Welby angers Jewish leaders over Israel letter


19 December 2021

His Excellency
The Most Reverend Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

Your Grace,

It is with great regret that I, as President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, feel the need to respond to your article in the Sunday Times about the situation in the Holy Land, having found certain passages deeply troubling.

I agree entirely that assaults on the Christian community in the Holy Land, carried out by extremists, are unacceptable. All people of faith have the right to freedom of worship and belief. If your article had focussed solely on the attacks that Christian clergy, communities and places of worship have tragically suffered, then this response would not have been necessary.

The article offers its own reasons for the decline of the Christian population in the Holy Land. I note that in the past century, both in Israel’s heartlands and the West Bank, the demographics show that the Palestinian population has increased significantly. If the overall Palestinian population has greatly increased, but the Palestinian Christian population has significantly declined, then clearly there are more complex reasons than those raised in the article, which appeared to attribute this decline to Jewish settlers and the barrier built to halt the wave of terror attacks of the Second Intifada.

I was especially troubled by your description of “the first Christmas”, which allows for the possibility of comparison to current events. In particular, I noted your reference to “the backdrop of a genocide of infants”, a clear reference to the narrative of the “Massacre of the Innocents”, as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. I found this reference troubling because of the potential linkage which could be made between Christianity, Jews and the killing of children in any current context.

This is particularly distressing because I know that you have advocated for policies that support Jewish communal concerns. I fear that rather than encouraging reasoned dialogue on the issues you raise, this may in fact divide communities.

I would ask for a meeting with you to discuss our concerns and seek a way forward in which we can work together more closely in the pursuit of peace and harmony between Jewish and Christian communities – not just in the Holy Land, but in this country as well.

Yours sincerely,

Marie van der Zyl