Time for the Anglican Church to rethink its approach to Israel

Pamela Ngubane says church should align itself with peace-builders who lay a foundation for the future prosperity of all people

Time for the Anglican Church to rethink its approach to Israel

28 October 2022

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) has adopted a set of increasingly extreme positions relating to the Israel-Palestine issue. These positions not only put it out of sync with the more constructive position of its parent body, the Church of England, but also place it at odds with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. 

The pity of it is that, by adopting a policy stance that is so clearly biased, it disqualifies itself from playing a role in bringing peace to this troubled region. It is particularly unedifying to see an organisation with such a luminous reputation for its principled stand against apartheid unintentionally aligning itself with entities that seek the destruction of Israel. 

The ACSA’s 2019 Provincial Synod adopted a resolution that agreed to follow the lead of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) organisation and its cynical equation of Israel with apartheid. BDS is regarded as an extremist organisation whose activities have been repudiated by many countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark and many others. 

Despite outrage from many within the church, the leadership is doubling down, with an even stronger resolution passed at the Provincial Standing Committee in September 2022. These resolutions speak of the church’s concern for the Palestinians but in terms that deny the right of Israel to define itself as a Jewish state. This is cited as one of Israel’s most objectionable characteristics, as if no other country defines itself in religious or cultural terms. 

Denying Jews the right to self-determination or calling Israel a racist endeavour, and applying a double standard to Israel that is not applied to other states, are indicators of anti-Semitism as defined in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. This definition was adopted by the bishops of the Church of England in 2018 and is widely accepted as the gold standard when it comes to identifying this repellent and insidious way of thinking. 

The Church of England recently apologised for the 1222 Synod of Oxford, which passed laws that led to the expulsion of Jews from England. The latter recognises the deep antisemitism that has contaminated Anglican and, more generally, Christian thinking for centuries. This is the foundation of modern antisemitism, which, despite the Holocaust, continues to inform popular Western thinking in the West. 

What then would be the proper—the Christian—approach for ACSA to follow in order to help give the Palestinian people relief? 

In 2021, the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa passed a resolution urging Anglicans to build bridges between Muslims and Jews. It also committed itself to, amongst other things, combatting anti-Semitism. While it currently promotes neither, such a peace-seeking vision is in line with the teachings of Christ. The Church should honour this commitment, and thus make a lasting contribution to peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. This starts with some soul searching and rediscovering a Christian perspective genuinely based on love and truth. 

Christ’s life and teachings demonstrate a willingness to consider both sides of any question, and to deviate from the “accepted wisdom” of the Establishment and to think laterally. In this case, the dominant narrative that the Israelis are completely to blame for the current unsatisfactory situation in the Holy Land, and that the Palestinians are the innocent victims, clearly cannot survive even a superficial reading of the history. 

Like any other state, Israel has had to make decisions based on its own interests and need to survive that might justly be criticised. But that criticism must be informed by a dispassionate examination of the facts, something that is signally missing. 

Like it or not, Israel exists, despite the numerous and ongoing attempts to destroy it, and is increasingly gaining acceptance across a previously hostile Arab world—not least, one could argue, because the intransigence of the corrupt Palestinian Authority is coming to be seen as counterproductive. The Abraham Accords have been followed by other hopeful signs that Arab polities are moving away from their previous hardline positions. 

ACSA should align itself with peace-builders who lay a foundation for the future prosperity of all people. Only then will it be able to assume the truly transformative role in the Middle East that its history equips it to play. 

Pamela Ngubane is General Manager, South African Friends of Israel