Summary of discussion, January 5th 2017
In our Bible readings we were confronted with two contrasting (even opposing) views of Jerusalem- the optimistic and hopeful vision of Isaiah chapter 62 and the condemnation of what was being done (to the Temple) of John 2:13 to 22. We recognised that the criticism expressed in John’s Gospel had led to anti-Semitism when in later centuries what was said there about a specific time was wrongly applied to Jewish people at all times.
The same contrasting or opposing viewpoints were there in some current news stories. Sir Ivan Rogers was seen by some as near to a traitor to British interests for warning David Cameron about the likely intransigence of Angela Merkel on “freedom of movement” (did that blunt Cameron’s pre-Referendum negotiations??) and Theresa May about how long it might take to negotiate post-Brexit trade agreements (and in any case, is UK independence a “birthright” that should never be “sold” for economic advantage, as Esau sold his- Genesis 25:29ff).
Others, however, were clear that what Rogers had done was precisely the job that civil servants were paid to do- to warn politicians of the possible consequences of their actions. Alistair Burt, MP for North-East Bedfordshire (including Wymington) was reported in the Times as saying: “If such warnings from a public servant who has devoted his working life to his country are dismissed simply as coming from a ‘Europhile, who deserves clearing out with the others’ or similar nonsense, then we will all be the losers.”
There were similar contrasting reactions to former President Obama’s failure to take military action in response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. This had given Russia the space to become much more directly involved in the Middle East conflicts, and meant that the USA and its allies appeared to be cravenly standing aside while civilians in Aleppo were slaughtered by those in power, just as the Allies in WW2 had refused to take action to protect Jews directly threatened by the Auschwitz gas chambers by bombing the train lines leading to them. Did the refusal to veto the recent condemnation of Israel settlement-building in the occupied West Bank also indicate that the US could no longer be relied on to support the security of Israel?
Or were there in fact serious doubts about who had deployed chemical weapons- at least some evidence of a group trying to provoke US intervention in their support? The conflict in Syria began as a popular movement for greater democracy, but has by now become a predominantly sectarian war serving the interests of power struggles in the region. An intervention by the US against the Assad regime would have greatly strengthened the extremist forces, supported from Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc (not necessarily directly by their governments) who call for the elimination of any who disagree with their interpretation of faith- whether Shias, Druze, Christians, or the State of Israel. John Kerry’s criticism of the Israeli policy of settlement-building as “an obstacle to peace” does not necessarily undermine the US commitment to the security of Israel itself (and its rejection of those like Hamas who want Israel abolished as a state). In any case the Trump administration is not likely to continue those criticisms.
It’s likely that these and other questions will continue to be debated for a long time.