Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor brands carol service anti-Semitic
Ruth Gledhill, Times, Dec 10 2008
The Israeli Ambassador to Britain has mounted an extraordinary attack on the Church of England for permitting an anti-Israel carol service that he says will provoke anti-Semitism. Ron Prosor said that the service at St James’s, Piccadilly had undermined the decades of hard work that has gone into improving relations between the Christian and Jewish faiths. He accused the Church of England authorities of failing to speak out adequately against the service, an “alternative” event of nine lessons and nine carols that took place at the end of November, and demanded that the Church start to speak out properly against terrorism instead. The fall-out from the event is already damaging interfaith relations and now threatens to spill over into a diplomatic row. At the event, organised by anti-Israel campaigners, including one liberal Jewish group, and with carols rewritten by an unnamed Jewish parody writer, the carol Once in Royal David’s City was altered to say “Once in royal David’s city stood a big apartheid wall…” The Twelve Days of Christmas was sung as:
Eleven homes demolished
Ten wells obstructed
Nine sniper towers
Eight gunships firing
Seven checkpoints blocking
Six tanks a-rolling
Five settlement rings…
Four falling bombs
Three trench guns
Two trampled doves
And an uprooted olive tree.
The event, Bethlehem Now: Nine Alternative Lessons and Carols, was organised by the group Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and the pro-Palestinian group Open Bethlehem. Prosor, speaking to the Times, said:
It was appalling to see a church allow one of its most endearing seasonal traditions to be hijacked by hatred. Unfortunately, the criticism from within the Church of England, that should have echoed with bold moral clarity, has instead sounded like a silent night, but far from holy. If Santa Claus turned up in Bethlehem this Christmas, he would receive a frosty reception from Hamas extremists. For 2000 years, the Jewish people suffered persecution because of the accusation of responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ. The carol service deliberately attempted to make a linkage between this notion of deicide and Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. It thus perpetuated an anti-Semitic canard that has no place in modern Britain. Hedley’s decision undermines the hard work that has taken place to improve relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews. He should understand that interfaith dialogue, tolerance and open-mindedness are the way forward to brotherly love, and not the interfaith ranting and raving of the ‘carol service’ at St James’s Piccadilly.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, is one of the few Christian leaders to have spoken out openly against the event. In a lecture at the London Jewish Cultural Centre yesterday, Carey said that anti-Semitism and hostility to Jews still lurked beneath the surface in Christian circles in Britain. Referring to the carol service, he said:
Such actions strengthen an anti-Israeli agenda, trivialise the political issues and nourish an anti-Semitic culture. This is not because it is wrong to criticise Israeli policy but because such campaigns single out Israel alone for particular opprobrium and censure it above regimes elsewhere in the world which are genocidal in intent and oppressive to the extreme.
Bruce Kent, a former Roman Catholic priest and the vice-president of the Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi, who was among the readers, told the Times:
The carols pointed out exactly what is going on in occupied Palestine today. I am delighted they have had the publicity that this has generated. Anyone who speaks against Zionist policies is labelled anti-Semitic.
The organiser, Deborah Fink, of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, said:
This was just stating what is going on in the West Bank. It is just typical that they are always seeing Israel as the victim. There are not many Israeli victims of terrorism. It is the Palestinians who are the victims. Israel has turned Gaza almost into a concentration camp.
Others who took part in the event included Dr Ang Swee Chai, author and orthopaedic surgeon; Baroness Jenny Tonge, sacked from the Liberal Democrats front bench in 2004 after saying that she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she was Palestinian; and Joceylyn Hurndall, the mother of peace campaigner Tim Hurndall, who died after being shot by an Israeli soldier. This month Lambeth Palace described the event as
a piece of rather unpleasant publicity seeking by a collection of small groups who should not be encouraged by being given attention. It is no more reflective of the views of the Church of England than Jews for Boycotting Israel is reflective of the Jewish community.
The Rev Charles Hedley, Rector of St James’s, told the Times that he was not anti-Semitic and that he opposed boycotts of Israeli goods. He said he had been inundated with protests and would think twice before permitting the event at St James’ again. He had allowed it to go ahead in the first place because of his concerns about the effect of the security barrier on the population of Bethlehem and surrounding areas. In his address at the start of the service Hedley told the congregation of more than 200 people:
I understand the need for security for Israel. I understand the need for security. But whilst I understand some of the reasons why the barrier came to be constructed, it is not enough to be complacent about it or to draw a veil over its effects on others. Barriers, by their nature, divide and separate. For me this is not anti-Israeli, neither is it anti-Palestinian, but underlines that for there to be peace, there is a need for reconciliation. For reconciliation, there is a need to learn about how actions on both sides are experienced and received. The uncovering of reality is an important — though sometimes painful — necessity.