The Hinde Street Methodist Church, which is located in central London, received strong condemnation from the local Jewish community for re-creating an Israeli checkpoint in their chapel for a five day exhibit that was entitled, “You cannot pass today: Life through a dividing wall”.
Organized by church lay preacher, Katharine Fox, the exhibit is a part of the World Week For Peace in Palestine and Israel that was held from September 19-23. The display was set up to show how the checkpoints negatively impact the lives of Palestinians. Photographs and personal accounts of the Palestinians were included in the exhibit.
The exhibit has stirred antisemitic sentiments, both at the exhibit itself and online. One comment in the guest book reads “IDF soldiers are the scum of the earth! They are disgusting filthy animals and need to be burned alive”. Dehumanising Jews and calling for them to be burned alive is antisemitic, regardless of any political differences one may have with them.
On the Facebook page for the exhibit, antisemitism ran wild. One commenter writes “They are called …”Jews with a conscience” as opposed to the murderous thugs you are defending! You guys make Hitler look lie a saint by comparison!”. Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is defined as antisemitic in the EUMC definition of antisemitism.
Another writes “Isrealhell kills children. The Zionist owned media rarely shows us. Thank you Hinde St Methodist Church. I hope more churches follow your lead!”. Accusing Israel plainly of killing children, with no qualification, amounts to blood libel. Similarly, speaking of a “Zionist owned media” plays into antisemitic canards of Jewish control over the media.
Other comments attempted to make out Zionists to be “not true Jews”, claiming to one man who said he was embarrassed to be a Methodist that “It sounds like your friends are Zionists, and not true Jews”, linking to a video of Neturei Karta, who make up a tiny minority of Jews worldwide. Manipulating debate to make only those Jews who agree with one’s position out to be the “true Jews” is antisemitic, as it is an attempt to silence dissent from Jews and brand some “good” or “true” and others as ‘false’ or somehow ‘bad’.
One commenter accused a critic of the exhibition of supporting “illegal organ harvesting, genocide, infanticide, holocaust”, claims which also amount to a modern day blood libel.
Yet another ranted “Zionism is simply a Mafia outfit. They hide behind the good name of judaism, the word anti semitic though they are not semitic people. Zionism and israel are the same as the Mafia and Italy. Bullies, tyrant, criminals, thieves, murderers, rapists and sadists but of the very worst type that humanity has ever witnessed. To pledge allegiance to such an evil entity is to spit in the face of every poor innocent jew who died in the holocaust and every poor little arab child who died as a result of such evil peoples actions”. Firstly, using the term “Mafia outfit” makes Zionism sound like a sinister, underground conspiracy, and thus appears to be playing on antisemitic conspiracy theories. Claiming that Zionists are “not semitic people” also attempts to deny Jewish Zioists of their identity. Finally, claiming that it is an insult to the victims of the Holocaust to become a Zionist is an outrageous comment not least for the fact that many Jews would have been justified in believing there could be no future for Jews in Europe after such an event. If anything, the Holocaust demonstrated to many Jews the need for Jews to live freely in an independent state, where they would not be subject to the whims and at the mercy of the ruling population. He later commented “Who are the Jews? Certainly not related to the israelites and with any ancestral claim to that land. At least the Palestines were living there at the time they were evicted amongst the very worst genocide”, this despite the fact that all Jews share more in common with one another than they do with surrounding populations. Once again, such comments are a cynical attempt to deprive Jews of their history, identity and peoplehood. Similarly, one woman writes “look what the world actually means, what a semite actually is. Hint: It’s not Israelis”. She also accused Israel of creating ISIS: “true, I agree with you, Helen. ISIS has nothing to do with Muslim faith and everything to do with your illegal state’s creation”.
Mike Isaacs posted on The Times website, “Perhaps the Methodist church could also have an exhibition of body parts of Jews blown apart by Palestinian terrorists, or failing that, a photo gallery of those knifed in their beds, or rammed at bus stops.”
Rabbi Barry Marcus, of the Central Synagogue told The Times, “Why the hell is a church wasting its resources on fanning the flames of antisemitism?” As put forth by the European Monitoring Centre, a key element of antisemitism is holding Israel to a different standard than other countries.
The display at the Hinde Street Method Church did not shine a spotlight on checkpoints at the borders of France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Hungary or Turkey.
The London Jewish community expressed outrage that a Methodist church would challenge Israel’s right to provide security measures that protect its citizens from being murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Peter Rogol posted on The Times website, “They don’t want [Israeli citizens] to be blown up on their buses, hence the security arrangements.”
After talks with The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the church gave the Zionist Federation permission to pass out booklets which justify Israel’s right to self-defense.
Whilst the potentially one-sided presentation of the exhibit is not antisemitic, and criticism of the state of Israel similar to that levelled at other democratic states is also certainly legitimate, the way in which this exhibit has singled Israel out seems to have played into the hands of those anti-Zionists who routinely allow their rhetoric to slip into unadulterated antisemitism. It is thus indicative in the need for balance and sensitivity to other perspectives when discussing such issues.
All the comments can be viewed here, including many not mentioned in the article.