A few days ago, some friends in Australia alerted me to a blog post written by former Bishop George Browning, who had been the 9th Anglican bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. Entitled, "Capitalism, Anti-Semitism & the Judaeo-Christian Ethic" (5 May 2017), this was an anti-Israel rant of biased and profoundly inaccurate misdirection, mixing outright lies with exaggerations. Towards the end, Browning denies that his article is anti-Semitic ("... rather than this critique being anti-Semitic, I believe it to be..."). Is he aware of the leading modern definition of anti-Semitism written by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and recognized by some 32 countries? This definition, like others before it such as the European EUMC and US State Department definitions, includes several clauses that identify unfair, incorrect and biased criticism of Israel, the world's only Jewish state, or setting double standards for it, that are anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, Browning's article, as shall be seen, falls without reserve into that definition. It is hard to understand how a man of his intelligence and personal involvement in Israeli-Palestinian matters should not know of or respect the IHRA definition. In order to make this clear, here are two clauses from the IHRA definition:
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Now, let me turn to several statements made by Browning.
"Universal justice appears to have become an unwelcome stranger in the land of Israel. Zionism's compulsive identification with land, has replaced justice as its core value."
What on earth can he mean? People all round the world have high regard for their land, and over centuries have fought and died for it. Patriotism is a common position for the Irish, the Scottish, the English, the Americans, the French, the Italians, the Tibetans, and hundreds more. The Palestinians, to whom Browning is intensely loyal -- he is, after all, President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network -- talk about little else but their right to the land and their love for it. But in Browning's mind, Jewish love of their ancestral land, a place to which Jews prayed to return for more than two millennia, supposedly overturns the ancient Jewish love for justice in a way other nations' love for their land does not. That is anti-Semitism.
Just after this he writes:
"The having, holding and conquering of land has seemingly become the arbiter of nationhood..."
Does Browning know so little about history? Jews did not conquer the modern land of Israel: they have lived on that land for three thousand years; and were officially given it first through the League of Nations Mandate system, then the United Nations Partition resolution, both reinforced by UN resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), all internationally-recognized and binding agreements.
In 1947, the Palestinian Arabs rejected the offer of a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state, and in 1948, five Arab countries launched an offensive war to drive the Jews out. Although this war failed, the Palestinians lost Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan, but few Palestinian Arabs complained. In 1967, Israel, fighting another defensive war, forced Egypt and Jordan out, but later made peace treaties with both countries, and in 2005 moved out of Gaza completely. Settlements within the West Bank, (originally the Jewish territories of Judea and Samaria) are legal under international law despite claims to the contrary, and all borders will be negotiated when and if the Palestinian leadership agrees to a peaceful resolution. Such offers that have been made in 1947, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008, but turned down every time by the Palestinians and their Arab allies.
Browning might do better to talk about the way Muslim Arabs originally seized not only the Holy Land -- by military conquest -- but also, over the centuries, Persia, the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and the Middle East, Greece, northern Cyprus, Spain, and most of eastern Europe. The only reason the Muslims insist on holding land is because of a ruling in jihad law that refuses to relinquish land once conquered, in the instance of Israel, by the Ottoman Empire. Is Browning actually aware of any of this, or is he just making things up as he goes along? Does he, a Christian, know he is advocating for the application of Islamic law? Or does he not care?
The bishop next tackles several positive statements made about Israel, but summarily dismisses them one by one. First is this:
"Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Hang on, no it is not. First of all, on who's [sic] definition of democracy? Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are afforded no rights while Arabs in Israel have differing and reduced rights to their Jewish counter parts."
What guff. First of all, the Palestinians wanted autonomy; Israel gave it to them; and this is how the Palestinians -- not the Israelis -- rule themselves. Gaza was completely evacuated by the Jews in 2005; in 2007, Hamas pushed Palestinian Authority leaders from the top floors of high buildings and threw all Fatah leadership, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, out of Gaza.
Moreover, what other democracies does Bishop Browning know of in the Middle East? Syria? Lebanon, under the control of the Iranian terrorist organization Hizbullah? Turkey, under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Erdogan? Egypt? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? Yemen? Iran?
Israel is neither a dictatorship nor a theocracy. It is by all measures a true democracy in which every adult citizen has the right to vote, to form or join a political party, and be elected to parliament. Arabs in Israel have exactly the same rights as citizens as Jews: they have political parties, they serve in the parliament (the Knesset), some serve as judges in Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, some serve as diplomats, they are free to worship (whether Muslims or Christians), their places of worship are protected under the Law for the Protection of Holy Places. Unlike all other countries in the Middle East, women in Israel (Muslims, Christians or Jews) have the same rights as men. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive cars or go out without male escorts. In Israel, many women are fighter pilots. Not a true democracy?
