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PROTEST IS WORKING: JUSTIN WELBY EXPRESSES REMORSE

Retired Bishop Richard Llewellin with Sue Ball and Ann Wright
Retired Bishop and former ecumenical accompanier Richard Llewellin protesting with Sue Ball and Ann Wright

Thanks to the many who leafleted the CofE General Synod last week. It didn't even have Gaza on its agenda for discussion, so we asked members to call out the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and stop giving primacy to Israel's right to self-defence. We were demonstrating at a time when the Government, Starmer's Labour Party and far-right voices were trying to create moral panic by characterising pro-Palestine protestors as violent extremists seeking to undermine democracy. As you can see, our demonstrators hardly fit that caricature!

Bernard Kilroy leafleting those attending the General Synod
Bernard Kilroy leafleting those attending the General Synod

Thanks also to those who joined us on the Not-the-Andrew-Marr Show on Sunday 25th. The episode featured Archbishop Welby’s refusal to meet the Bethlehem Pastor Munther Isaac because he had dared to share a platform with Jeremy Corbyn.


You may recall the Pastor for his memorable Christmas Sermon about Christ under the Rubble where he accused Western nations and their Churches for complicity in suffering that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.  


For those who not did see it, or would like to see it again, here is the powerful clip of Sharen Green and Dr Nicola Grove of CAMPAIN decrying Archbishop Welby’s snubbing of the Pastor.




Their talk was very well received, with a host of positive comments in the chat.  Sharen said that Justin Welby has form when it comes to snubbing eminently qualified people. He had previously refused to meet Jeff Halper, the American-Israeli Jew and Nobel Peace-prize nominee who leads the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Sharen, herself an Anglican, wondered whether Welby was fit to head up the worldwide Anglican communion.    


Nicola Grove ridiculed a type of Christianity that refuses to meet people and expressed her deep sadness for the Anglican Communion of missing such opportunities. Archbishop Welby had revealed himself a small shrunken person prepared to endorse a country where even the public broadcaster, Kan, had aired a statement justifying the collective punishment of children over four years old.


Nicola went on to speak movingly about an event held at the Bloomsbury Baptist Church on 17th February, where Munther Isaac had shared a platform with Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Ambassador who had grown up as a refugee in Rafa and lost eight relatives in the bombardment of Gaza. However, we must point out, contrary to what Nicola said, that Pastor Isaac lives in Bethlehem.  He made his famous Christmas sermon out of solidarity with fellow Palestinians in Gaza, while acutely aware of appalling Israeli and settler oppression in the West Bank.


Gus John expresses anger at Welby's position

Professor Gus John
Professor Gus John

Sharen and Nicola were far from the only Anglicans questioning Archbishop Welby’s conduct. On 24th Feb, Jewish Voice for Labour published Professor Gus John’s piece entitled His Grace is a Disgrace.  Professor John was a member of the Church’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, from which he resigned in 2019 in protest at Welby’s support for the Chief Rabbi’s demonization of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party under his leadership. 


He criticised Welby’s refusal to meet Pastor Munther Isaac, and asked where does his Grace’s responsibility as a Christian leader independent of Judaism end, and his solidarity with the Zionist lobby within British Judaism take centre stage?  


He went on to challenge Welby for assuming the existence of a homogenous and undifferentiated Jewish community, as if the large numbers of non-Zionist Jews didn't exist. He was fiercely critical of the mainstream media for treating the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who pretends to speak on behalf of that community, as if he were the Pope, speaking for all British Jews as the Pope would for all Roman Catholics. 

 

John also expresses dissatisfaction with what the Archbishop is doing more generally to address racism within the UK, including his failure to press Keir Starmer to implement the Forde Report.


Protest works


Today we learned that the cumulative pressure on Justin Welby is beginning to have some effect. In a substantial article, Church Times announced that he had apologised to the Pastor and was seeking reconciliation. Here is Welby's tweet.



This is a good start, but we have a long way to go to persuade the Church of England to ditch its unreasoned pro-Israel stance. In particular, we want it to:

  • Call out the ethnic cleansing project that lies behind decades of violence and oppression

  • Call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire

  • Apologise for Welby's interfering in the politics of this country in the run-up to the 2019 election, by endorsing unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitism, and

  • Publicly call out Christian Zionism for the damage it is doing to the cause of peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.

According to an inside source there is within the Synod a strong evangelical/pro-Israel caucus that gets very agitated if people try to discuss Israel/Palestine. This may explain why it was not on the agenda; they wanted to avoid an uncormfortable subject that would cause a row! Changing this will require sustained effort by all those concerned.


A case for disestablishment?


We are living at a time of low religious observance, but I can see one strong argument in favour of Britain having an established church. If it does its job according to Christian principles, it can provide an ethical check on the actions and policies of Government and elite groups (such as the conglomerates that dominate our mainstream media).


However, this argument holds no weight if the Church simply swims with the current and provides moral cover to the policians and the mainstream media that facilitate ethnic cleansing and mass killing. Under such circumstances, we have every right to demand the disestablishment of the CofE. The Church can only justify its privileged status and its 26 seats in the House of Lords if it uses them to challenge the flagrant abuses of power we are now witnessing.

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