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Welby's homily doesn't cut the mustard

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

On Wednesday 6th September Justin Welby spoke on the topic of "Reconciliation in the Middle East", alongside Daniel Munayer of Musalaha UK and Su McClellan of the NGO Embrace the Middle East that hosted the event. You can watch the video HERE.

The next day Church Times published a tame report of Welby's speech, but since then we have seen some highly critical material:

  • Linda Ramsden of the UK branch of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD-UK) wrote this excellent blog.

  • Robert Cohen, a long-time critic of the Anglican Church's position on Israel/Palestine and alleged antisemitism, sent Archbishop Welby the piece immediately below.

  • Five others - Alan Mackie, the Muslim Community Helpline, Sharen Green, David Cannon and Jonathan Coulter - wrote back to Church Times expressing their views. You can see their letters under Robert Cohen's piece.

Taken together, these documents provide a consistent and comprehensive critique of the Archbishop's speech. We are glad to say that the Church Times has now published two letters, by Linda Ramsden and Jonathan Coulter.

We now invite you to read the material and add your comments at the end of this blog.

Robert Cohen (Chair of the Amos Trust) writes:

Dear Justin Welby,

Rebert A.H. Cohen
Robert Cohen - see his writings in

It’s possible to demonstrate your respect, concern and love for the Jewish people without denying the tragic reality of Israel/Palestine.

It’s not just the entire human rights community which describes the situation as Apartheid. It’s also Israel’s own politicians and former heads of internal security. Your refusal to engage with Palestinian (Christian and Muslim) experience makes you look ill-informed, unconcerned and badly detached from the real world.

Having spent the last week in the West Bank and East Jerusalem talking with and listening to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the Apartheid here is as clear as day. It touches every aspect of life - housing, work, education, food, freedom of movement…and on and on it goes.

The Church must carry a terrible burden when it comes to historic antisemitism (and some contemporary global examples too). But your unwillingness to face the truth of this modern injustice is not the answer. In the end it does no service to either Palestinians or Jews.

I urge you to find a new language and new ethical stand so that you can make a meaningful contribution to a better future rather than defending an immoral present.

Sincerely, Robert Cohen

Alan Mackie (CAMPAIN committee member) writes

Dear Church Times,

Archbishop Welby’s homily on Israel/Palestine at St Martin-in-the-Fields on September 6 was extraordinary. It was as though he was talking from another planet which, given it set the tone of the meeting made it well-nigh impossible to engage. The only question that would have resonated with reality, given the theme was reconciliation, was how to deal with Bad Faith actors who seem to abound in Middle East peace-making and how would Christ have reacted to the current situation in the West Bank: as Desmond Tutu did, or with the Archbishop’s pieties?

He was clearly beleaguered and felt so - at one point observing his views would be unpopular – and was shown up embarrassingly by Mr Daniel Munayer’s measured and admirably lucid account of the Palestinian experience which won a round of warm applause.

Where the Archbishop is prepared to bend over backwards to give Israel’s 'liberal democratic' pedigree the benefit of the doubt (until he concedes it decides to renounce it), Mr Munayer pointed out that, from the Palestinian perspective, there has never been anything liberal about Israel’s settlement policies which are bipartisan and have been set in stone for decades.

The Archbishop’s quaint distinction between South African apartheid, which, he said, was constitutionally enshrined where Israel’s segregation isn't, begs the fact that Israel has no written constitution, only Basic Laws, and its most recent one defines Israel as an apartheid state. To add to the Archbishop’s discomfiture Rev Su McClellan flatly contradicted her boss and gave vivid examples of apartheid in action in the West Bank.

In the light of such overwhelming evidence – not to mention Amnesty’s recent report and the findings of other human rights organisations – has the Archbishop not considered that trying to defend the indefensible in such circumstances is betraying Christian values?

Alan Mackie

Member of CAMPAIN Executive Committee

from London Borough of Hackney

The Muslim Community Helpline writes

Dear Editor,

Isn't it ironic that the venue which was the centre of the demonstrations against Apartheid rule in South Africa - nobly championed by the late, great, Bishop Huddleston - should host a meeting about another country where the crime of Apartheid has been authoritatively documented as taking place: Israel.

Unlike Huddleston who could see the crime of Apartheid and was willing to lend his support to ending this, Archbishop Justin Welby showed adamantly, he would not. The evil of right-wing, extremist and brutal Zionist rule is staring him in the face, yet by his convoluted and evasive talk and answers, he showed that he was unwilling to bear witness to the reality.