Arabs in Israel have exactly the same rights as citizens as Jews: they have political parties, they serve in the parliament, and some serve as judges in Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court. Pictured: Israel's supreme court justices, along with PM Netanyahu and President Rivlin. Salim Joubran, an Israeli-Arab Supreme Court justice, is in the middle of the second row. (Image source: Spokesperson unit of the President of Israel)
As for the West Bank, Palestinians certainly have rights. Under the Oslo Accords, the region is divided in three: Area A (where there are no Jews or Israeli settlements) is under the full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority (whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, is now in the undemocratic twelfth year of a 4-year term of office). Area B (also without Jews or Israeli settlements) is under joint Palestinian and Israeli control, and only Area C is under full Israeli control. The Israeli security presence is there to defend Israeli civilians from the thousands of terrorist attacks that have been, and still are, being launched by Palestinians. Since the majority of Palestinians live in Areas A and B, any ill-treatment they may suffer must chiefly be the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, not Israel.
Israel is not a perfect democracy. Nor is Australia. Nor is the UK. Nor is the US. And so on. So why does Browning both lie about Israel and single it out above other democracies as not a democracy? 68 percent of Israeli Arabs say they would rather live in Israel than in most Arab countries, because there they flourish.
Next comes Browning's most egregious lie:
"Israel is the only country in the Middle East that enables freedom of religion. Well, no. Israel claims to be a Jewish State. By definition the statement excludes those who are not Jews. The idea of Jerusalem as an historical centre for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike is being constantly eroded."
The fact that Israel is a Jewish state (or the Jewish state) no more impinges on freedom of religion there than being a Christian nation deters freedom of religion in the UK, US, Australia or elsewhere. Meanwhile, all the countries around Israel and beyond define themselves as Muslim, and there is no religious freedom in any of them. In fact, minorities are routinely persecuted or worse: Baha'is in Iran, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in the West Bank and Gaza all suffer fierce discrimination and often murder.
Take the Baha'is as an example. They are the largest religious minority in Iran, yet they are persecuted, executed, imprisoned and more by the state. All their holy places -- once visited by the author -- have been demolished. In Israel, they have their two holiest shrines, the seat of their international governing body, and their international archives and other bodies. These and their world-famous gardens have won them status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Israel allows them complete freedom. They are as much loved by the Jewish state for their peaceful and tolerant values as they are hated in their homeland.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Christian populations are being slaughtered and expelled in the hundreds of thousands. Israel is the only country in the region where the Christian population has increased year on year since the state's foundation in 1948. One wonders why Bishop Browning doesn't take this into account and prefers the Palestinian territories where hundreds of Christians have been killed or expelled.
Peace-loving Ahmadi Muslims, persecuted in Pakistan and other Islamic countries, live and worship freely in Israel: "Israel is the only country in the Middle East, where Ahmadi Muslims can openly practice their Islamic faith". All the mosques and holy places of Israel's Muslim communities are kept safe and secure, again by the country's Law for the Protection of Holy Places. The Palestinians, to whom Bishop Browning is so partial, kill and persecute Christians, murder apostates from Islam, and teach their children in schools to hate Jews and kill them. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Has Bishop Browning ever set eyes on it?
Finally says Browning:
"Israel is the only country in the Middle East that lives by the rule of law. Well, no, it does not."
Actually, it does. Certainly, it imprisons many Palestinians, but only Palestinians who have gone out to stab, shoot, ram, or bomb Israeli citizens (whether Jews or Arabs). Back in Northern Ireland, we used to imprison people for crimes like that, too. No one was ever imprisoned or interned without due process. Israel never executes its prisoners, even mass-murderers, and its jails are of a higher standard than most in other countries (the only capital crime is genocide, for which the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was put to death). No-one is imprisoned without an open and fair trial requiring Western standards of proof. In 1999, Israel's supreme court banned even the use of moderate physical pressure on terrorist suspects. In other words, there is no torture in Israeli prisons.
Israeli law is based on a series of Basic Laws that act as a constitution, as is England, and Israeli justice is open, transparent, and witnessed by international observers, journalists and countless human rights groups. In 2010, for instance, Moshe Katsav, who was president of Israel from 2000-2007, was sentenced to seven years in prison on rape and sexual harassment charges. The presiding judge at the Supreme Court was one George Karra, a Christian Arab. But I forgot, George Browning insists that Israeli Arabs have few rights.
Problems can indeed arise within the Israeli legal system. But the same applies to all other democracies with equal force. Why does Browning single Israel out and deny its basic lawfulness? Israeli law has remedies for miscarriages of justice, and the country's parliament is empowered to reform specific pieces of legislation should they prove in need of it. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, that are ruled under Islamic law, shari'a, heads are lopped off, limbs amputated, adulterers and homosexuals stoned to death. In Saudi Arabia, women have few rights at all and must suffer greatly in their daily lives. Yet Saudi Arabia now chairs the UN Women's Rights Commission. Why does Bishop Browning not focus on genuine cases of the abuse of law that harm innocent people? Why does he not take his Arab friends to task for their blatant disregard for human rights?
