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Friday, February 17, 2006 

Predictable accusations of anti-semitism against synod.

A typically hysterical reaction to what was an ethically minded and reasonable decision.
Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has criticised the Church of England's general synod as ill-judged in voting to remove its investment in a US company that makes bulldozers used by the Israelis to demolish Palestinian homes.

In unusually harsh language, Dr Sacks called into question the Jewish community's links with the church. In today's Jewish Chronicle, he says: "The church has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, Jewish-Christian relations in Britain.

The article also accuses the Guardian of increasing the British Jewish community's sense of vulnerability after last week's publication of two lengthy articles by its Jerusalem correspondent Chris McGreal that drew comparisons between Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the apartheid policy in South Africa. A delegation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews met the editor Alan Rusbridger to express concern that the articles would increase anti-semitic attacks.

The general synod's call last week for the church commissioners to remove their £2.5m shareholding in Caterpillar Inc - for which Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, voted in favour - has produced accusations of anti-semitism, not least from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who said it made him ashamed to be a church member.

Dr Williams wrote to the Chief Rabbi to insist that the vote did not represent a boycott or question Israel's right to exist or to self-defence. Earlier this week Dr Sacks replied that the archbishop's clarification would aid mutual understanding.

But his Jewish Chronicle article states: "The vote of the synod ... was ill-judged even on its own terms. The immediate result will be to reduce the church's ability to act as a force for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for as long as the decision remains in force ... The timing could not have been more inappropriate. [Israel] needs support not vilification."

The board of deputies decided earlier this week to carry out an investigation into attitudes within the Church of England. The Federation of Synagogues' president Alan Finlay called on the chief rabbi to withdraw from inter-faith dialogue until there is a public apology.

Responding to the Chief Rabbi, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said: "We published two pieces by Chris McGreal, which quoted many Israeli and South African Jews with differing viewpoints about a question which is hardly new. We have also published several commentaries and letters rejecting the comparison. I have not come across anyone who considered this was an illegitimate subject for a newspaper to address."

Caterpillar have been named by numerous human rights groups as being one of the worst corporations now on the face of the planet. The facts are thus: Caterpillar supply the Israelis with huge bulldozers which have been used to demolish the homes of the families of suicide bombers, confiscate land, wreck farmland and even kill those who have got in the way of them, such as Rachel Corrie. Caterpillar responds by saying that they do not personally sell the machines to the Israelis; they sell them to the US military which passes them. In reality Caterpillar knows full well what the US military will do with them. Note that this is not an attack on Israel itself; it's simply a decision by the Church of England to disinvest its shares in a company which is complicit in the misery of an entire people.

Jonathan Sacks is actually a reasonably moderate religious leader. He was condemned before when he dared say that one religion does not necessarily contain the full truth. This makes his intervention on this all the more puzzling. The Church of England has preached peace now for decades, and in Rowan Williams probably has the most forward-looking and progressive leader it has ever had. To attack the organisation as a whole simply because it feels that having shares in a company which contributes to human suffering is unethical is naive to say the least. As Williams says, this is also not an attack on Israel's right to self-defence. The use of bulldozers to violate international law and demolish homes is to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinians for the acts of a few, unlike the checkpoints in the West Bank which while are a burden on Palestinian life also stop suicide bombings.

Sacks also says that Israel needs support not vilification. That's rather rich when you can see the numerous measures which Israel is now taking to try to stop Hamas from taking meaningful power, despite its actions, both direct and indirect which led to Hamas winning the elections. Peace cannot be achieved without a level playing field, and for Sacks to claim that the synod's decision to remove investment in a company which helps to destroy the chances of peace is disingenuous.

Then we come to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation which shrieks anti-semitism while always ignoring some of the outrageous actions by the Israeli government. This is of course the same Board which accused the Palestinian charity organisation Interpal of being a terrorist group, which it was forced to retract. The Board's attempts to smear the Guardian with making Jews more vulnearable are laughable. The Guardian's two articles which compared the situation in Israel with the apartheid South Africa were full of caveats; there was a huge number of responses, which were given both their own article and a large part of the letters page on a following day. Instead of the Board of Deputies actually comprehending why there are increasingly comparisons between the two, at a time when there is a "security wall" seperating the West Bank from Israel, when the prime minister himself has said that there's no way that Israel will give up all its settlements in the West Bank and that it's likely that the boundaries of the wall will be the borders of any Palestinian state, it of course worries that nuanced and well written articles with responses from all sides will lead to Jews in this country being attacked. It would be amusing if they didn't seem to sincerely believe it. Like many Israeli politicians, the Board hides behind the age-old anti-semitism slur, rejecting any criticism of what is happening on the ground in Israel. They would rather have censorship than own up to the continual violations of international law, which occur on both sides. Maybe they should examine what causes the real anger in both the Muslim world and the West, such as a disabled 15-year-old with a broken toy rifle being shot dead by the IDF.

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