“The daily life of the Cathedral is the responsibility of the Dean”, explains the Lichfield Cathedral website. And the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral is the Very Rev’d Adrian Dorber, who decided to organise a whole weekend conference dedicated to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Quite why he chose that strife over (say) those of India and Pakistan or of Saudia Arabia and Yemen (or even Iran and Syria) is unknown. But cathedral deans are powerful people: if they want a conference to debate their particular theological bent or political grievance, they are free to organise one and invite whichever speakers they choose to present their preferred slant (as we’ve seen in Manchester Cathedral).
The Dean of Lichfield Cathedral clearly has a lot of time for Palestine and boundless sympathy for Palestinians, and not much time or sympathy at all for Israel and Jews.
Perhaps his poster design gives a clue: ‘Holding Palestine in the Light’, it proclaims, conveniently shunting the very existence of Israel into the darkness. Sure, the Zionist State gets a footnote, but what manner of equitable conference is it which delegitimises one party or nullifies one perspective in its very publicity? Imagine a cathedral conference entitled: ‘Holding India in the light: the context of the conflict’. One or two Pakistanis might sense a certain bias. And David Collier’s account of Adrian Dorber’s conference – ‘Antisemitic hate festival in Lichfield Cathedral‘ – evidences bias (not to say blatant disinformation and anti-Semitism) in surplus overplus. The whole piece merits reading, but consider these highlights:
..I had little doubt I was walking into a hate-festival. One of the ‘secrets’ of such an event is that the range of speakers is always skewed. People such as Ilan Pappe see sharing a stage with Zionists as ‘normalisation’. Jewish self determination, the right of a ‘Jewish home’, these are positions too ‘dirty’ for anti-Israel activists to accommodate. Therefore if Pappe is present, you know their views have been ideologically protected by the structure of the event itself. The building has been cleansed of all support for the Jewish national movement.
..I made my way to the café and had to walk passed another exhibition. On display was pro boycott material. I saw more leaflets on display. I picked up a magazine from the group ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’. This is a group that has recently had its bank account closed because of possible funding of “illegal or other proscribed activities”.
This set the theme of the weekend. Every single stall, every part of the exhibit, was designed or delivered by activists supporting the boycott. There was a book stall. Every single book was one that castigates Israel and Zionism. Not a single opposition voice was on display..
..In the simple comment that ‘Jesus was a Palestinian’, is an absolute denial of Jewish history… There were even attempts to rewrite attendees at very early Christian events as being ‘Arab’ rather than Jewish.
..A group called ‘Lichfield Concern for Palestine’. All talk was about Israeli brutality. No mention of Arab violence anywhere.
..Next up was Professor Kamel Hawwash, Vice-Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign… There will be no starting point for peace until Israelis get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness. Total submission… This is the vision of ‘peace’ that the church invited to talk.
..I have seen Ilan Pappe now more times than I can count. He is charismatic antisemitism personified. Pappe wastes no time. ‘There is no such thing as modern antisemitism’.
No such thing as modern anti-Semitism? How in the name of Christ could that refutation be permitted in a Church of England cathedral? And then came this appalling incident:
..This time, with the knowledge that Mandy was a Zionist, the Chair was visibly ignoring Mandy’s raised hand. The Chair was desperately seeking questions from elsewhere in the audience. The questions had dried up. It was a stand-off. Mandy became vocal:
‘Why won’t you let me speak?’
‘Because you spoke earlier’ came the reply.
As an answer it did not suffice. Several people had asked more than one question. The situation was absurd. There were no more questions. Only Mandy’s hand remained aloft. There were still 10 minutes left till the end of this session.
Several people became visibly agitated. A member of the audience asked why the chair was ignoring Mandy’s question. Mandy spoke up again:
“Isn’t this a conference, why is only one side allowed to be heard?”
All of this comes just a fortnight after the Archbishop of Canterbury declared: “Antisemitism is an insidious evil.” And he made it absolutely clear that “the virus continues to seek a host. It latches onto a variety of different issues: financial inequality, wars and depressions, education, politics and government, grave international issues, such as the rights of Israelis and Palestinians..” And conferences organised by zealous deans in our national cathedrals? The allegation against the Dean of Lichfield is not that he is an anti-Semite, but that he naively sought to have the ‘Palestine’ issue debated in his cathedral without ensuring balanced advocacy and an impartial chairman, and thereby desecrated Lichfield Cathedral with the whiff of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist conspiracy theory and the delegitimisation of Israel.
The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev’d Michael Ipgrave, who also happens to be Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, has previously been unequivocal in his condemnation of these sorts of views:
To me there seems no question that denying the right of Israel to exist, failing to take seriously the claim of its citizens to security and recognition, viewing the complex situation in the Holy Land as an unparalleled example of injustice when it is fact surrounded by egregious instances of oppression and unsettlement, adopting a one-sided view which fails to recognise the legitimate interests and real anxieties of all sides – all these can be manifestations of, or excuses for, real antisemitism.
So why would he allow his cathedral to host an exhibition and conference which not only denies Israel’s right to exist, but denies the very phenomenon of modern anti-Semitism?
“The fact that antisemitism has infected the body of the Church is something of which we as Christians must be deeply repentant,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “We live with the consequences of our history of denial and complicity.antisemitism needs to be confronted in every part of our communal life and cultural imagination.” If Justin Welby is right (and he is), and if Michael Ipgrave meant what he wrote (and there’s no reason to believe he didn’t), then the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral needs to issue an unequivocal apology – not only to offended Israelis and Jews, but to Christians and all people of goodwill for whom this conference was an overt anti-Semitic outrage. The Church of England should neither condone nor facilitate anti-Israel hate: our task should be peace and reconciliation in the light of the truth. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said:
Antisemitism.. permeates and pervades all that it touches when it is swept under the carpet, denied and not confronted head-on. The challenge for us is to be united in facing the uncomfortable truths of our history and for faith groups to take a lead in being transparent and honest in exposing the hidden recesses of prejudice.
If Lichfield Cathedral sweeps this under the carpet, the Church of England becomes complicit in anti-Semitism, which, as the Archbishop said, “..undermines and distorts the truth: it is the negation of God’s plan for his creation and is therefore a denial of God himself.”
Both the Dean and Bishop have issued statements:
I want to reaffirm my welcome and support for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent condemnation of the ‘virus’ of antisemitism. I attended part of the conference at Lichfield Cathedral, as a guest, as a mark of my commitment to ongoing dialogue and building better relationships. The CCJ will continue to engage in dialogue with the cathedral to build a relationship of deeper understanding that I hope will bear great fruit in the future.
Cathedral naves are the traditional meeting places for people to come together and debate matters of concern, to learn, reflect and find wisdom in the middle of difficulty and confusion. Our recent weekend conference ‘Holding Palestine in the Light – the context of the conflict’ was an attempt to help people understand the complexity of the situation and what roads to peace are available for all the people of the Holy Land, Israelis and Palestinians. There were some passionate exchanges and contributions from the floor representing very diverse views. It takes courage to make peace and the first step is to listen. That is a proper requirement for everyone who is concerned with the long term future and flourishing of all the Israeli and Palestinian people. We hope that the opinion, prayers and righteous action of people of faith and goodwill could yet help bring all sides together on a path to a lasting peace. It is my hope, and that of the Ecumenical Planning group who arranged the conference, that the weekend was a small contribution to understanding, and an encouragement to people of faith to pray and work for peace.
Clean sweep: dustpan and brush not required.