That mention of homosexuals reminds me that there are no laws in Israel against the rights of LGBT persons. In fact, Tel Aviv has a reputation as the most friendly city for gay men and women. Not a single Arab or Muslim country -- including the Palestinian Authority territory and Gaza under Hamas -- affords such rights even to the most limited degree. Come out as gay in Israel and you may be shown the way to the nearest gay bar. Do that in any Muslim state and you will be taken to the nearest high building and thrown from the roof.
In the last section, Browning also writes:
"The occupying force protects the illegal settlers and not the Palestinian civil population. Essential services are provided to the illegal settlers and restricted or denied the Palestinians."
Here again, this is without context or explanation. Browning only knows one side of the story. Israel has handed a large swathe of the West Bank to Palestinian control. As for denial of essential services to the Palestinians, how does Browning explain the fact that Gaza, under viciously anti-Israel rule by terrorist group Hamas, currently receives a thousand truckloads of essential goods daily through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel: humanitarian aid continued to be sent even while Hamas was firing thousands of rockets into Israel civilian centres. The amount of water sent to Palestinian territories has increased from 5 million cubic meters per year to 10 million. The Israel Electric Corporation has for years been supplying electricity to Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians often avoid paying for it, and currently owe the corporation about NIS 2 billion (about $555 million, nearly 500 million in euros) in debt.
Every year, thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank are treated in Israeli hospitals. Palestinian children are given heart surgery through an Israeli organization called Save a Child's Heart, along with children from around the world. Currently, hundreds of injured Syrians are treated in Israeli hospitals. Internationally, the World Health Organization has named Israel the leading country in the world for the field hospitals it builds in disaster zones, where Israel is a major player in providing aid. Special treatment for Jews alone? Really?
And here is something Bishop Browning might like to think hard about. In 2005, a young woman from Gaza, Wafa al-Biss, was taken to Israel's Soroka Hospital, where she received over several months treatment for severe burns suffered in a domestic fire. When released, she was given permission to return regularly for out-patient treatment. Not long after, she arrived at the Erez Crossing carrying a bomb strapped to her leg, which had been given to her by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. She had been told to explode it in the hospital in the same unit that had saved her life, and to kill as many children as possible.
Al-Biss is only one among hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians who have tried to smuggle guns, knives, suicide vests and bombs into Israel. Should anyone be surprised if Israel uses checkpoints and other security measures to save Jewish, Christian and Muslim lives? In the wave of terror that has continued for the past 18 months, Palestinians, including children, have used knives, scissors, and machetes to stab Jews, and cars to ram and kill pedestrians or police. Palestinians also suffer from the security this demands, by having to wait in queues at checkpoints or searches. That is regrettable, but hardly a reason to condemn Israel. Or would the good bishop prefer to see all this security abandoned, so that murderers could come onto Israeli streets, as they have done so often before, and take an ever-growing toll of innocent Israeli lives?
Browning is an outright anti-Semite who promotes the Palestinian narrative. He is far from being the only Christian clergyman who does so. What he and they may not realize is that the Palestinian narrative and the wider Arab and Muslim demand that Israel must be wiped out is not a Christian narrative. It is an Islamic narrative.
That demand is also what drives the Palestinian and wider Islamic demands for the creation of a vast Palestinian state that will replace Israel (even though there is already one unofficial Palestinian state: Jordan). Why does a Christian cleric prefer a Muslim understanding of affairs to an understanding of why, from Old Testament times on, Jews have linked their worship of God to the land they believe God gave them? For a Christian, Islamic law should have no standing whatever. But Jesus was a Jew who worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem and would be, if he returned, dismayed to learn that the Temple Mount is occupied by two Islamic buildings and that Jews are forbidden to go there or to pray there.
I do not take George Browning at his word. He is interested neither in justice nor in peace. He wants to deny the Jewish people the right to live on the only land that historically has been their sanctuary, their sole refuge from another Holocaust (a Holocaust that Browning's Palestinian friends daily threaten to repeat), the sole haven of democracy and Judaeo-Christian values in a troubled, disintegrating and often despotic Middle East. As Christianity declines across the globe and the forces of Islam gain strength, the day may yet come when Browning and his followers turn their eyes to Israel as a model of human achievement and promise for the future. And even perhaps as a refuge for his co-religionists in a region of death and destruction.
Dr. Denis MacEoin (PhD Cambridge 1979) is a former lecturer in Arabic an Islamic Studies at a UK university and currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at New York's Gatestone Institute. He is chairman of North-East Friends of Israel in the UK.