Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Anglican Archbishop says, 'Spiritually, we are all Semites'

From Ruth Gledhill, The Times Religion Correspondent, Tuesday, 08 November 2005...

'Spiritually, we are all Semites,' the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said yesterday. Dr Williams was quoting Pope Pius XI. In response to a question at the end of a lecture on Europe's Christian heritage, he said that some of the 'demonic forces' that were thought to have been defeated 60 years ago were once more raging destructively across the European landscape. He said: 'It is a curse and an unmitigated evil in our presence. I feel that many of the demons that some thought had been laid to rest long ago are raging across our landscape. We need, as Christians, to return to that wonderful dictum of Pope Pius 11th: 'Spiritually, we are all Semites'. He was saying that in the thirties and it needs saying again.'

Later, when I phoned him for a comment, the Bishop of St Albans, the Right Rev Christopher Herbert, who chairs the Council of Christians and Jews, endorsed what the Archbishop said, adding that the 'scourge' of anti-Semitism must be addressed.

Dr Williams was addressing an audience of more than 200 academics, politicians and other opinion-formers in an open lecture at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. ... It was in the questions afterwards that he spoke of anti-Semitism.

His lecture came a few days after his address at St Paul's in London during the service to commemorate the victims of the London July 7 bombings. In his sermon, he mentioned a number of groups but neglected to name the Jews as among the victims of terrorism today. This omission was hastily corrected by him the following day when he aplogised unreservedly, but it had already been picked up and noted by members of the Jewish community.

The Jewish community is particularly sensitive at the moment to any perceived slight, with good reason. The Anglican Church is of particular concern. Divestment from Israel has long been on the agenda of some groups on the left, particularly in the wake of a recent Anglican report from the US urging this development, a report which was shockingly anti-Israel in tone. The report was endorsed by the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, although with the divestment recommendation slightly toned down. Only one cleric, Dr John Moses, Dean of St Paul's, had the courage or even the wit to see why it was important to abstain from supporting such a report, produced by the Anglican Peace and Justice Network.

In going down this path, the Anglican Church would be following the lead of the Presbyterian Church in the US, which has already adopted a divestment strategy, although has notably failed as yet actually to divest even a single cent. Divestment is not officially on the General Synod agenda next week, although it will be a matter of discussion behind the scenes. Bishop Herbert is organising a fringe meeting with speakers from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a rabbi. In spite of strong lobbying, the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group also rejected calls for it to sell its shares in Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers used in clearance projects in Israel. Further, a new group has been formed, Anglicans for Israel, which is proving ardent and effective in its advocacy for the Jewish homeland, one of the few democracies in the Middle East, the others being Lebanon and Egypt (and of course, soon, Iraq).

Nevertheless, concerns remain and the issue of the Anglican Church's approach to Israel is at present being addressed in a series of lectures by Manchester academic and historian, Irene Lancaster. ...
In Irene's latest lecture, at the Bowden Synagogue in Manchester today, Tuesday 8 Nov, she will call for more education on the Bible and Jewish history for both the Anglican and Jewish communities, for greater input into clergy training by Jewish experts and for proper dialogue between both sides, not just 'tea parties in Golders Green'.

She will also demand exposure of anti-Semitism wherever it occurs, whether of commission or omission. She will conclude, 'We face a hard struggle as the Jewish community makes up only 0.5 per cent of the UK population and is falling. There has been a large Jewish emigration, particularly since January, to Israel. Jews don't tend to complain, but to vote with their feet.' She is critical of some in the leadership of her own community as 'too clubbable and biddable', a stance she believes invites contempt, if indeed it is that, from institutions such as the BBC, some Anglicans and universities. She apportions blame on both sides: 'Remember Rabbi Tarfon, a contemporary of Jesus, in Pirke Avot: 'You may not be able to complete the work, but it is not up to you to desist from it.'

Dr Lancaster has, by her own admission, become an irritant to many, in particular to the BBC, who she is relentless in taking to task whenever she detects any hint of an anti-Israel bias. Nevertheless, leaving the Beeb out of it for the moment, there is strong substance to Dr Lancaster's concerns. And she is by no means alone in voicing them. In a recent lecture the polemicist Melanie Phillips also delivered a devastating analysis of the resurgence of anti-Semitism. Just from where I sit, at my desk in Wapping, I encounter evidence of it with alarming regularity. There is the rising incidence of anti-Semitic attacks as recorded by the Community Security Trust, the increasing anti-Israel rhetoric from too many sections of society, the repulsive green-ink letters and upper-cased emails I receive whenever I address this subject. Just take the Rachel Corrie production at the Royal Court. Rachel died when she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer, a Caterpillar in fact. Undoubtedly this was a terrible tragedy, but why no mobilisation of public sentiment for all the Jewish Rachels killed by Palestinian suicide bombers? Then there is the seeming acceptability of publishing a poem in a book for distribution to British schools in which a young schoolboy empathises with how Hitler felt when ordering Jews into the gas chambers. Julie Burchill highlights some of the problems with this poem here.

As Bishop Herbert said to me yesterday: 'We have been here before and we do not want it to result in what happened before.' Incredible though it seems, at least to me, the world's oldest hatred is still with us. As the established church in this country, the Church of England is in a strong position to help eradicate it. The Archbishop of Canterbury is in the strongest position of all but we all have a role to play. To paraphrase Rabbi Tarfon, however slight the impact of our endeavours, it is incumbent on us all to fight it this ever-recurrent evil and to bring a halt to it before it is too late.

Posted by Ruth Gledhill on Tuesday, 08 November 2005 at 11:17 AM in Books, Current Affairs, Religion, Weblogs

Go to the to also see the comments or to add your own.

No comments: