The row over the 'alternative lessons and carols' at St James' Piccadilly last Wednesday is escalating as the implications begin to sink in of a part of the established Church of England allowing itself to be used for such abhorrent anti-Zionist propaganda. In one of the most important posts she has done for a while, Irene Lancaster draws together today some of the threads of why this was both significant and a shameful disgrace to Sir Christopher Wren's beautiful church and the wider Christian community, most of which must surely share her dismay. Jonathan Hoffman, vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation, and who demonstrated outside the event, said: 'These things are a lightning rod for anti-Semites. This was an event which offended 99.9 per cent of Jews and about 95 per cent of Christians, an event which should never have taken place. To take carols and doctor them in order to vilify Israel is really unacceptable.' He claimed the event was being touted outside St James' as a normal carol service. 'We were able to disabuse people and dissuaded about 10 people from going in.'
Irene wrote to Lambeth Palace about the service, and was told this by a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff: 'This is not a matter for the Archbishop or the C of E nationally to comment as it so obviously is a piece of rather unpleasant publicity seeking by a collection of small groups who should not be encouraged by being given attention. My mother used to say of us when we were misbehaving: 'Don't take any notice, it only encourages them' . St James' is in the diocese of London and has a long idiosyncratic history. It is no more reflective of the views of the Church of England than Jews for boycotting Israel is reflective of the Jewish community.'
One fact used in defence of this event, as the organisers insist on describing it, even though calling it 'nine lessons and carols' is a direct mirror of the style of a carol service, is that it was organised by members of the Jewish community. Harry's Place has an interesting comment on the service, and on some of those members of Britain's Jewish community who are also anti-Zionist.
This is what Michael Gove says in The Times today:
'One thing that has sent me ballistic this week is the decision by St James's Piccadilly to host a special service in which the words of traditional carols have been rewritten to convey an anti-Israeli message. The service is part of a broader campaign to encourage the boycott of goods from Israel, much as we once boycotted goods from South Africa.
'Apart from pointing out that declining to buy things on the ground that they're made by Jewish people is not, historically, a good road to go down, I am staggered that people should equate a democracy struggling to preserve human rights in the face of terrorist assault with the apartheid regime. And I am speechless at a church's collaboration with this festival of anti-Semitism. So I shall use another's words and ask that they be forgiven, for clearly, they cannot know the enormity of what they do.'
Just a minor point of interest. The Rector of St James' has been inundated with complaints and is wisely thinking twice about whether he should hold the service again. Perhaps he should have thought it through better in the first place. But with this in mind, I called the organisers and asked them if they had any regrets. They called back to say no, but also posted on a Yahoo message group about it, which is a first for me, to have not even an article but a mere telephone conversation discussed in this way! In this discussion group, Michael's excellent article is described by them as 'stupid'.
They then email me separately, suggesting Michael's piece is 'potentially libellous', and warning me not to fall into the same 'traps' in the article I'm writing for tomorrow.
I mention that, folks, just so you know what you're up against. But then, you probably did already.