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Communal leaders attack Church of Scotland Balfour report

Document condemned as "deeply flawed" and biased against Israel

    The Church of Scotland general assembly where the report will be presented
    The Church of Scotland general assembly where the report will be presented

    Jewish communal leaders have expressed concern over a Church of Scotland report marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

    The document, entitled Embracing Peace and Working for Justice, includes a resolution "deploring the increased expansion" of settlements on the West Bank as jepardising a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

    The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) accused the Church of bias, pointing out that it failed to condemn “Palestinian terrorism or Hamas’ institutionalised antisemitism” in the report.

    In a statement, SCoJeC said: “We are also puzzled and concerned that the report explicitly casts doubt on the two-state solution and the Church of Scotland’s support for a two-state solution, despite this remaining the agreed policy of the international community, and without any suggestion of what might be a just and viable alternative.”

    SCoJeC also claimed the report, which was published earlier this week and will be presented to the Church's general assembly next month, was over-reliant on “selective voices” which did not reflect the reality of life in Israel.

    It said: “There is no sense of holding the Palestinian leadership to account, or indeed of treating Palestinians in general as moral agents rather than helpless victims.”

    In a strongly-worded statement, Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies, said the report "betrays the Church's lack of balance and unconcealed hostility towards Israel", encouraging the Church "to question the very existence of the world's only Jewish state".

    He condemned what he described as "the bigotry which runs through this deeply flawed document", pointing out that references to Palestinian terror were contained in only two lines of its 21 pages.

    But the Church insisted the report reflected the “activities and perspectives” of its partner organisations in Israel and Palestine, especially Christian Palestinians in the West Bank.

    A spokesman said: “While (the report) cannot describe the situation as it is experienced by all concerned, nonetheless, it has sought to share the perspectives it contains in a way that recognises the humanity of all who are caught up in this particular conflict.

    “At the same time, there are clearly things that are seen differently, but this is even more reason for us all to be in the same room, listening and learning, and recognising our common humanity and common struggle for justice.

    “The recommendations clearly state that we are asking all church members to challenge antisemitism wherever it is found and commends all those committed to non-violence. 

    “We reject antisemitism and violence, in all its forms.”

    The Balfour Declaration was signed 100 years ago and expressed the British government's commitment to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

    Its author, Lord Balfour, the then Foreign Secretary, was a member of the Church of Scotland.

    The Church said the report explored the significance of the Declaration "as an important moment for those living in Palestine under the British Mandate, the Jewish people and British colonial history... it seeks to understand the complex situation in Israel/Palestine and engage with the lived reality of people affected by this long-standing conflict."

    In a statement on its website it said the report "does not move away from the long standing Church of Scotland position of supporting a two-state solution but highlights that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (illegal under international humanitarian law) is threatening to make the two state solution increasingly unrealistic."

    It added that while the Church had not backed a boycott of Israel, it had heard "compelling arguments both for and against this strategy".

    Ephraim Borowski, the director of SCoJeC, praised the church for consulting SCoJeC on the report before it was published.

    Mr Borowski said: “Despite our serious reservations about parts of it, we have to welcome the fact that they sought to consult with the Jewish community and made significant changes to the draft as a result.  

    “We look forward to future constructive discussions about these and other matters of concern to the Jewish community of Scotland."

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