Pastor says Welby would not meet him if he spoke at Palestine rally with Corbyn

<span>Corbyn spoke at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign rally at the weekend where Isaac also spoke.</span><span>Photograph: Thomas Krych/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Corbyn spoke at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign rally at the weekend where Isaac also spoke.Photograph: Thomas Krych/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, cancelled plans to meet the Bethlehem-based Lutheran pastor Munther Isaac, saying he could not meet him if he shared a platform with the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at a pro-Palestinian rally, the pastor has said.

Isaac, the pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran church in Bethlehem, who has been highly critical of Israel in Gaza, saw his Christmas sermon go viral when he said if Jesus Christ was born today it would have been under the rubble.

He spoke at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign rally at the weekend where Corbyn was also a speaker after being invited by the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot.

Lambeth Palace said it did not comment on private meetings.

The archbishop is concerned about the huge increase in antisemitism since October in the UK, and it is believed he feared it would have caused huge problems for the Jewish community if the two were to meet.

In an interview with the Guardian, Isaac said he was told by the archbishop’s aides that if he shared a platform with Corbyn, no meeting could happen. 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.”

He added: “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 paralysed, and they seem willing to sacrifice the Christian presence in Palestine for the sake of avoiding controversy and not criticising Israel. I have had so many difficult conversations with church leaders.

“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.”

Isaac, on a visit to the UK to build support for the Palestinians, said an immediate ceasefire was “a moral obligation”. He added: “This is not a time for neutrality or soft diplomacy. Gaza should be your moral compass.”

Welby’s allies would say he has spoken out strongly on what is happening in Gaza and will continue to seek opportunities to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, but has to remain mindful of the impact on other communities.

The House of Bishops, the upper chamber of the Church’s General Synod, issued a sharply worded call for a ceasefire on 13 February, saying Israel must stop its “relentless bombardment” of Gaza, and adding the manner in which the war was taking place “cannot be morally justified”.

Isaac said: “If it has not become clear to the world that this is a war of vengeance aimed at destroying the possibility of life in Gaza, and not a war on Hamas, I am not sure what more proof people need. The destruction of schools, universities and hospitals is everywhere. The Israeli soldiers brag and joke about it. How is the killing of 12,000 children a war on Hamas?”

The war, in its fifth month, was triggered by Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October last year, in which 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage. Health authorities in Gaza say at least 29,000 Palestinians have been killed. About 85% of the territory’s population have been displaced from their homes, according to the UN.

“If what has happened so far cannot convince people that there needs to be an immediate ceasefire, there is something seriously wrong with our humanity. How much more catastrophic can it get?” Isaac said.

“Even as a pastor, my faith was tested in the last three months. It’s hard, it’s hard to pray and not to see results.”

He added: “My answer to the question where God is is that we have to ask where are the good people in this world. In Christianity we say we are God’s agents, we are God’s hands and feet on earth. The Gospel tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. It tells us what needs to be done. It’s on us when we choose to kill.”