Judging by the audience reaction, very few agreed with Welby and in not too distant a future, the Church will be apologising for its stance - just as it has had to over slavery and historic child abuse. How shameful that the Archbishop himself does not have it ''within'' himself to resist the temptation to be complicit with evil. The Church, on the wrong side of history again, I am afraid. With such ''leadership'', no wonder people are losing faith. Perhaps churches up and down the country which support equal rights for Palestinians will make their voices heard through their Bishops as it is clear that leadership on this issue is not going to come from the Establishment at the apex of the institution.

Yours faithfully, Team, Muslim Community Helpline, London Borough of Lewisham

Sharen Green writes

Dear Sirs

In his recent address on Reconciliation at St Martin-in-the-Fields Archbishop Justin named listening as one of the two essential building blocks to bring about the longed-for resolution to the Palestine/Israel issue.

I couldn’t help feeling, however, that the esteemed archbishop is a little hard of hearing himself.

In the Q&A session he was reminded how the church had vigorously opposed apartheid in South Africa and he was asked to speak out against the apartheid which is happening now in the so-called Holy Land.

He would not and, far from dwelling on the similar practices of the two regimes, he gave the somewhat legalistic answer that South Africa had the policy written into its constitution which is not the case in Israel. This is absolutely true because, as his fellow panel member Palestinian Daniel Munayer from Musalaha (Reconciliation in Arabic) respectfully pointed out, Israel has no constitution.

Both Mr Munayer and the third panellist the Rev Su McClellan from Embrace the Middle East gave searing instances of apartheid practised against Palestinians. Ms McCellan’s example of the separate road system for Israelis and Palestinians was perhaps the most striking. Archbishop Justin had even referred to his friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu during his talk. Maybe he doesn’t know his fellow archbishop called out Israeli apartheid decades ago – long before Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israeli NGO B’Tselem. Israeli establishment figures such as retired General Amiram Levi and former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo have also described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid.

At the reception following the talks, the Archbishop was offered the chance to meet Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Jeff Halper, the head of the well-respected Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. However the offer was declined – the Archbishop’s diary did not permit it apparently.

It seems the leader of our church is not great at listening.

One of the questioners gave our prelate the chance to repent of telling us all during the last general election that a vote for Labour was a vote for antisemitism. His inappropriate and misguided intervention in the electoral process might have been excusable at a time when scaremongers on powerful platforms were whipping up the idea that Jews would not be safe in the UK if Labour were in power.

So much has happened since to give the lie to this – the Chakrabarti Report, the Forde Report and the numerous testimonies of anti-Zionist Jews – both individuals and groups. Al Jazeera’s The Lobby caught Israeli spy Shai Masot on camera offering money to a Labour MP to fund a pro-Israeli youth group and a British civil servant offering to bring down Sir Alan Duncan, who has always expressed sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Asa Winstanley’s Weaponising Antisemitism: How the Israel Lobby brought down Jeremy Corbyn is a forensically researched and well referenced book which shows internal plotting in the Labour Party.

And the film Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie which the Campaign Against Antisemitism worked so hard to stop being shown is narrated by a British Jew. And I counted at least five British Jews among the interviewees - including the naturalised Briton Moshe Machover, an Israeli mathematician and philosopher of some standing – talking about how they had been silenced.

In spite of all this evidence which might at least have given him pause for thought, Justin Welby doubled down. He did not regret one word.

What a disappointment for those of us looking for leadership from our church as we advocate for Palestinian human rights!

Sincerely Sharen Green Wimborne, Dorset

David Cannon (Chair of Jewish Network for Palestine) writes

Dear Church Times,

I’m Chair of Jewish Network for Palestine and I thought your report on Archbishop Welby’s contribution to last Wednesday’s ‘Embrace’ event fell far short of the mark (see here link to the article). ‘Embrace complexity, urges Archbishop Welby in Middle East lecture’. The reality is more simply and more accurately described as oppressor v oppressed! It is NOT complicated!!!

Having said that, I was pleased to hear the Archbishop criticise the current violent Israeli policies. However, he failed to appreciate such extremism is the logical conclusion of Israel being founded in 1948 on the violent theft of Palestinian land and lives;

  • HUNDREDS of Palestinian villages destroyed,

  • THOUSANDS of innocent Palestinian men, women and children murdered,

  • THREE QUARTERS OF A MILLION Palestinian refugees fled their homes and their land.

I’m certain that you and the Archbishop would agree;

  • that two wrongs NEVER make a right,

  • that reconciliation is IMPOSSIBLE without justice,

  • that not only antisemitism but ALL racism must always be opposed.

