When Hinde Street Methodist Church in London erected their ‘Israeli checkpoint’ exhibition (or, since it looks like a plywood chicken coop, Israeli checkpoint ‘exhibition’), it was denounced by the Board of Deputies as an “unnecessary strain on Christian-Jewish relations”. Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue accused the church of “fanning the flames of anti-Semitism”, and former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey rebuked them for casting Israel as the oppressor of victims. He said: “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 reminded the Methodists: “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.”
Hinde Street Methodist Church naturally denied that their ‘exhibition’ – entitled ‘You cannot pass today – Life through a dividing wall‘ – was in any sense anti-Semitic. It’s just that they chose to focus on a wall erected by the Jewish State, and ignore those erected by, say, the USA along the Mexican border; or by Turkey in Cyprus; or Egypt along its border with Gaza; or Saudi Arabia along its border with Yemen; or the India/Pakistan ‘security barrier’ which weaves its way through Kashmir. There are quite a few defensive walls in the world which follow no internationally-recognised border, but why bother with those when you can have a go at the Jews? The church naturally rejected the allegation that they were fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. They issued a statement, which assures critics that the exhibition:
..has been carefully curated to reflect the issues of divided communities within Israel and Palestine and to promote reflection and prayers for peace.
..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.
What manner of “principled impartiality” singles out the State of Israel? By all means criticise its government’s immoral policies and abhorrent actions, but no church should draw attention to human rights violations or injustices by demonising that state alone, for when they do so they are holding it to a higher standard of political morality and ethical rhetoric than they do other nations. What about Somalia, Burma, North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Libya? What about China or Saudi Arabia? Shouldn’t Christians be even-handed about these things? Shouldn’t they be generous in their understanding, and compassionate in their spirit? Why aren’t critics of Israel consistent in their condemnation? Or is it simply that a tourist trip to Bethlehem is easier to arrange and safer to enjoy – precisely because the Israeli government prioirtises the security of its people?
There are quite a few peaceful, prayerful reflections in the visitor’s book. One reads: “IDF soldiers are the scum of the earth. They are disgusting filthy animals and need to be burned alive.” It is signed by someone called Omana, who clearly thinks the proper place for Jews is in ovens. Hinde Street Methodist Church may not believe they are fanning the flames of anti-Semitism, but they seem content to hand out free kindling wood and matches to Jew-haters.
The stated IDF mission is: “To defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel. To protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten the daily life.”
Its spirit draws on: “The tradition of the Jewish People throughout their history.”
Its basic values include: “At the core of service in the IDF stand the love of the homeland and the commitment and devotion to the State of Israel-a democratic state that serves as a national home for the Jewish People – its citizens and residents.”
When the Methodist Church boycotts the State of Israel uniquely; when it erects exhibitions which focus on Israel’s alleged injustices uniquely, the church is manifesting an anti-Semitic attitude. Whatever words of peace they preach, and whatever assurances of prayer they give, they are sustaining a vile history and supplying an abhorrent industry. This has no place in any Christian church.