I’d seen confusing reports about Zionist interference forcing a 2-day interfaith conference at Chester to hurriedly relocate to nearby Hoole and causing key speakers to drop out.
A Catholic church had been booked for the event, and the Jewish Chronicle reported that church authorities cancelled the booking after being contacted by the North West Friends of Israel.
These complainers maintained that Gilad Atzmon’s past statements include “Jewish ideology is driving our planet into a catastrophe” and “I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act”; and Revered Stephen Sizer had been reprimanded for sharing material suggesting Israel carried out the 9/11 attacks.
Gilad was scheduled to talk about ‘Palestine under the Jewish state’ and Stephen was to discuss ‘Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon?’. How utterly shocking…..
The Jewish Chronicle quoted the Diocese of Shrewsbury as saying that it “condemns and opposes antisemitism in all its forms and will not allow such activities on its premises.
“When serious concerns about the nature of this event were brought to our attention appropriate steps were immediately taken.”
So just how appropriate was caving in to such extremism? It leaves the unfortunate impression that the Shrewsbury Diocese too easily surrenders to pressure.
A leading light in Friends of Israel then launched an attack on Rod Heather, chairman of Hoole Community Trust, which allowed the conference to go ahead on their premises.
“As a charity you facilitated an event organised by a person who claims there is a ‘Jewish Lobby’ (an antisemitic claim), which had a session on Israeli genocide (also anti-Semitic), hosted by a conspiracy theorist in Steven Sizer who claims that Jews planned and carried out 9/11 and has Gilad Atzmon, a known Holocaust denier…. and you think there is nothing wrong!
“You, Mr Heather, are part of the problem and clearly have no issue with Jew hatred.
“North West Friends of Israel quickly contacted the Diocese of Shrewsbury and we are grateful for the Archbishop who cancelled the event immediately. Thank you!
“When the pro Palestinian organiser was told of the cancellation his response was that the Church succumbed to “the Jewish Lobby”! This says it all!
“Thank you again to the Diocese of Shrewsbury for not tolerating antisemitism.”
But Roderick Heather was more than equal to the challenge. He said he would never allow anyone a platform to express such ridiculous and extreme views as Holocaust denial. But having attended much of the conference himself he said there had been no such talk and “nothing occurred that could be viewed as antisemitic”.
In a robust response he said:
“Your intervention, and the various other coordinated extreme ones we received today, did nothing to help foster good communityn relations here in Chester or to improve the understanding of and sympathy for the Jewish cause nationally in the UK. The ill-informed and bigoted telephone and social media campaigh that we have witnessed is a disgrace.
It was unfounded and unnecessary and has done your cause much harm. Be aware that I am ensuring that as many people as possible (locally and nationally) are made aware of the vitriolic, verbal bullying we have been subjected to today.”
So I emailed the Diocese asking:
“Would the Diocese – and Bishop Mark, please – care to comment on what happened and perhaps explain why Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of our own Human Rights Act were not, apparently, at the forefront of their actions.
“It would also be helpful to know the Church’s stance on the situation in the Holy Land where Christian communities are shrinking fast and there may soon be none left in the place where Christianity was born.”
This was met by stony silence. After several days I wrote again asking if Bishop Mark Davies had anything to say. The question was totally ignored. It’s no surprise when one considers the weak-kneed performance of some senior churchmen in the West. But you don’t expect the Catholics to be quite so gormless when their brethren in Palestine are in the front line fighting the good fight in truly difficult circumstance and suffering all kinds of abuse.
Let’s remind ourselves what Article 19 says….“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Of course, you mustn’t push it to the point where you risk stirring up hatred.
And Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 says much the same thing. Of course, it warns that exercising these freedoms carries duties and responsibilities such as respect for the reputation or rights of others.
And as Liberty explains,
“the right to free expression would be meaningless if it only protected certain types of expression. So Article 10 protects both popular and unpopular expression – including speech that might shock others – subject to certain limitations.” And when considering whether free expression should be limited, “courts will question whether doing so could have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech….”
So thanks for the chill, Bishop.
21 November 2019