Sir Tony Baldry, the Church of England’s representative to the House of Commons, has defended a church’s decision to erect a replica of the West Bank security barrier and described Israel’s occupation of the disputed territory as illegal.
Sir Tony suggested Israel was “intolerant” as he defended St James’s Church in Piccadilly, central London, for erecting an eight metre high replica of the wall that surrounds most of the ancient city of Bethlehem, identified as Jesus Christ’s birthplace in the Bible.
The replica has sparked controversy but Sir Tony stressed it was not a protest against Judaism or Jews but a “protest against illegal occupation under international law in the West Bank and some of the settlements”.
Construction on the barrier started in 2002 to separate the West Bank from Israel which said it needed protection from Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Tory Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, claimed the replica barrier, displayed over Christmas and New Year undermined religious tolerance but Sir Tony disagreed.
During Church Commissioners questions in the Commons, Mr Halfon said: “As well as discussing with Government departments will you also discuss religious tolerance with St James’s Church who held a shockingly anti-Israel exhibition over the last couple of weeks which far from promoting religious tolerance will do much to undermine it?”
Sir Tony replied: “You raise a conundrum and that is to what extent should the tolerant tolerate the intolerant? I think that the demonstration at the Church of St James in Piccadilly was not a demonstration or a protest against Judaism or Jews, it was a protest against illegal occupation under international law in the West Bank and some of the settlements.
“Therefore I think that we have to be very careful in this house about what is seen as being religious tolerance and where we’re not tolerating intolerance and not tolerating breaches of international law.”