Julian Mann offers a reasoned Jewish response to ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’

It can be right for a local church to engage in controversy in the cause of Christ. But it would appear that Jewish objectors to the decision by St James’s Piccadilly in London to erect a replica of Bethlehem’s separation barrier around its building have got the better of the moral argument.

St James’s ran its Bethlehem Unwrapped event, with its 8-metre-tall, 30-metre-long wall the main spectacular, from December 23rd to January 5th. It explained the rationale: ‘At Christmas, we sing about the “little town of Bethlehem”. This Christmas, we are hosting a festival celebrating the people of Bethlehem today and drawing attention to the Barrier that affects every aspect of daily life.’ For the festival’s finale, the church invited a representative of the Embassy of Israel, London, to take part in a debate entitled ‘Both sides of the Barrier – separation or security?’ In an open letter to the congregation, the embassy explained its reason for not taking part, arguing that ‘this is not an event which is intended to deepen understanding or promote reconciliation but rather is a transparent attempt to incite against Israel and Israelis’.

‘Where we feel that there is an openness to genuine discussion, we are committed to participating and engaging in genuine debate. However, to participate in an event of this nature would in our view be a disservice to the hundreds of Israelis, Jews and Christians alike, murdered in acts of suicide terrorism which the barrier was established to prevent.’ Jewish journalist Melanie Phillips has also objected to what she called a ‘stunt’ by St James’s. She has written an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in which she pointed out that ‘since this security barrier was constructed, the number of Israelis murdered in terrorist attacks has decreased by some 70 per cent – while the number of attempted attacks remains high’. She also told Archbishop Welby that St James’s ‘unaccountably makes no mention of the fact that, while the Christians of the Middle East are…being persecuted and murdered, the only country in the region where Christians are thriving and increasing, in a society that allows them total freedom of worship, is Israel’. The politically incorrect truth apparently evaded by St James’s with its mock-up ‘separation wall’ is that Israel is a relatively safe haven for Christians in a region dogged by Islamist terror and government indifference.