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Archbishop of Canterbury refuses to meet Palestinian pastor who spoke alongside Corbyn

Munther Isaac says it was 'shameful' to hear Justin Welby's refusal considering the risks facing Palestinian Christians
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joins protesters taking part in the 'National March For Palestine' in central London on 11 November 2023 (Henry Nicholls/AFP)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to meet with a prominent Palestinian pastor after he spoke alongside former leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn at a Palestine rally in London.

Munther Isaac, a Christian pastor from Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, said he was disappointed to be told by Justin Welby's aides that the leader of the Anglican Church would not meet with him if he shared the platform with Corbyn.

"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," the Palestinian pastor said in an interview with the Guardian.

"This sums up the Church of England. They danced around positions, and ended up saying nothing. They lack the courage to say things."

Isaac has been a prominent voice speaking out against Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip and has used his church sermons to highlight the suffering of the Palestinians.

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Last week he spoke at a mass rally in London hosted by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign that also featured Corbyn on the platform.

Corbyn, a longtime pro-Palestine campaigner, has been accused of having allowed antisemitism to take root in the Labour Party during his tenure there and previously faced censure by Welby.

Speaking to the Guardian, Isaac said that many church leaders - akin to politicians - had a tendency to "say one thing, and then in public, they say another thing.

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"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," he said.

"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."

Current Labour leader Keir Starmer has shifted the party in a dramatically different direction and has taken avowedly pro-Israel stances, including supporting the country's so-called right to self-defence following the 7 October attacks by Hamas.

However, growing calls for Labour to back a ceasefire as the death toll of Israel's war on Gaza nears 30,000 Palestinians, and the prospect of another damaging vote in parliament on Wednesday appears to have forced Labour to change course, backing an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire".

In recent days, senior frontbench MPs within the opposition party have openly criticised Israel's conduct in the war in a change of tone from previous statements.

They included Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, who on Sunday said Israel had gone "beyond reasonable defence" in its assault on Gaza.

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