A Methodist church in London has agreed to display Israel’s justification for security checks in the West Bank alongside its replica checkpoint, after criticism from the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Hinde Street Methodist Church in Marylebone launched the exhibition to show Palestinians’ limited access between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but was accused of “fanning the flames of anti-Semitism” by a rabbi, and of harming Christian-Jewish relations by the Board of Deputies.
Opened as part of World Week for Peace, the church said its display – called ‘You cannot pass today’ – was “carefully curated to reflect the issues of divided communities and to promote reflection and prayers for piece,” adding: “There is no criticism of the Jewish community or faith.”
But howls of protest led to a change of tune, with the church agreeing to show a table of information, prepared by the Zionist Federation, outlining Israel’s security needs, alongside a statement from the Israeli government.
On Tuesday, Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said he was saddened by the portrayal of “Israel as oppressors of victims”.
He said: “Jewish people across Europe are increasingly being targeted and killed by terrorists, who often attempt to justify their actions by demonising Israel. It is therefore particularly sad to see a church in London demonising and singling out Israel’s defensive actions against terrorism.”
He added: “Checkpoints in Israel are sadly needed in order to save lives. The methods used by democracies to defend their civilians should not be undermined by religious leaders in places of worship and brotherhood.”
Jewish representatives from the Board and the ZF said they were in discussions with the church about hosting a two-sided panel debate on the Middle East, following an earlier breakdown in communication.
The church this week expressed regret that a letter about the exhibition sent to a local rabbi did not get through. A joint statement from the Board and the ZF said: “In future we would hope to see more rigorous consultation around such sensitive events, for the sake of good interfaith relations.”
They added: “The Jewish community is now seeking volunteers, as well as those who have already signed up over the weekend, to hand out leaflets outside the church explaining the reasons why Israel feels the need for such security measures.”
Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue, which is nearby, had earlier said the church “should be ashamed,” telling The Times that it would “demonise” Israel. “Why the hell is a church wasting resources fanning the flames of anti-Semitism?”
The exhibition was created by lay preacher Katherine Fox, who said it was based on her first-hand experience of the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl expressed disappointment at the “one-sided,” exhibition, arguing that it “puts unwelcome and unnecessary strain on Christian-Jewish relations… Israel’s security infrastructure comes in response to continued terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians”.
This is not the first time a church in London has sought to highlight Israel’s controversial security measures and the effects they have on Palestinians. Over Christmas in 2014, St James’ Church in Piccadilly erected a 24ft replica of the security barrier/wall in its ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ festival.
St. James’ was also accused of feeding anti-Semitism, but stood by its decision, saying: “In liberal democracies and free societies it must be possible to raise and debate these issues… without demonising anyone or being demonised ourselves.”