Scottish Church to debate Jewish right to land of Israel

Jonathan Arkush

Jonathan Arkush

The Church of Scotland has been attacked by Jewish leaders over a report said to question Israel’s right to exist.

A discussion document compiled by the Church's church and society council suggests that Jews’ claim to the land of Israel could be invalidated by their treatment of Palestinians.

The report will be voted on by the 700 Church members who attend the annual general assembly - the Church's sovereign body - when it meets later this month. If it is passed by a majority, it may become "the considered view of the Church", a spokesperson said.

A Jewish leader who did not want to be named said the 5,000-word report was a “deliberate attempt to question Israel’s right to exist” and would be “very damaging to interfaith relations in Scotland and throughout Britain”.

He warned of the domino effect if an assembly vote endorses the report, adopts it as Church policy and allows it to be publicised throughout Presbyterian communities in Scotland.

The report on “the Promised Land” concludes that Christians should not support exclusive Jewish claims to the land of Israel or use the Bible to “settle contemporary conflicts over land”.

Interfaith groups called it “ill-considered” and “regressive”.

Ephraim Borowski, Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director, said: "The document is an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory, and closes the door on meaningful dialogue.

"On behalf of the Jewish community of Scotland, we call upon the Church to withdraw it from the forthcoming general assembly. If the Church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?"

Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush said: “I am at a loss for words that the Church of Scotland should have delivered such a slap in the face to the Jewish community.

“The document is deeply troubling on many levels. It appears to have been produced with no consultation with the Scottish or national Jewish community. It is littered with misrepresentations of Jewish history, values and beliefs as well as basic factual errors.

“It is an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement. The Church has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based.”

The report states: “There has been a widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people 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.”

Looking at the history of Christian Zionism and alleged violations of human rights, the report asks: “Would the Jewish people today have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?”

It adds that from some Christian perspectives, “the desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this”.

The report urges the Church to consider backing “economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements”.

It also calls on Christians to lobby the British government to pressure Israel to halt settlement building and push for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

CCJ chief executive Reverend David Gifford said the report was ill-considered, regressive and insensitive to Jewish anxieties and the range of Israeli public opinion.

“The at times unfortunate words and phrases reflect sadly on the authors and smacks of Christian superiority over Judaism,” he said.

“While few would disagree that serious issues need to be addressed by the state of Israel, instead of offering fresh opportunities and an openness to engage with the Jewish community in a joint response to the worrying trends in the Israel/Palestine conflict, this report runs the risk of further alienating our own Jewish community and increasing its fear and anxiety.”

Right Reverend Albert Bogle, Moderator of the Church’s General Assembly, is a president of the Council of Christians and Jews.

Ed Kessler, founder director of the Woolf Institute which studies interfaith relations, said the report was a demonstration “that it is easier for Christians to condemn antisemitism as a misunderstanding of Christian teaching than to come to terms with the re-establishment of the Jewish state.

“There is a reluctance, even inability, to appreciate that there are two narratives — one Jewish/Israeli and the other Palestinian/Arab.

“The document fails to take seriously the concerns of both sides but has a partisan agenda — the promotion of Palestinian rights. Why is it so rare to find Christian organisations, let alone Jewish, which are both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli? Blinkered views prevail.”

Church members will begin a two-week tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday.

Sally Foster-Fulton, Convenor of the Church and Society Council, said: “The Church of Scotland chose the words of its report carefully to question and challenge not condemn or dismiss. It cannot and will not shy away from difficult subjects nor from speaking the truth in love — otherwise how we will ever progress?

“A good friend speaks the truth, even when that truth is a hard one. There can be no lasting peace without justice — that is surely the truth.”

Last updated: 8:42pm, May 2 2013