The Church of England’s Complicity in the Gaza Genocide

“Gaza today has become the moral compass of the world”, insisted the Reverend Dr. Munther Isaac in his 2023 Christmas sermon, entitled, “Christ in the Rubble.” After his sermon went viral, his words were subsequently quoted by UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed.

Lamentably, many Christian leaders in the USA and Europe have stood by, silent and complicit, unwilling to criticise Israel for what is increasingly recognised as a genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people. 

This article will analyse the Church of England official statements about Gaza since 7th October 2023, together with criticisms, and provide an assessment of the Church’s moral integrity in its stance on Gaza.

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Conclusions

In this article, the three statements by the House of Bishops and the two from the archbishops, issued between October 2023 and April 2024, concerning the genocide in Gaza have been assessed, together with those of groups such as the CAMPAIN, the Lambeth Witness Group, and Christians for Palestine, which have been highly critical of what they perceive to be the complicity between the Church of England hierarchy and the Israel lobby.

There has undoubtedly been what many see as an unhealthily close and long-standing relationship between the leaders of the Church of England with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who describe themselves, unapologetically, as a pro-Israeli lobby.[1]

This is evidenced from the facts that:

  • the CAMPAIN open letter (about the failure to engage with the Palestinian Church) did not lead to any dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and
  • the subsequent letter sent to every serving Anglican bishop, asking about the existence or otherwise of a state of apartheid in Israel, did not receive a single reply[2].

This merely confirmed their unwillingness over many years to address this issue, as demonstrated by their refusal to engage with either Sabeel Jerusalem or Kairos Palestine, who represent the indigenous Palestinian church leadership. The core problem is that CofE is unwilling to answer either to Palestinian Christians or to citizens of the UK. The latter is totally out of place in a country like the UK where the CofE enjoys a privileged position at the heart of an elected democracy, one where the views of all citizens, be they Anglican or otherwise, are supposed to count. The least people have a right to expect is that the Church will enter into reasoned dialogue over points of contention.

Archbishop Welby’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of Israeli apartheid in Palestine was further confirmed by his presentation and during the Q&A at the Embrace annual conference in September 2023.

Immediately following the Hamas atrocities of 7th October, the archbishops, both in their public statement and in correspondence to the Board of Deputies, demonstrated ‘solidarity’ with Israel, without any recognition of the 75 years of brutal military occupation which had led to the Hamas attack.

In his visit to Israel soon after, Archbishop Welby naturally empathised with the grieving and traumatised families of the hostages but went on to criticise those in the UK participating in national demonstrations calling for an end to the genocide in Gaza for being ignorant, even accusing those who believed Israel to be responsible for the bombing of the Anglican Ahli hospital, of committing an antisemitic ‘blood libel’. The archbishop has yet to comment on the fact that Israel has targeted and destroyed virtually every hospital and medical facility in Gaza.

Significantly, virtually all the statements, press interviews and speeches published by the archbishops and bishops in the last six months, perpetuate the falsehood that Israel has the “right of defence”. As stated, in international law an occupying power has no right of defence whatsoever. It is the Palestinians who have not only the right of defence, but also the right to resist Israel by the use of force.  

When referring to Israeli and Palestinian casualties, they use different terminology. While Israeli casualties resulted from “abhorrent terrorist attacks” Palestinian casualties were a consequence of Israel exercising its “right to self-defence”, justifying the distinction by claiming there is “no equivalence” between the two sides.

According to the bishops, Hamas has acted “in violation of international law” whereas Israel’s actions have only been “inconsistent with international law.”

The emotive language used in their statements to describe the actions of Hamas included, “abhorrent”, “atrocities”, “pogrom”, “terrorist action”, “brutality”, “human shields” and “indiscriminate”. These contrast markedly with words used to describe Israel’s actions. Significantly, none of these words were used.  Instead, more neutral terms were employed such as “proportional”, “discriminate”, “bombardment” and “ground offensive”. The most frequent term used, however, was “self-defence”, the archbishop even referring to his desire for a “military victory”.

Despite Zionist and Israeli leaders’ long-standing and well-documented aim of ethnically cleansing Palestine of native Palestinians, and the mounting evidence of apartheid, war crimes and genocide being committed by Israel in Gaza and the Occupied Territories, neither the archbishops nor House of Bishops have been willing, as yet, to use these terms in their statements. Nor have they been willing to call for a permanent ceasefire, lobby the UK government to ban arms exports, or endorse the South African submission to the International Court of Justice investigating evidence of Israeli war crimes. 

If Gaza is indeed the moral compass of the world, it is evident that the Church of England leadership are relying upon a very different compass – one that steers them to prioritise their relationship with the Israel lobby over genuine moral principles.

Revd Dr Stephen Sizer
19 May 2024
St Dunstan’s Day, Archbishop of Canterbury. d. 988

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[1] https://bod.org.uk/israel/

[2] https://www.campain.org/survey-of-cofe-bishops