As I write, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party appear to be caught in an endless storm of accusation and counter accusation over claims of anti-Semitism within the party. To an outsider, this argument appears really complex, divisive and hurtful. Now, I don’t personally wish to enter into this argument within Labour, I am only an observer, however, let me share some stories.
During my recent Sabbatical, my wife and I spent a month at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. We engaged in a study trip, holy sites, lectures and lots of discussion. Our lecturers and guides reflected the complexity of the Israel/Palestinian situation. They included: Israeli Jews; Palestinian Christians; Palestinian Muslims; Western Christians living in Israel and Palestinian controlled territories. Now, having spent most of my adult life studying both the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) and the Christian Bible (Old and New Testament) I had gone out to the Holy Land thinking I had a pretty good handle on things Jewish and Christian, so would understand the Israel Palestinian situation. I was wrong.
I remember sitting in a lecture on Judaism led by an Orthodox Jew called Deborah. Most of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust. She went around the students and asked our names, I gave mine and she asked if I was Jewish and added that a member of her Synagogue, a famous artist, had the same name. I explained that my father’s family had been Jewish and converted to Christianity. I again saw the Jewish story in some way as my story.
As part of the course we visited a Palestinian refugee family in a Bethlehem refugee camp, refugees since the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, 70 years as refugees in houses observed by the UN. There on the outside wall of the house, just next to recent bullet holes was a large key, the key to their family home, which since 1948 was in Israeli controlled territory, a home they couldn’t return to. A people caught within the cross-fire of politics and they made it clear that by us being British, due to history, we were implicated.
One day, as part of the course, we embarked on a ‘Dual narrative tour of Israel’. We had two tour guides, one a Jew, a former Israeli Defence Force Officer who lived in an Israeli Settlement in Palestinian territory (for Settlement, think smart new town); the other guide, a Palestinian Muslim who had been jailed for taking part in the second intifada in 2000, both now wanting to work for peace. The two took us to various sites and told their story from different perspectives, right and wrong on both sides over many many years.
Following these slightly immersive experiences, we left Israel confused by the complexity and contradictions. Issues of justice, persecution and anti-Semitism; feelings, hurts, sensitivities and pain running deeply within both cultures over centuries and within us. The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible give a central teaching, worth recalling: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ coming from Leviticus 19:18 & quoted by the Jewish rabbi Jesus in Mark 12:31. No easy thing, yet trying to apply this to politics, our lives and our relationships is and will be transformative.