Human rights groups and Christian campaigners from many churches have expressed their concern over the announcement that Sir Cliff Richards is planning to give a concert in Tel Aviv this summer.
In an open letter, one group has written:
Dear Cliff Richard:
We read that you’re scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 11 this year. From the TV coverage of your 1988 birthday celebration for Israel, where you say that ‘as a Christian, Israel has special significance for me’, we understand your forthcoming show might have similar motivation.
It seems to us, however, that such automatic identification with Israel is increasingly questioned by Christians, who express concern about Israel’s racist actions in the Palestinian territories it illegally occupies and call for action against the Israeli government. We are writing to ask you to reconsider your decision to perform in Israel.
We wonder if you’ve read the letter from church leaders to the US Congress, published on 5 October last year. Fifteen senior Christian leaders, from the US Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, American Baptist, and other churches, told Congress: ‘As leaders of churches and religious organisations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians...it is our moral responsibility to question the continuance of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel’.
Their letter lists many human rights violations committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians, including the killing of children, house demolitions, and the use of prohibited weaponry such as white phosphorus and flechette shells.
Perhaps you missed the press release issued in December last year by Southern African church leaders, including the heads of the United Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic churches and the Evangelical Alliance. From Jerusalem they reported: ‘Our exposure to [occupied] East Jerusalem and the West Bank was overwhelming, one which traumatised us. We did not expect the extent to which Israel violates international laws to oppress the Palestinian people. However, even though we experienced that Palestinians live in open-air prisons, they were still able to inspire us with their dignity and their commitment for a just peace based on human dignity for both themselves and the Israelis’.
Importantly, the Southern African church leaders renounced any kind of biblical justification for what is happening to the Palestinians: ‘We are conscious how a literal reading of the Bible, one where the Israel of the Old Testament is confused with the State of Israel, can result in the oppression of people’.
Sir Cliff, when you sang Yerushalayim, the anthem of the Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, did you not realise – as the church leaders we’ve quoted do – that Israeli conquest means Palestinian dispossession and ongoing repression?
Palestinians under occupation are calling for a cultural boycott of Israel by international artists like yourself. The South African church leaders support the boycott call, as ‘a strategy that helped end apartheid in South Africa’. In response to an appeal from Kairos Palestine that describes the occupation as ‘a sin against God and humanity’, growing numbers of individual Christians and church groups around the world are engaging in campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Your appearance in Tel Aviv, however, will reassure Israelis that ethnic cleansing and repression of the Palestinians are morally tolerable – to you, at least, if not to presidents and congregations of churches in the USA, South Africa, and elsewhere. Sir Cliff, we urge you to consider whether this is a message you want to give. Please don’t go.
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Professor Adah Kay
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
London, 28 January 2013
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