Mirvis missed this opportunity

It's not that the Almighty doesn't give us opportunities. Rather, we don't take advantage of them. Nothing could attest more accurately to this dictum than the sorry story of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis's recent face-to-face meeting with the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Just over a year ago, the Church of Scotland - the "Scots Kirk" –- published a scurrilous, defamatory document entitled The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the Promised Land. The text was very far from being your usual run-of-the-mill rant about Judea and Samaria being "occupied," nor in fact did it call for anything approaching BDS. Its authors were far more subtle in their language, because their purpose was far more insidious and unpleasant.

Drafted by the Kirk's Church and Society Council, the document sought to subvert Jewish claims to the land of Israel.

"There has been a widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people," the report alleged, "that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel. This raises an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning." In short, "promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally."

With the gentlest slap on the wrist, he let them off the hook

The document amounted to a full frontal attack on Jewish identity and Jewish rights, grounded in a particular Christian view of the Jews having been disinherited following their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

This is the argument that has informed and shaped the Gentile view of the Jew for the past two millennia, and that has been employed in the service of discrimination, persecution, exile and execution. It was the view that was used to justify the wholesale massacre of Jews during the Crusades, the expulsion of Jews from Christian Spain, and the harassment and hounding of Jews under Tsarist rule. Now, evidently, it is also the official view of the Scottish Kirk, whose titular head is none other than the Queen.

No sooner had The Inheritance been published than a storm broke above the heads of those who had formulated its antisemitic tropes. The formulator-in-chief, one Sally Foster-Fulton, hastened to reassure us that The Inheritance was not "a report criticising the Jewish people."

Pull the other one, Sally! That's precisely what it was and what you intended it to be. We now fast-forward some 12 months. Although some sentences in the report were rewritten, and although the Kirk protested that criticism of Israeli policy towards Palestinian Arabs "should not be misunderstood as questioning the right of the state of Israel to exist" (which was very nice of it, all things considered), certain interests concluded that something more needed to be done.

And so Chief Rabbi Mirvis received and accepted an invitation to address the Kirk's General Assembly, which he did (in the presence of the Queen's representative, the Earl of Wessex) on Thursday May 22. Here was a God-given opportunity to convey the deep anger that the Kirk's adoption and publication of The Inheritance had caused. The opportunity was well and truly lost.

Those of you who have read Mirvis's speech (a transcript is on his website) might be puzzled that I should thus characterise it. After all, he certainly did not ignore the issues that Foster-Fulton and her colleagues had raised. "The Jewish people's connection to the land of Israel is deep and eternal… There is no legitimate theological narrative or theological interpretation that can deny this fundamental and essential link."

But the document itself - The Inheritance - never featured in his remarks. Not once did he condemn what the Kirk had done in adopting it. There he was, with a captive audience comprising the very people who had embraced and endorsed its message. With the gentlest of slaps on the wrist, he let them off the hook.

Is it any wonder that, in his response, the Moderator of the General Assembly, John Chalmers, had the effrontery to lecture Mirvis publicly on the plight of the Palestinians, without mentioning the comprehensive absence of basic human rights (not least for Christians) in areas under Palestinian control?

Mirvis should have walked out at that point. I would certainly have done so.

    Last updated: 11:44am, June 12 2014