The Church of England, whose supreme governor is the Queen, and is represented in the House of Lords, nevertheless has supported the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) since its inception, and in 2012 their General Synod overwhelmingly voted in favor of a private members motion on Palestine/Israel, in spite of pressure from pro-Israel organisations. I saw no good reason not to hire a room from one of their churches in London for a talk by Miko Peled on ‘Journey of an Israeli in Palestine’.
My group, Keep Talking, was set up in 2010 in order to maintain a presence in London of the 9/11 Truth movement, following its rapid decline and in-fighting over allegations of ‘antisemitism’. Since then we have held meetings every month, with just three being cancelled because of interventions by the Israel lobby. However, we had subsequently had two talks by Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon, who had renounced his Jewishness and called into question the concept of Jewish identity. These meetings passed off without incident, and so I was emboldened to invite Miko Peled to give a talk about his experiences. He too had been born an Israeli Jew, but when his ten-year-old sister was killed in a Palestinian suicide bombing he started to find out what could induce his Palestinian neighbours to act so desperately. He subsequently wrote books on the subject, most notably ‘The General’s Son’.
The meeting passed off without incident in October 2019 in a packed room for 40 at St Anne’s Church in Soho, London. I counted 55. The staff were very helpful. They even drew up a poster announcing for the meeting, with a photo of Miko Peled as if he were directing people. There really was a good relationship between us, and I felt that we would be welcome to book the room on future occasions, especially on the Palestinian topic.
Miko Peled told us that he had just attended the Labour Party conference, where he had given a talk at a fringe meeting. The main topic of conversation had been Palestine. But he did say that he had been described as “the most antisemitic person in the Labour Party”. That was so ridiculous, since he was an Israeli Jew, that he gained a round of applause. This was clearly fake antisemitism. At the end of his talk, when thanking him, I felt that the initial round of applause could possibly be used against him, so I told him that he had competition in the “Patron Saint of Israel”, Theodor Herzl, whose diaries show him to be the most antisemitic person in history. He had advocated the transfer of ‘poor Jews’ from Europe to Palestine in a military operation at the behest of the ‘rich Jews’. I had written that up in my article ‘UK’s Labour Antisemitism Split: Just what the Doctor Prescribed’, which had appeared in March 2019 in the Unz Review.
In view of the welcome we had felt on the evening of Miko Peled’s talk, we were amazed the following Monday to be alerted to an ‘apology’ posted by the rector of St Anne’s Church on their website, stating:
St Anne’s Church, Soho allows its Hall and Allen Room to be used for a variety of events for the benefit of our diverse community. It was in this spirit that we accepted a room booking from an organisation called ‘Keep Talking’ for them to hold an evening entitled ‘Journey of an Israeli in Palestine’. Unfortunately, this event, which was entirely separate from the church, may not have accurately reflected our values or those of our community.
The church was neither organising nor promoting the event, and it did not appear in any of our publicity. However, I regret that we inadvertently gave a platform, however small, to anyone whose words on the night, or reputation from the past, had the potential to cause offense. That was not our intention. St Anne’s absolutely opposes any form of hatred: be it racism, homophobia or antisemitism. We apologise for the offence that has been caused to members of the Jewish Community and will be donating the room hire fee to Community Security Trust. This is the first time a situation like this has arisen here, but as a result we will also be reviewing our booking procedure with the aim of ensuring it does not happen again.
That text was posted on Sunday, 6 October. I first heard about it the following day. We had received no communication from St Anne’s church, let alone the opportunity to comment. The ‘apology’ stayed on their website for a fortnight or so, before being taken down.
In the meantime, a group called ‘Hope not Hate’ had posted a series of tweets about our meeting. This was a group that had played a leading role in closing down previous meetings, which had not been about Palestine, Israel, Zionism or even 9/11. As had happened before, they had no word of criticism of the contents of the talk, but they wrote only of people in attendance, accusing them of being ‘far-right’ or ‘Holocaust deniers’. They even posted an old picture of one of them at an event hosted by Jeremy Corbyn, which appeard in the Daily Mail to incriminate Jeremy Corbyn. These tweets demonstrate how a vilification campaign can be built up from very little. This campaign is clearly part of the same campaign of innuendo that has been raging within the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader.
Nick Kollerstrom wrote a courteous and well-reasoned letter to the church. He didn’t receive a reply. My own approach was harder, because I had recognised the very careful wording in the ‘apology’, as gaslighting. I wrote at some length to the Parish Administrator, saying that I was astounded that St Anne’s Church, having been such a sympathetic host, could now turn round and denounce such a person as Miko Peled.
