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How the 2013 Methodist Conference was ambushed

Bruce ThompsonNigel McCulloch

We have seen how, since the 2010 conference the Board of Deputies has successfully secured a veto on theological debate in the Methodist church.  What follows is an account of how they managed to ambush and wreck the 2013 conference.

A Notice of Motion from the floor attempted to salvage something from the refusal of the leadership to touch the subject of Christian Zionism. It essentially expressed disappointment that the leadership had chickened out in respect of the Christian Zionism report. The petrified leadership firmly closed ranks against this motion. Just how scared of the Board they had become by this time is well illustrated by the fact that Alison Tomlin, who had been President at the time of the 2010 conference, and a supporter of the boycott motion, refused to be a signatory, explaining that they might be accused of being anti-Z ionist and thought to be anti-Semitic

Before the conference, was a motion that might conveniently be divided into two parts.

Part one……

The conference expresses its concern over the deteriorating situation in the West Bank making a “two state solution“ more and more difficult in Israel Palestine.  This deterioration is evidenced by:

  • The continuing  expansion of settlements and outposts across the West Bank
  • The large numbers of detentions of children by the Israeli army and the alleged abuse they suffer while being held by the military
  • The continuing demolitions of homes and other structures particularly in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.
  • The contrast between the supply of water to Palestinian communities and Israeli settlements

Part two……

Notice of motion 201:  Expressing concern over the continuing occupation of the west Bank. Recognising the call of the prophet Micah to “ do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”  Conference directs the Methodist Council to ensure that the joint Public Issues Team  prepare a briefing  document for the Methodist People upon the arguments for and against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement and for the Methodist Council to bring a report based upon the briefing to the Conference of 2014.

In the event the first part of the motion was dropped, here’s how and why. In the aftermath of the 2010 resolution  to boycott settlement goods certain Methodist Christian Zionists formed the “Methodist Friends of Israel.”  We have to say this was not before time, and we wonder what took them so long.  No organisation is complete unless and until it has a Friends of Israel section.  Even our local girl guide troop has got one. Unfortunately MFI  has  turned out to be a desultory damp squib reminiscent of Academic Friends of Israel (Ronnie Fraser, Mrs Fraser and an old IBM adding machine).

However, the Board had a brilliant idea, in that they realised they had put together a highly effective model  that could be DUPLICATED, rather like a McDonald’s franchise.  This is the Board/Council of Christians and Jews model. We have seen how the CCJ  has evolved into nothing more than an arm of the Board, there to do its bidding.  To act as its advocate at church conferences, synods etc., to put “Christian” pressure on other Christians in order to get them into line with the Board’s requirements, even to front legal action against other Christians when the Board deems it prudent not to front them itself.  It has been a highly successful arrangement, however you look at it.

The idea was to duplicate this arrangement with particular reference to the Methodists.  You might wonder why this was necessary.  Couldn’t they just use the existing  CCJ/Board infrastructure?  They can, have, and doubtless will continue to do so.  However, among the churches, the Methodists are deemed to be excessively and uniquely troublesome, and it is felt that an arrangement that solely concentrates on targeting them, is appropriate.  That is, a kind of Council of Methodists and Jews.

A major requirement was to duplicate the CCJ  role of Nigel McCulloch.  They needed a weighty Christian Zionist Methodist to head the organisation up.  Someone of some standing in the church that the Board could use to advocate for them, particularly at Conferences, and to mobilise Christian Zionist forces within the Church. They found just the man in Rev. Bruce Thompson.

So, Methodist Friends of Judaism was born.  Friends of Judaism, note, not Friends of Israel. This is duplication, and an important element of the CCJ/ Board model is that the CCJ started life as an organisation devoted to exploring common spiritual ground between Christians and Jews and working for greater understanding, at a time when the scale of the horrors being perpetrated by the Nazis was beginning to enter peoples’ consciousness.  It was essentially an initiative of the then Chief Rabbi, Joseph Hertz and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who many say is the greatest ever Archbishop.  Temple must be turning in his grave.

