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What on earth is going on at Friends House?

This is a guest post by Pissed-off Jew

I have known many Quakers over the years, and have great respect for them. I am shocked by what seems to be happening at Friends House.

Quaker principles can cause fine people to perform fine actions, but they can also be a cover for sanctimonious hypocrisy. The hypocrites rely on the fact that it somehow doesn’t “do” to criticise Quakers. Quakers themselves have an enormous amount invested in believing in the good faith of their fellow Quakers. The hypocrites use that, too, to avoid criticism.

There are two political/religious positions in particular which can lead not just Quakers but many other people into trouble. One is sympathy with the oppressed and the underdog; the other is a belief in dialogue rather than confrontation.

Sympathy with the oppressed is a fine principle, but it can lead us to sentimentalise the objects of our sympathy, which is also to condescend to them. If we don’t see oppressed people as complex, as people like ourselves, if in particular we don’t see them as political beings but as people capable only of reacting to oppression; then we are patronising those we profess to support, and we begin to have a vested intellectual and political interest in playing down the aspects of their lives and their politics which don’t fit in with our rosy view of them.

And we risk being suckered. Once a particular narrative about oppressor and oppressed takes hold in the imagination it is extremely hard to dislodge it. To take a topical example: the story that the Israelis have a stranglehold on Gaza and as a result its people are starving has taken such a grip that even the wholly implausible story of the Mavi Marmara is accepted without question.

Above all, we risk falling for conspiracy theories; and having done so, we are likely to spread them about. We will also, of course, disbelieve anything we are told by those whom we believe to be the conspirators.

When this happens, we become part of the problem, and we need confronting.

Belief in dialogue rather than confrontation is very good – but only up to a point. Taken too far, it becomes a failure to confront what needs to be confronted. And, again, it can be a cover for hypocrisy.

The biggest conspiracy theory of our time is the myth of Jewish power. The story of the all-powerful “Jewish lobby” is a current manifestation of this. Jews are the only minority to whom this mythical power is attributed. It is the identifying mark of anti-Semitism; it is what makes anti-Semitism unique among racisms.

So, turning to the lettings people at Friends House, the position seems to me to be this. They are not in sympathy with the aims of Hizb-ut-Tahrir: they are Quakers, and no Quaker wants to restore the Caliphate, impose Sharia law, make all non-Muslims second-class citizens, and punish (by death) “apostates” from Islam. What is more, Friends House are right to think that no one should be prevented from publicly arguing for those aims (although in my view no one should feel obliged to give them a platform either). But the case being made against Hizb-ut-Tahrir by Harry’s Place is that Hizb-ut-Tahrir are anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers who want to see the destruction of Israel and condone or even support the use of terrorism against Israel.

What is striking about the response of Friends House to the material sent to them over a long period by Harry’s Place is failure to address this, the real issue. To refuse to hold Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the UK responsible for the statements of its members overseas and demand evidence of statements made by members in the UK is ridiculous, since Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an international political movement. But in any case, evidence of statements made in meetings held at Friends House is available, and should have made their hair stand on end.

The position taken by Friends House is simply a convenient device for ignoring evidence of anti-Semitism. And there can be only one reason for that: the people at Friends House believe the attack on them by Harry’s Place is an attempt by the Jewish lobby to silence Hizb-ut-Tahrir. That is an indication of their anti-Semitism.

This should not surprise regular readers of Harry’s Place: it is of a pattern with their refusal to meet with the Community Security Trust.

That anti-Semites should have got themselves into a position of power in Friends House is shocking, and a dreadful thing for the Society of Friends; but it is not wholly surprising.

The anti-Israel narrative that has such wide currency has enabled anti-Semites who would previously have remained silent to show their hand. It has also led people who are ignorant and easily swayed to believe conspiracy stories about the Jews. This is particularly a problem among those with inclinations towards pacifism, Green issues and animal rights – movements full of good people that are also movements riddled with simplistic ideas and conspiracy theories.

Sadly, the smokescreen of sanctimony that has been thrown up, and the difficulty Quakers have believing ill of their fellow Quakers, may make it hard for good Quakers to see what is happening. I hope I am wrong.

Offended Jew responds in the comments:

The “Friends” are heavily involved in, and were / are acting as UK agent for, EAPPI – The Ecumenical Accompaniement Programme in Palestine and Israel – a wholly unsavoury but very effective propaganda tool used by the rejectionist (and arguably anti-Semitic) World Council of Churches to dupe the “well-meaning” and “bleeding hearts” of the “liberal” churches.

The Friends Meeting House in Chelmsford held a public soiree entitled “Experiences of Palestine” which hosted two hopelessly biased and remarkably uninformed speakers (one a volunteer from EAPPI and the other a hardline posing as a “sweetness liberal” from Zaytoun – selling Palestinian olive produce with lies and attitude),
the Jewish community requested but was denied a place on the platform. But, and despite the soiree being held on a Jewish holy day (Simchat Torah) some of the Jews of Chelmsford and many of their non-Jewish friends attended this harangue, vocally expressed displeasure at the lies being peddled (two of their members very demonstrably walked out at an extremely ridiculous point in the “slide show”) and when one of Jewish attendees endeavoured to put the record straight on water issues, the meeting was abruptly adjourned in chaos.

Subsequent to the soiree, the Chelmsford Meeting wheeled in their heavy hitter on the pro-Palestinian line, a voice complete with all the right platitudes and slogans but no real knowledge except a skewed view from the likes of Sabeel and Living Stones on basic replacement theology. A series of meetings ensued between delegations from Chelmsford “Friends” (with their political advisor) and from the Chelmsford Jewish Community). These meeting led nowhere and the the Jews of Chelmsford subsequently announced that they could no longer avail themselves of the “spiked” welcome at Chelmsford’s Friends Meeting House, where they had met for in excess of thirty years and had even contributed to refurbishment works to the premises! The FMH today is awash with posters and literature attacking those nasty oppressive Israelis and decrying those little towns of Bethlehem weeping.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the Friends House in Euston Road is the regular venue for all sorts of extremist lectures and meetings including speakers who have pronounced support for the concept of suicide bombing and such lovely organisations as HAMAS and Hizbollah.

Additionally, the Society of Friends in the UK was the first “mainstream” Christian church to allign itself with the “Enough!” coalition and other virulently anti-Israel organisations. The Quakers participated in the “Enough!” Trafalgar Sq rally in 2007 when speakers included an array of the worst rejectionist and anti-Semitic orators, crowned by a video link direct to Gaza where Ismail Haniyeh (the Hamas “PM”) addressed the crowd to voluptuous applause. Here is a link to the event with a whos’ who of hatred politics. Note the Quakers for Peace banner! http://www.inminds.com/enough.occupation.9.june.2007.php

This is not the first time that virulently antisemitic views have been accommodated in the name of peace.