I then referred to the vile insinuations about out meeting that Hope not Hate had been putting out, and pointing out that they are a political campaigning group and a registered charity, which is not allowed under English charity law. My letter continued:
Hope not Hate claim to be standing up against hatred, but the means by which they operate are by naming people as ‘Fascists’, ‘Holocaust Deniers’ and ‘antisemites’. That is a hate campaign. I know good Christians who feel very, very strongly about that, and very strongly, too, about Christian churches who go along with that sort of skulduggery.
I was therefore perturbed this morning to receive a link to your statement at https://stannes-soho.org.uk/an-apology/ . I am therefore asking for an explanation from St Anne’s Church about this statement. Your statement apologises to ‘the Jewish community’. I would like to ask which Jewish community, because Jews are very divided on this issue. I think most Orthodox Jews would be very supportive of Miko Peled’s stand.
My letter then elaborated on the points made above about Miko Peled, and the fake antisemitism campaign in the Labour Party. “There are two Jewish organisations in the Labour Party, one that is critical of Zionism and one that is supportive of Zionism, and is behind much of the false allegations of antisemitism directed at Jeremy Corbyn, one of the most fair-minded people I have ever met. That is why our speaker was applauded for that. The reason Jeremy Corbyn has been targeted is that he has in the past spoken out in support of the Palestinians. Our speaker explained how anyone who is supportive of the plight of the Palestinians gets branded by the Zionist lobby as ‘antisemitic’, even Jews like himself. There is much disquiet amongst many Jews at what is going on”.
I requested a meeting with the rector so that he could “explain the church’s statement, which I regard as defamatory and un-Christian. But in the meantime I request a written reply to this letter”.
The rector replied:
As promised here is the written reply to your letter that you requested in your email to our administrator on Monday.
You misquote my apology by stating that I said that it apologised ‘to the Jewish community’, which you rightly queried as the Jewish ‘Community’, just like the ‘Christianity community’ is made up of many communities. It is for that reason my apology is specifically made to ‘members of the Jewish Community’ i.e. a number of individuals rather than any one group.
Amongst the things we have learned from this experience is that there will always be people who will be unhappy with any position that we take or comment that we make. Just as you are unhappy that I should have apologised to those who were offended by either the content or reputation of anyone who spoke at your meeting, so I have received several emails from those who still feel my apology does not go far enough.
I have sought to be careful in this matter as I was not at the meeting to defend what you (if you spoke) or Miko Peled said, nor have I been able to confirm with those who phoned or emailed to complain that any accusation made against anyone who was present is correct. But I recognise that a talk from someone who has clearly provoked controversy in the past is enough to cause reasonable offence to people. I am fully supported by senior members of the Diocese that a church in Soho- a place which cherishes peaceful diversity rather than courting controversy- should apologise in this instance.
I do not accept your accusation of our apology being defamatory.
I had not made an accusation of their apology being defamatory; I, too, had chosen my words carefully. However, the reverend does make it clear that he is referring to Miko Peled and unconfirmed accusations. He had stated in the apology text that they regretted giving “a platform”, and the only people on the platform – figuratively, because there was no physical platform – were Miko Peled and myself, and he didn’t know whether I spoke. I replied:
Yes, you wrote ‘members of the Jewish community’, not ‘some members of the Jewish community’. That would imply to most people ‘all members of the Jewish community’. That is just as bad as condemning ‘Jews’ instead of ‘some Jews’. I note that you admit to very careful wording. We have ‘members of the Jewish community’ in our group, and that includes our speaker for the evening Miko Peled, whom you have implicitly accused of antisemitism. Miko Peled is an honorable man.
I pointed out that no-one had criticised Miko Peled’s talk, and that it therefore was not controversial, and added: “You have implicitly, with your very careful wording, endorsed Hope not Hate’s lies and innuendos, with ‘plausible denial’. To attack someone on the basis that he has been attacked is immoral. What you say in your email suggests that you are in favour of sending people to Coventry on the basis of them having been criticised. Your statement, together with this email, is outrageous”. I requested a meeting.
The rector replied: “In response to your email I am not willing to meet with you and Miko next Wednesday as I do not believe this would be a productive conversation. You have made your feelings very clear and I am unable to engage in further dialogue over this matter. I wish you both well and hope that we can move on peacefully and respectfully.” That is a technique I am familiar with: to implicitly cause offence, and then when the person replies talk about moving on peacefully and respectfully, as if it’s the other person’s fault. Miko Peled replied to him:
This is very disappointing. We will not be able to move on because your apology has emboldened the people to whom you apologized and they are now terrorizing other groups and demanding an apology quoting your apology as a precedent.
