An interfaith gathering will come together at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne on Thursday to coincide with the first visit to Australia of a serving Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu. Representatives from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths will pray and light candles for Jerusalem, the Holy City sacred to all three faiths.
A Melbourne Anglican Assistant Bishop Philip Huggins, who is also President of the National Council of Churches in Australia, has organised the prayer and meditation time. Bishop Huggins said politicians and diplomats had their contributions to make to the peace of Jerusalem but people of faith could offer their meditations and prayers, especially as Jerusalem is of such deep spiritual significance for Christians, Jews and Muslims.
He acknowledged the divergent views about the peace process for Israel and Palestine; the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network is among many Palestinian human rights and support organisations opposed to Mr Netanyahu’s trip.
Earlier this week, more than 60 prominent Australians, including religious figures, lawyers, former MPs and academics, signed a letter opposing Mr Netanyahu’s visit because of his Government’s policies towards Palestinians. Bishop George Browning, a former Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Archdeacon Erica Mathieson of North Canberra, the Past President of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Revd Gregor Henderson and the President of Pax Christi Australia, Roman Catholic priest Fr Claude Mostowik, were among the signatories.
“It is time for the suffering of the Palestinian people to stop and for Australia to take a more balanced role in supporting the application of international law and not supporting Mr Netanyahu and his policies,” the letter said in part.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy welcomed Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara at Admiralty House, Sydney, at the start of their four-day visit. In a newspaper opinion piece, Mr Turnbull wrote that Australians and Israelis were bound together first and foremost by shared values of a mutual commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law.“And as a majority Christian nation, we share the rich cultural inheritance of the Bible, its stories and values a foundation and a context for our history, our literature, our imagination,” he wrote.
Mr Turnbull wrote that despite its achievements and the fact that Israel was “a miraculous nation”, “many view Israel exclusively through the lens of its conflict with the Palestinians”.
“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticising Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimise the Jewish state.
“At the same time, we recognise that Israel and the Palestinians need to come to a settlement and we support a directly negotiated two-state solution so that Palestinians will have their own state and the people of Israel can be secure within agreed borders.”
Bishop Huggins said: “Behind the politics is the yearning that unites all parents and grandparents, to see God's little people grow up safe and free in a Jerusalem which models our common longing for justice and peace.”