. It says nothing about the Jewish people, so is certainly not antisemitic."

In a statement, the church said the exhibition had been "carefully curated to reflect the issues of divided communities within Israel and Palestine and to promote reflection and prayers for peace".

It said the display "seeks to explore aspects of human rights and dignity. It has been put together on the basis of principled impartiality, putting concern for human rights above support of any particular group by referring to international law. There is no criticism or judgement of the Jewish community or faith."

Hinde St had informed a local synagogue about the exhibition but the letter was not received. The church said this was "deeply regrettable, as it would have allowed earlier conversation and dialogue which was the church's intention".

After representations by the BOD and the Zionist Federation, the church agreed to include a table of information prepared by the Federation. In a statement, the two organisations said it was talking to the church about a panel discussion including a pro-Israel speaker.

It said: "The church has expressed regret that a letter about the exhibition sent to a local rabbi did not get through, and in future we would hope to see more rigorous consultation around such sensitive events, for the sake of good interfaith relations.

"The Jewish community is now seeking volunteers, as well as those who have already signed up over the weekend, to hand out leaflets outside the church explaining the reasons why Israel feels the need for such security measures.

"We hope that the event will be conducted in a constructive spirit of genuine dialogue by organisers and visitors alike."

The Methodist Church has had a fraught relationship with the Jewish community over its stance on the occupation and Israel's Palestine policy, which it has frequently criticised. 

It called for a boycott of goods from illegal Israeli settlements in 2010 and considered extending its position on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to the rest of Israel at its 2014 Conference, but resolved to postpone consideration of the issue for two years.

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