Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:04 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 8:04 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this timely debate. I want to speak from a specifically Christian perspective and make a single point.

Relationships between Jews and Christians in this country have been totally transformed during the past 70 years. Much of that has been due to the Council of Christians and Jews, which was founded in the darkest days of the war by the then Chief Rabbi and the then Archbishop of Canterbury.

The CCJ, whose priority continues to be work against anti-Semitism in schools, universities and elsewhere, has found in its work that the most contentious issue is, as we would expect, the state of Israel. The Christian constituency itself has a very wide range of views between on the one hand Christian-Zionists, who are far more Zionist than most Jews, and those Christians whose overriding priority is solidarity with Palestinian suffering.

Church bodies—the Vatican and the reformed churches—have issued statement after statement trying to come to some kind of consensus within Christianity about its attitude. An American scholar, Paul Van Buren, summing up that range of statements, stated what he thinks is the minimum requirement. He put it in these words:

"Because the state of Israel is in part the product of the ancient and living hope of the Jewish people and is of deep concern to almost all Jews, disregard for its safety and welfare is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people".

Of course there will be passionate debate in all universities about the Middle East and on the policies of the state of Israel, but it seems to me that those words of Paul Van Buren are non-negotiable for everyone taking part in that debate, Christian, Muslim or whoever. Disregard for the safety and welfare of the state of Israel is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people.