The truth is simple, but unwelcome

Church Times, 1st Dec. Jewish writer Robert Cohen tells Huw Spanner that solidarity with Palestinians will be costly for Christians. 

ROBERT COHEN is developing a reputation as one of the leading Jewish dissidents in Britain. He has been “writing from the edge”, as he puts it, since 2011, primarily about interfaith relations and Israel/Palestine, in a monthly blog, Micah’s Paradigm Shift. The reference is to Micah 6.8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

So far, so uncontroversial. Many of the people whom he criticises implicitly, Christian and Jewish, would endorse that prophetic call. The conclusions that Cohen comes to, however, are sometimes very different from theirs. In particular, he is calling for Churches to commit to “costly solidarity” with the Palestinian people. Among his prescriptions is “refusing to allow your local Jewish communal leadership to set the boundaries of permissible debate on Israel”. 

“Jewish-Christian dialogue is about to go through the wringer,” he warned, in a blog earlier this year. “Long-standing relationships with Jewish neighbours and clerical colleagues will deteriorate long before they can be rebuilt with new foundations. . . It means you will be branded Israel haters. You will be branded anti-Semitic.”

WHEN I meet him in north London, in the new Café Palestina in Kentish Town, we begin by discussing Jewish-Christian relations. “The work of reconciliation since the Second World War, whether it’s high-end theological discussions or local communities’ getting to know each other on the ground, has revolutionised relations,” he says. “And it has been absolutely necessary — perhaps even more so for Christians than for Jews.”

Christians need to be reminded of the part that church teaching has played in the persecution of Jews over the past 2000 years, he says. “It’s almost impossible to understand the history of anti-Semitism without understanding the role of the Church; and Churches need to keep saying that, because it’s very easily forgotten.”

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Photo: Ben Brosnan

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