While Americans have successfully fought back against the attempts of Israel-haters to get mainline Christian churches here to support boycotts of the Jewish state, their English cousins are not as successful. As Miriam Shaviv reports in the Times of Israel, the Church of England not only refused to back off its endorsement of a biased program that sought to indoctrinate Christians visiting the Middle East to support the Palestinians against Israel, many of its members took offense at the efforts of English Jews to get them to change their minds.
This controversy showed the level of animosity for Israel that is entrenched in the culture of the state-supported Anglican hierarchy. But it also may betray the barely disguised anti-Semitism that runs through European and English discourse about Israel and Jews. This story may sum up in a nutshell the starkly different predicaments of American and English Jews. As one bishop pointed out, the problem wasn’t just that the Anglican bishops, clerics and laity are predisposed to think ill of Israel. It was also that they were offended by the lobbying efforts of Jews to get them to look at the issue differently. Apparently, the spectacle of Jews standing up for themselves rather than keeping quiet or, as is the case with a vocal but not insubstantial minority of British Jews, joining the chorus of Israel-bashers, was too much for them to stand.
As Shaviv writes, the Bishop of Manchester pointed out that the defeat was at least partially the fault of the Jews:
“A few people said that all the lobbying from the Jewish side led us to vote the other way,” said the Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, who is chair of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s oldest Jewish-Christian interfaith group. “There was over-lobbying by some members of the Jewish community. The CCJ actually warned against this, as we know how the Synod works and it’s not a good way to get things done.”
Though McCulloch denies that anti-Semitism was in play, he admitted the debate about the issue and his attempts to forge a compromise included references to the influence of a “powerful lobby,” which is an allusion to Jewish efforts to persuade the Church not to take sides against Israel.
What’s curious about this excuse for the victory for Israel’s foes is everyone admitted that the pro-Palestinian forces were lobbying just as hard as the Jews, only no one seemed to mind that or to think there was something sinister about their efforts.
So while Israel-haters in the United States allude to the supposedly all-powerful “Israel lobby” immortalized by the conspiracy theories floated by authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, their counterparts in Britain are a lot stronger. While Jews were rightly disappointed by the narrow margin by which a BDS motion was rejected by the Presbyterian Church USA last week, McCulloch thought the fact that some English clerics actually voted against the anti-Israel measure there was encouraging.
But the real difference is that while most Americans see nothing wrong with Jews assertively standing up for Israel (a stance in which they are joined by the vast majority of their countrymen), many English seem to think there’s something wrong with them doing so.
While we don’t doubt English Jews and their representatives will continue to speak up whenever possible about anti-Israel bias, the political culture in which they are forced to operate works against their efforts. In the United States, the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups are not only more successful but widely admired by all but those marginal groups steeped in hatred of Israel and the Jews. The episode is one more proof that American exceptionalism is no myth.