A tweet this morning from Simon Mayo, announcing that he and Mark Kermode would be broadcasting from the Greenbelt Festival, caused my hackles to rise. Greenbelt? Wasn’t that some kind of evangelical Christian event? What was 5 Live doing associating itself with religious propaganda?
On taking a peek at the Greenbelt website, I realised that my perceptions of the festival were hopelessly out of date, and that this annual gathering has moved on a bit since I last took notice of it. With mainstream acts like Courtney Pine and Gil Scott Heron appearing, and speakers such as Peter Tatchell and Clare Short, Greenbelt has clearly broadened its appeal somewhat. According to the website:
Our 37-year history is firmly rooted within a Christian tradition which is world-affirming, politically and culturally engaged. Ours is a belief that embraces instead of excludes. And, as such, the Festival is family-friendly celebration, inclusive and accepting of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief.
All very commendable. So, I wondered, what exactly do they mean by ‘politically and culturally engaged’? Curious, I clicked on the ‘Campaigning’ link and my hackles, which had all but subsided, began to rise again.
Under the banner heading ‘Greenbelt: standing for a just peace’, were ten links to other web pages. No fewer than seven of these were explicitly about Israel/Palestine. And it was pretty clear where the site’s sympathies lay. One of the links was to ‘Tutu on divestment’ and another to a page headed ‘If Greenbelt was Gaza’, where I found the following information:
If Greenbelt was Gaza is part of our onsite campaigning this year at Greenbelt – forcing festivalgoers to confront the stark contrast between life for our festival community over the four days of our long weekend together with the day-to-day life experienced by Palestinians in the Gaza strip.
Be prepared for checkpoints that will bring you up short. Be shocked at how hard everyday life can be. Be moved and motivated to act for change. To campaign for a Just Peace.
A general ‘Campaign link’ was illustrated with a photo of demonstrators in terrorist-chic keffiyehs and provided ‘links to other like-minded organisations working in the Middle East’, most of them pro-Palestinian and only one Israel-based. There was also a blog feed on the home page, and all of the posts it linked to were about Palestine.
In other words, the political and cultural ‘engagement’ of which the Greenbelt organisers are so proud is an engagement with just one issue. There is literally no mention anywhere on the website, under the campaign links or elsewhere, of any other cause or issue that might invite the urgent concern of ‘engaged’ Christians. Nothing about the appalling human rights abuses and extreme suffering of the peoples of Sudan, Burma or North Korea, for example. And despite the organisation’s hand-wringing over the plight of Palestinian Christians, its site shows no awareness of the infinitely worse oppression and violence inflicted on Christians in other countries, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world.
No, Greenbelt is obviously concerned – obsessed would not be too strong a word for it, on the evidence of its website – with one issue and one issue alone. Not only are the organisers monomaniacally fixated on Palestine, and Gaza in particular, but they are ruthless in their determination to present only one side of the argument and to exclude all other viewpoints. To be sure, Christians should have compassion for the plight of the Palestinians and work constructively to improve their lives. But surely they might have some sympathy left over for the people of Israel, living in fear of rocket attacks from Gaza or bus bombs in downtown Tel Aviv, sponsored or tolerated by the organisations with which Greenbelt invites us to show solidarity?
You’d search in vain on the Greenbelt website for any suggestion that there might be other causes for the sufferings of the Palestinian people, besides the perfidious actions of the despised state of Israel. You’ll find no reference to the failure of Arab states to provide homes for Palestinian refugees or to support the development of a Palestinian state, or to the Islamist takeover of Gaza by Hamas and its increasingly repressive restrictions on the lives of the local population, not to mention its refusal to allow supplies to cross from Israel, even from the Islamist-infiltrated flotilla. Nor will you find any mention of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and uprooting of thousands of its settlers, which has produced not an iota of compromise from Hamas, but instead has been followed by deadly rockets targeted at civilians in towns such as Sderot.
The single-minded obsession of supposedly ‘progressive’ Christians with the Palestinian issue and their resolutely one-sided view of the issue makes me both angry and sad. In the days when I was a practising Christian, I was a member of the Christian Socialist Movement and an ardent supporter of liberation theology. Although no longer a believer, I still hold out hope for the revival of a thoughtful, progressive Christian Left.
But if Greenbelt is anything to go by (not to mention the many similar examples collected by the admirable Seismic Shock), then a significant section of the Christian Left has chosen to align itself with some of the worst elements of the secular pseudo-left and has uncritically hitched itself to the skewed anti-Israel anti-Western agenda of the Stop the War Coalition and the SWP.
One hesitates to talk of antisemitism. But given the record of the Christian church throughout history, this singleminded focus on the supposed sins of the Jews, to the exclusion of all other injustices, combined with what Tony Blair the other day called the 'conscious or often unconscious resistance, sometimes bordering on refusal, to accept Israel has a legitimate point of view', should certainly give one pause for thought.
'Ours is a belief that embraces instead of excludes...inclusive and accepting of all': unless you happen to be Israeli, that is. As the Greenbelt festival-goers encounter their fake Gazan checkpoints this weekend, perhaps they'll pause for just a moment to wonder what it would be like, and how they would feel, if Greenbelt were Sderot.