Representatives of Israel-supporting Christian groups held a bold event this Wednesday (12th February) to counter the efforts of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in Britain to recruit churches to its cause. Following the efforts of a London church to hijack Christmas in support of the anti-Israel BDS movement, Christian pastor Mike Fryer held a counter event yesterday in the same building.
His aim was to educate Christians on how to oppose the deceptive BDS campaign with solid facts. The event drew 70-80 Christian and Jewish supporters of Israel, impressive for a soaking wet Wednesday afternoon.
The prestigious and historic St James’ Anglican church in Piccadilly staged a dramatic series of events at Christmas this year, “Bethlehem Unwrapped”, that attempted to show Israel as a pariah state that only wants to persecute and eradicate the Palestinian people. To make their point they erected a mock-up of Israel’s security barrier, building a life-sized 8 metre high (plywood) wall across their own front entrance which soon filled with “pro-peace” anti-Israel graffiti. The two week programme of music, poetry and various speakers generated huge controversy in both the Jewish and Christian communities.
Christian opposition to “Bethlehem Unwrapped” centred on the blatant politicising of one of Christianity’s most holy festivals with deceptive language, lies and half-truths against Israel that had no place at the high season of “peace and goodwill towards men”! Pastor Mike Fryer, who along with his church in North Wales is an active supporter of Israel, felt the need to bring a balance to the message spread by St James church at Christmas. by bringing a factual and educational presentation of the reality of Israel today, both politically and theologically.
What better place to do so than in the same venue where “Bethlehem Unwrapped” had been held?
Keynote speaker was IDF Col (retd) Eran Lerman, Deputy Chief Adviser to Israel’s National Security Council for foreign policy and international affairs to the Israeli Government. Answering the challenge of the mock security wall at St James Church at Christmas, Col Lerman pointed out that at the same time over one million Palestinians visited the beaches at Tel Aviv. Jews, Christians and Muslims freely mixed on the beach with fellow sun-seekers. “This couldn’t have happened without the security provided by the barrier”, he said. “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Col Lerman challenged the BDS Movement. “Those who speak of ‘colonialism’ and Israeli ‘apartheid’ do a big disservice to the Palestinian people. To suggest that a time will come when Israel and Zionism are no more is selling the Palestinian people a false fantasy. That fantasy prevents them coming to the compromises that will lead to peace.” He also paid tribute to Pastor Mike Fyer and the efforts of grass-roots Christians and Jews who support Israel. “You can send a message to others that is treated as suspect if it comes from governments and politicians,” he said.
Also speaking was ‘Christy’, a young Palestinian Christian forced to flee her country because of persecution, who is a passionate supporter of both Israel and the persecuted Christians of the disputed Palestinian territories. She spoke of her forgiveness of Israel when she saw the true reason for the building of the security barrier close to where she lived.
The BDS Movement in Britain has been making inroads into Christian churches in recent years. This may be because churches are often close-knit networks where ideas can spread fast. It could also be because Christian theology concerning Israel and the Jewish people can often be negative in connotation.
A third reason, allied to theology, could be that the historical church down the centuries often exhibited a violent anti-semitism (think of the Spanish inquisition, the crusades, the many Jewish ghettos of medieval Europe). In Britain, this was manifested in the original British blood libel (Norwich, Norfolk, 1144), the 1190 York massacre before the Crusades and the expulsion of all Jews from Britain a hundred years later in 1290.
Latent anti-semitism in British society showed itself later on through such motifs as Shakespeare’s Shiloh in “The Merchant of Venice” and Dickens’ Fagin in “Oliver Twist” – both portraying Jews in a negative light. Many see anti-semitic remnants in Christian replacement theology and politically in the British administration’s attitude to Jewish resettlement of Palestine in the British Mandate period and its favouritism of the Arab cause.
Whatever the reasons for acceptance of BDS claims in the British church, the effect is to lead Christians to accept the wild and false claims of the anti-Israel campaigners without too close examination, leading to further divisions in the church over the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is worthy of note that British Christian groups labelled as “Christian Zionist” without exception exhibit compassion and often practical help for the suffering on both sides of the cultural divide. This cannot be said of the BDS groups and supporters, who are more anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian.
The recent debacle over Scarlet Johannsen and Sodastream has exposed the cold and heartless attitude of BDS groups towards the needs and suffering of ordinary Palestinians and the “extra mile” being travelled by Sodastream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum to support his loyal Palestinian workers.
The Christian event at St James church yesterday went some small way towards addressing the bias and antagonism of the BDS movement towards Israel. The modern Jewish state does have many friends in the British church and they are beginning to show their support in a more united and assertive way – something Christians don’t always find easy to do!