Unfortunately, these laudable objectives are now just historical curiosities.  It is now just an arm of the Board, devoted to helping the Board with its political objectives.  It is, however, important that people in general still perceive it as how it was, and how it was meant to be.  Most do, so perceive it, including most of its own membership. The problem is not at grass roots, but at the centre, where the leadership has hijacked it in pursuance of its own Christian Zionist agenda.

In line with the model, there is no mention of Israel whatsoever on the MFJ website.  It could, for all the world, be a re-hash of the CCJ  founding principles.  Both mission statements speak of combating anti-Semitism of course,  but while the CCJ  founding document is content to speak of “anti-Semitism”, the MFJ  speak of  “….anti-Semitism in all its guises.”  Nowadays anti-Semitism has lots of guises.  This enables the Hasbarafia to maximise their chances of finding some and maximises the opportunities to accuse someone of it.  The guise they have in mind of course, is overly energetic criticism of The State of Israel.

The Board made a big thing out of the launch of MFJ.  In the founding day photos, you will note the inevitable presence of Natan “the hammer” Levy and Board President Vivian Wineman.  Wineman is about as interested in inter faith relations, except as a political weapon, as you are in last Sunday’s results in the 4th division of the Albanian basketball league.

The Methodist 2013 conference was the first notable, measurable success of MFJ.

Faced with resolutions they don’t like, the Board usually try to get them removed without a vote.  On this occasion, they went about it in the most extraordinary manner, attempting a move that you wouldn’t have thought had any conceivable chance of succeeding, but which in fact, did succeed.  Thompson was clearly schooled and given very specific instructions.  As the resolution was being presented, he leapt to his feet without being invited to speak by the Vice President, and declared that the statements in the first part of  the resolution were untrue and therefore, put the church at risk of legal action.  Instead of him being told to sit down and quit playing silly buggers, his intervention was taken seriously.

It is reported that chaos ensued, the proceedings were adjourned for more than an hour, and the church’s legal officer was consulted.  The legal officer came up with the most astonishing piece of non advice.  She explained that she did not know enough about Israel/Palestine or of the law relating to defamation to form an opinion, but perhaps the church should err on the side of caution.  The first part of the resolution was therefore removed.

The removed statements are extensively evidenced, but that is hardly the point.  You don’t need to be a specialist lawyer or even any kind of a lawyer or even more than 5 years old, to grasp the absurdity of the idea that the church would be sued for defamation by a country.  A country, not being a “person”.

One can understand the conference being wrong-footed by Thompson’s intervention, but Thompson and the BoD had obviously planned this well in advance.  Thompson himself, must have known that what he was saying was ridiculous, and the BoD members, in whose shadow he was standing, certainly would.  Arkush is a barrister and Wineman is an ex-partner in a high powered firm of London  solicitors.  The BoD executive are awash with lawyers.

In other words, Thompson was not taking a serious part in the business of the conference, which he was ostensibly there to do, but pulling a cheap stunt on behalf of his masters.  This speaks volumes of his character.  Or the lack, thereof.  The lack of character of the BoD executive is well established and doesn’t need thrashing further, here.

You might think that this little wheeze would have  been highly satisfying for the Board, and they would be content to bask in the warm glow emanating from it for a while.  You would be wrong.  The whining about the part of the resolution that was passed (overwhelmingly) immediately started, led by Arkush.  It has to be said, it was more subdued than on other occasions, and the interfaith relations card was only  played in a very low key manner, probably because of the light we have been shining on this tactic.  They hate light.  This time, the emphasis was on the resolution having a detrimental effect on the peace process. But it does illustrate once again, that when you engage with these people, they will never be satisfied. However far you move it will never be enough until you have been dragged all the way to the zero sum position of no criticism of The State of Israel.


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If it works for the Board of Deputies, it’ll work for us.  ~Editor

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