With those points at the front of its mind, the Church of England should be asking;


Your report needed to specifically take the Archbishop to task on the following three issues;

Firstly, Welby’s refusal to regret telling people in 2019 that a vote for Labour was a vote for antisemitism was not only a totally inappropriate intervention into party politics, it was also a blatant lie. There are many Jewish individuals and Jewish organisations that oppose violent, racist Israeli Zionism. Jewish Network for Palestine is specifically anti-Zionist. Anti-Zionism is NOT antisemitic! You may be aware that the Jewish Voice for Labour are currently pursuing a formal complaint to the Labour Party about their mistreatment of anti-Zionist Jews - see link here;

Welby’s inappropriate intervention demonstrated no concern for our poor, our disabled and no concern for the huge inequality in our society.

Secondly, Welby’s cautioning against criticising Israel from the UK ignores UK guilt in legitimising Israel being founded on the theft of Palestinian land & lives. He ignored the huge financial, military and diplomatic support provided by the West which creates such an unbridgeable power imbalance.

Thirdly, Welby’s refusal to use the term apartheid was specifically contradicted by the two other speakers. Welby's weasel words were utterly shameful in the face of so much evidence provided by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem but don’t take my or their words! For example;

On the 14th August, the Daily Telegraph reported that “Israel’s actions in West Bank like Nazi Germany, says retired general Amiram Levin, who served as commander of the army’s northern forces, said there was 'total apartheid' in the occupied territory” - see link here;. On the 6th Sept, the Guardian reported a former Mossad chief stating that Israel is imposing apartheid on Palestinians - see link here;

Calling Israel an apartheid regime has nothing to do with anti-Semitism but is the description of what is happening in reality, according to Amos Goldberg, a leading professor of the Holocaust at Hebrew University in occupied Jerusalem - see link here;

The violent theft of Palestinian land & lives, illegal under international law, has continued for over 70 years and is protected by the false hope of a 2-state solution combined with vicious and relentless apartheid racism.

It was notable that both the other two speakers (including Daniel from Palestine) both explicitly contradicted Welby's reluctance to call-out Israeli apartheid. Daniel was also specific about Settler-Colonialism, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and the importance of equal Human Rights for ALL. He received the loudest and longest applause!

Welby is on the wrong side of history and an apologist for apartheid which makes him actively complicit!!!

Yours sincerely, David Cannon

Peckham, London Borough of Southwark

Jonathan Coulter (Secretary of CAMPAIN) writes

Dear Church Times

Archbishop Welby is ducking his responsibility

Like millions brought up to the words of Jesus, I look to the Church of England for leadership on important moral issues.

However, I found Archbishop Welby’s 6th September talk about reconciliation in the Middle East appalling. He meandered at length without addressing the central issues that prevent reconciliation, notably Israel’s settler-colonial project. Daniel Munayer brought the Archbishop’s omissions into sharp relief. When Welby spoke of Israel’s current far-right Government as if it were a regrettable aberration, Munayer had to point out that this was business as usual for the Palestinians, albeit a bit worse.

Welby correctly stated that the more powerful party should lead any reconciliation process, but he failed to follow through. He could have said that this put the onus on Israel, and the powerful Western governments which have doggedly supported it, to start by showing contrition. The Church of England, with its 24 seats in the House of Lords, could take the lead by endorsing late Archbishop Tutu in calling out apartheid in Israel, and by advocating that HMG sanctions Israel and refers it to the International Criminal Court. By failing to do these things Welby is placing himself on the wrong side of history.

When Welby said there could be “no ready-made solutions from outside the region”, I feel he let the UK and the Church off the hook. While local parties certainly need to negotiate any solution, outside parties like the UK, the USA and the Western Churches need to be part of that solution. Israel’s politics is so extreme that it is only likely to change if it feels pressure from the UK and other Western powers which have given it a carte blanche.

Welby’s inability or unwillingness to grasp this point caused much dismay among the audience, coming to a head when David Cannon, Chair of Jewish Network for Palestine, walked out of the Church with the words: “you have the power!” I felt the same: Welby seemed to be washing his hands about a conflict in the Holy Land for which Britain and its established Church share responsibility.

Archbishop Welby described “listening” as a vital ingredient in the process of reconciliation but he himself seems to be failing in this regard. My own experience to date (in correspondence, and in the Q&A session after his talk), is that he will not engage in face-to-face discussion with those who query his own position. For example, I have asked him to consider hard evidence bearing on his condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to the 2019 Election, but all I got was a blank “Je ne Regrette Rien”. Britain and the Church of England need something better than this.

Jonathan Coulter

Secretary of CAMPAIN

from London Borough of Bromley


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