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Justin Welby: Christians must unite with Jews to halt rise of antisemitism

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called for bridges to be built between Jewish people and others to prevent antisemitism taking hold.

Speaking at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, Welby said the museum’s art revealed “the depths of human evil”.

He said: “Within European culture, the root of all racism, I think, is found in antisemitism. It goes back more than 1,000 years in Europe. Within our Christian tradition, there has been century upon century of these terrible, terrible hatreds in which one people … [are] hated more specifically, more violently, more determinedly, more systematically than any other people.”

The Jewish people had advanced science, art, music and had founded economies, he said, adding: “You would have thought we would rise up together in gratitude.”

Now with antisemitism on the rise, he added: “We must dedicate ourselves afresh … to build and maintain bridges and friendships, understanding, tolerance, unity and peace.”

The leader of the global Anglican church is on a 12-day visit to the Holy Land. He was accompanied to Yad Vashem, near Jerusalem, by the UK’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who also called for “bridges of understanding, of tolerance, of hope, of unity and of peace”.

Earlier the two faith leaders prayed together at the Western Wall, the religious site revered by Jews. Afterwards, Mirvis said: “I would so love to send a message of hope back through the annals of history – to Clifford’s Tower in York [where 150 Jews were massacred in 1190], to the medieval communities who endured the scourge of the blood libel and to those whose lives were devastated by the Crusades – to let them know that a chief rabbi and an archbishop of Canterbury would one day pray alongside one another, as close friends, in the holy city of Jerusalem.”

Welby also visited the Dome of the Rock, one of the most important sites in the Islamic faith, and other holy places. Later, he was due to lead prayers for Hannah Bladon, the British student who was killed in a knife attack in Jerusalem last month.

The archbishop travelled to Jerusalem from Jordan, where his trip began on Monday. His first full day was spent visiting an Anglican church in Amman and the Zaatari camp, near the border with Syria, which is home to about 80,000 refugees.

In a video posted on Twitter, Welby said it was “deeply moving to see people whose lives have been turned upside down but have the courage to create little islands of stability within their homes – and it is really beautiful to see that”.

(@JustinWelby)

Today I visited #Zaatari camp in #Jordan, hearing stories of incredible courage from people whose lives have been turned upside down. pic.twitter.com/lKk3naNId3

It is Welby’s first official visit to the Holy Land since becoming archbishop four years ago, although he made a private visit in 2013 during which he was criticised for not visiting Bethlehem.

But next week he will cross the imposing wall that Israel has erected to visit the birthplace of Jesus and meet the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun. He will also meet Palestinian Christians whose homes, land and livelihoods have been adversely affected by the huge concrete wall that cuts off Bethlehem and adjacent villages from Jerusalem.

The archbishop will also meet Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. The meetings come a month before the 50th anniversary of the six-day war, which resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and six months before the centenary of the Balfour declaration, the British statement of support for the creation of a Jewish state in what was Palestine.

According to Lambeth Palace, Welby’s central priority on the trip was to affirm the Christian community in the Holy Land, to support and encourage the work of the Anglican St George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem and to identify challenges regarding religious freedom in the region.