LONDON: The UK’s archbishop of Canterbury canceled plans to meet Munther Isaac, the Bethlehem-based pastor who has criticized Israel’s war on Gaza, for fear of angering Britain’s Jewish community, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Justin Welby, the senior bishop of the Church of England, rejected the meeting after Isaac shared a platform with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a pro-Palestinian rally last weekend, the Lutheran pastor and theologian said.
Corbyn, who led the party in opposition for five years from 2015 to 2020, has been a prominent critic of Israeli policies.
He withdrew from the leadership in part due to controversy surrounding alleged antisemitism within the party.
Isaac has been highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, and a Christmas sermon he delivered last year went viral.
He was invited to speak at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally last week by Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK.
Isaac told The Guardian that Welby’s aides had informed him that no meeting could take place if he shared a platform with Corbyn.
Isaac said: “It’s shameful. It’s not my type of Christianity not to be willing to meet another pastor because you don’t want to explain why you met him.
“This sums up the Church of England. They danced around positions, and ended up saying nothing. They lack the courage to say things.”
Welby is thought to be concerned with rising antisemitism in the UK, and is balancing condemnation of Israel with avoiding outrage among Britain’s Jewish community.
He feared a meeting with Isaac would have caused “huge problems” for British Jews, The Guardian reported.
Lambeth Palace, Welby’s official residence, declined to comment on the matter when asked by The Guardian.
Isaac said: “The small Christian community in Gaza has discovered what is hell on earth. Most of them have lost their homes: 45 destroyed completely and 55 partially destroyed.
“There is no life left for them. This war will most likely bring an end to Christian life in Gaza. Everyone wants to leave.
“It is so painful for us to see the Christian church turn a blind eye to what is happening, offering words of concern and compassion, but for so long they have been silent in the face of obvious war crimes.
“Churches seem paralyzed, and they seem willing to sacrifice the Christian presence in Palestine for the sake of avoiding controversy and not criticizing Israel. I have had so many difficult conversations with church leaders.”
Isaac added: “I know from meeting many church leaders that in private, they say one thing, and then in public, they say another thing. I’ve had the same experience with many politicians and diplomats.”