You have placed others who agree with me on the issue of Palestine in a very difficult position. If you will not meet with us please put out a public statement and clarify your position so that it is clear you are [words missing?]
It giving license to the Zionist groups to pressure others to issue an apology.
Discussion with a parishioner
One of our attendees then wrote to me saying that he had visited the church for Morning Prayer, and that he had a long chat with the rector. “His difficulty”, he wrote, “arose from the reputation of your organisation and its involvement with people who embrace seemingly nutty conspiracy ideas amongst which is holocaust denial”.
That explanation from the Reverend was at odds with the one he gave to me, which was clearly targeting the speaker, as “someone who has clearly provoked controversy in the past”. Clearly, the presence of certain people in the audience was only an excuse. Our meeting didn’t “fuel the activities of the Israel lobby”, and nor did it “prejudice the defence of the interests of the Palestinians”. The plain fact is that the Israel lobby can target anyone who in any way defends the interests of the Palestinians. As regards “nutty conspiracy ideas”, I searched the Authorised King James version of the Bible for the letters ‘conspir’, and retrieved 30 mentions. The Israel lobby could do to the Church of England exactly what it did to us, or to Jeremy Corbyn, and for the same reason, because the Church of England, too, supports the defence of the people of Palestine.
The Church of England is clearly split over Palestine, with the leadership under pressure from the Israel lobby. The issue of the redefinition of ‘antisemitism’ affected the Church of England, too, and was hugely controversial. “The House of Bishops formally adopted the IHRA document without any of the usual detailed and lengthy debate that normally takes place before the Church of England makes changes to any aspect of its ways of working”, wrote one reporter, who accused the Church of England of stifling Palestinian solidarity. Interestingly, the World Council of Churches in 2012 published a report ‘Faith Under Occupation: The Plight of Indigenous Christians in the Holy Land’. According to this report, “in 1948, the Christian population of the Holy Land was more than 18 percent, and today it is less than 2 percent. Once Bethlehem was more than 90% Christian; now Christians are a mere 15% there.” They point out: “Many people in the West tend to view the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict as a Muslim-Jewish one, and unless they belong to either of these faiths, they often find it difficult to relate to the conflict and those who are affected by it”, and they conclude, “The clearest conclusion that we gathered from these case studies is that Palestinian Christians are disproportionately affected by the occupation”. Yet the top echelons of the Church of England seem to take more notice of the Israel lobby than they do of the rank-and-file Christians.
In Miko Peled’s subsequent talk in Hastings, he talked during the question and answer session about the plight of the large community of ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel, who are consciencious objectors and as such are regarded as deserters. The police, he said, “go into the neighbourhood and they look for deserters, and they grab them by the beards, and yank them, and beat the hell out of these guys, at two o’clock in the morning – very similar to what they do to the Palestinians. … These guys by their thousands are being persecuted by the Israeli police and I swear to you, if you look at – if you see the videos of what goes on when the mounted police on horseback come into those neighbourhoods and start smashing skulls, it’s beyond belief. OK?”. Clearly, there’s no such thing as ‘the Jewish community’, and Jews do not constitute ‘a people’. Orthodox Jews in Israel and in London burn the Israeli flag on Independence Day. So why did the Reverend apologise to secular apologists for the world’s only pogrom state?
We’re all Palestinians now
Meanwhile, I came across an article by pro-Israeli activist Jonathan Hoffman, who had recently been convicted of disorderly behaviour. At the end of his article was a photo of a man holding an Israeli flag at the entrance to St Anne’s Church, under which were the words: “At our protest outside the Church on 6 October, the Rector promised to publish this apology on the Church website and the Bishop of London undertook to remind all London Clergy that bookings for meetings must be properly checked”. The guy in that picture looks like Jonathan Hoffman.
I wrote back to my informer: “Whilst I can sympathise with your rector in the face of such intimidation, I do feel he should have been more honest with us”.
So how can the Church of England be held to ransome by a violent thug posing as a gatekeeper and holding an Israeli flag? This case illustrates the techniques of gaslighting, gatekeeping and mob rule, in taking control of organisations. I gain some inspiration from this case, because our meeting brought together ordinary people from various interest groups, who are facing common adversaries. Activists from these groups need to work more together. We are all Palestinians now.