Archbishop Michael Peers’ recent statement on Middle East conflict not only caused a furor among readers of church media, but also sparked a meeting between the Anglican primate and Israel’s ambassador.
Israeli ambassador Haim Divon requested the May 9 meeting to express his government’s “displeasure” with some of the church’s positions on the Middle East. Mr. Divon said he also hoped to begin an ongoing dialogue with the head of one of the largest denominations in Canada.
Archbishop Peers’ statement, which appeared on the national church’s website in early April and in the May issue of the Anglican Journal, generated an overwhelming response from around the world. (This month, the Journal devotes an entire page to readers’ letters about the statement.)
“There are things which we might not agree on,” said Mr. Divon, in an interview, “but it is important to have a dialogue and to understand each other.”
In particular, Mr. Divon said he argued that many people tend to only see the recent events in the Middle East through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – “and that is, of course, one of the most important components.”
He would, he said, like people to understand that Israel feels vulnerable to hostility from other neighbouring countries, including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
“We have to look at that as part of the picture,” said the ambassador. “We don’t get up in the morning and roll out the tanks (in Palestinian areas) because we’re bored.”
The ambassador said he left the meeting with a better understanding of the church’s position on the Middle East and he hoped the Primate benefited in a similar way.
For his part, Archbishop Peers said he explained the church’s position on the Middle East and gave the ambassador some background information about his April statement on the situation.
“My statement was predicated on decisions of the General Synod over the years, on decisions of the Lambeth Conference,” the meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, said Archbishop Peers. “I said I don’t just burst out with opinions all of a sudden; I don’t sit around issuing press releases every day of the week.”
Christian partners in Jerusalem have asked the Canadian church for its support. The primate and three other Canadian church leaders travelled to the Middle East last year in a show of support for their Palestinian counterparts.
Archbishop Peers explained to Mr. Divon that that solidarity with Palestinian partners informed his April statement.
The Primate said his conversation with the ambassador did not deal directly with his recent statement – “We weren’t reviewing the text” – but he said he understood the ambassador’s motivation.
“All governments are sensitive to what they read as criticism,” said Archbishop Peers. His statement that “Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967” was likely a red rag before a bull.
“When they read that, that can come across as criticism, but from the point of view of others, it states something that is self-evident.”
The primate said that while he did not learn anything new, the meeting was helpful because “I’m aware of most of the argumentation in the public sphere from the point of view of Israel. It has lots of publicity. But I don’t, except when I’m there, often hear it from an Israeli.”
Mr. Divon agreed that the meeting was constructive. “I believe in a dialogue with someone of the calibre of the archbishop.” Israel and Palestine
Message to Canadian Anglicans
April 2002 statement by Archbishop Michael Peers
May 2001 website news story by Anglican Journal editor Vianney Carriere