SCoJeC has issued a statement, supported by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, in response to the publication of Embracing Peace and Working For Justice, a joint report by the World Mission Council and the Church and Society Council to the forthcoming Church of Scotland General Assembly to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
We have previously welcomed the Church’s overtures to the Jewish Community for a new focused dialogue “striving for a deeper understanding and greater mutual respect for one another", and their acknowledgement of “the damaged relationships arising out of the Church’s involvement in the Balfour Project conference in 2012 and the publication of the Inheritance of Abraham? in 2013”. We appreciate the efforts of those involved in preparing the report to consult the Jewish Community in Scotland, and amongst expatriate Scots in Israel, and to take account of their views.
However, we have considerable reservations about the published report, and in particular the proposed Deliverance (resolution) which condemns Israeli settlements, but not Palestinian terrorism or Hamas’s institutionalised antisemitism, and asserts “that Christian theology should not be used to justify or perpetuate a situation of injustice”, while making no mention of the supersessionist theology which shamed the Church in 2012 and 2013 and which is implicit in its commendation of the Kairos Palestine document. 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.
Nonetheless, we welcome the acknowledgement in the report itself of the significance of Israel to Jews in Scotland, the vast majority of whom see Israel as forming part of their identity as Jews; and its recognition that Scottish responses to events in the Middle East frequently result in a rise in antisemitism in Scotland, and that the Church has an obligation to counter that antisemitism, and engage in dialogue. The revised report also explicitly notes that there was a Jewish presence continuously in the Holy Land since Biblical times, that the resettlement of the Land and friction between Jews and Arabs long predated the Balfour Declaration, and that more than half of Israel’s citizens are descendants of refugees who were expelled from Arab countries following the creation of the state of Israel, and it criticises calls by Hamas for “the obliteration of Israel”.
As the representative body of a community that almost universally has close ties – religious, emotional, or personal – with Israel, we regret the report’s reliance on selective voices and vignettes that obscure the reality of life in Israel: for example, it fails to mention that Palestinians constitute around 20% of Israeli citizens who have full democratic and civil rights in stark contrast to the position of both Palestinians and Christians in most other countries in the Middle East; and 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.
Nevertheless, we welcome the Church of Scotland's retreat from much of the offensive theology of its previous reports, and believe that only through increasing dialogue and deepening insight can we come to a better understanding of one another's concerns. Not least amongst these matters for the Jewish Community in Scotland is the relevance to the Church of the worsening experience of Being Jewish in Scotland, as well as concerns on both our parts about the land that is holy for us both.