An Open Letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York

Dear Archbishops Welby and Cottrell

​We write as supporters of an organisation called CAMPAIN, a group that challenges misrepresentation and misinformation in public affairs and the news media. It is a non-partisan body with members belonging to all political parties and none, and members of the Christian faith, other faiths and none. The instigators of this letter are Christian (including Ordained Priests). However, whether Christian or not, most people in the UK expect the established church and its leaders to be a beacon of hope in the dark areas of this world that will publicly stand up for the rights of ALL people – not just those who claim a faith.

​We note that the Church of England sets out its role in the world in its Five Marks of Mission. All signatories of this letter share a commitment to the fourth Mark which is “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation”.

​We are sad, therefore, to observe how inconsistent the Church of England has become in doing so. On the one hand, you recently declared your support for a “National Care Covenant for England” and you made an Official Visit to advocate for peace in South Sudan, but we do not hear the Church cchallenging the suffering of Palestinians living under brutal Israeli military occupation and settler colonialism. Why?

In Palestine, conditions have become increasingly severe since the beginning of 2023, with 75 Palestinians killed and 276 injured by the Israeli military up to 13 March, and there is now a new Israeli government composed of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, including several Ministers who openly express racist and violent views.  

We are deeply troubled that you have provided so little public support for Church leaders in Israel-Palestine who predicted these outcomes in the Kairos Palestine document in 2009, and Cry of Hope in 2020. They declared that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.” Why have you ignored their plea for so long?

​We also query why you have not spoken out openly against Christian Zionism, which is based on end-time theology that casts into damnation those Jews who will not convert, and which might therefore be considered antisemitic. Christian Zionism enjoys massive Western support, provides cover for Israeli misdeeds, and causes untold damage to the Palestinians and to the prospects for middle eastern peace.

​Moreover, by backing Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s “warning about Jeremy Corbyn” on grounds of antisemitism (see here), you interfered in our electoral process in the run-up to the 2019 election. The two of you basically told Christians and Jews not to vote Labour and, given your standing in society, you are likely to have been influential way beyond your respective congregations. Neither of you appear to have examined factual information that showed that prejudice towards minorities in general (including Jews) was considerably higher in the Conservative Party (see here).  In this way, you aligned yourselves with a view which had been endlessly parroted (without hard evidence) by the British news media and in effect supported the Conservatives.

​In 2018, following your meeting with the Chief Rabbi, the House of Bishops adopted the discredited IHRA working definition of antisemitism, without it seems, taking legal advice or seeking the endorsement of General Synod.  Even its author, Kenneth S. Stern, has criticised the way it has been weaponised to silence criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine. A range of eminent legal authorities[i] have all insisted that the legally entrenched right to free expression is being undermined by an internally incoherent “non-legally binding working definition” of antisemitism.

​It appears the Church of England, unlike other denominations, has too often taken the path of least resistance in the face of pressure from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Board is far from fully representative of the Jewish community in the UK. You need to recognise the diversity of Jewish opinion about Israel and engage with groups that represent both observant and secular Jewish people who are critical of the policies of the Israeli government.

​Christians inside and outside South Africa played a significant role in challenging apartheid and eventually defeating it. The Church of England should be challenging the practice of apartheid in Israel-Palestine today. Twenty years ago in 2002, in an article in the International Herald Tribune, Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew a parallel between South Africa and Palestine and the struggle against apartheid: “If apartheid ended (in South Africa), so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction”.

​We understand that the five Marks of Mission were designed to bring to life the teachings of Jesus Christ in the modern world and to set standards of behaviour for church organisations. Lamentably, the prophetic voice of Jesus has been silenced on Palestine within the Anglican Church under your leadership. In contrast, other denominations, including the Methodist and URC, have openly criticised this illegal occupation by public statements and investment decisions and yet the Church of England remains inactive in both these areas.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (the Catastrophe) in which 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes creating one of the largest refugee crises in modern history. In May there will be international events to highlight the ongoing injustice of the Nakba. We call on you both to follow Archbishop Tutu’s example, advocate for the people of Palestine and help end their unjust suffering.

​We stand ready to engage in constructive dialogue and to help in any way we can.

Yours sincerely,

Names of those endorsing this letter.

Stephen Sizer is a member of the CAMPAIN Committee and helped to draft the letter.