Scottish Jews protest Church of Scotland report on Balfour

Scottish Jews protest Church of Scotland report on Balfour

'Considerable reservations' about criticism of settlements in report to mark centenary of 1917 Declaration

Arthur Balfour and the declaration which issued official sympathy for the Jewish national movement
Arthur Balfour and the declaration which issued official sympathy for the Jewish national movement

Groups representing British Jews have slammed a report published by the Church of Scotland to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, saying it showed the consultation on it was “a sham”.

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, took to Twitter to vent his frustration, after the report’s authors – who consulted the Jewish community – still criticised settlements in the West Bank.

“What is the point of consulting if you ignore their case?” Arkush said, adding that the Church’s idea of consultation was “empty of meaning and frankly a sham”.

A statement by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC), supported by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, had earlier been issued, in response to the publication of ‘Embracing Peace and Working for Justice.’

The report, produced jointly by the World Mission Council and the Church, includes a resolution that condemns Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Jewish groups say shows a lack of objectivity.

“We have considerable reservations, in particular the proposed Deliverance (resolution) which condemns Israeli settlements, but not Palestinian terrorism or Hamas’s institutionalised anti-Semitism,” said SCoJeC.

Relations between Christians and Jews in Scotland were thought to be improving after a low point in 2012, when the Church of Scotland sponsored and participated in a conference marking 95 years since the Balfour Declaration, in which anti-Israel cleric Reverend Stephen Sizer was the keynote speaker.

A year later, in 2013, Scottish Jews reacted angrily to a Church report titled ‘Inheritance of Abraham,’ which they described as reading “like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism,” calling it “an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for”.

This week’s report, which will be presented to the forthcoming Church of Scotland General Assembly, states that “Christian theology should not be used to justify or perpetuate a situation of injustice”.

It reads: “As we approach the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which will be a cause of celebration for many within the Jewish community and beyond, we must also acknowledge and reflect upon the role that the Declaration played in denying the Palestinian people their rights. There are well-founded fears, stories of profound loss and pain on all sides, and until these are listened to and understood, the chances for building a just peace for all will be increasingly difficult.”

In 1918 the Church of Scotland welcomed Lord Balfour’s support for a Jewish homeland, calling it “an epoch-making announcement,” but this week Jewish leaders were uncomfortable with the Church’s criticism of Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line.

A SCoJeC spokeswoman 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.”

The Council of Christians and Jews said: ‘We welcome efforts made by the Church of Scotland to engage with the Jewish community in Scotland and more widely in compiling this document. CCJ also notes the way in which the authors of this report have sought to acknowledge the complexities and challenges facing ordinary Israelis and Palestinians after many decades of conflict.

“However, suggestions from the World Mission Council and the Church and Society Council that the Church of Scotland might consider a departure from the commonly held support for a two state solution are concerning, as is the discussion of using economic leverage in this report. We would suggest that these actions do not tally with the thoughtful nature of much of the report and would not be helpful in promoting peace and justice within Israel and Palestine, or in developing relationships between Christian and Jewish communities here in the UK.”

Jewish representatives said they were pleased that the Church had consulted Scottish Jews before its publication, and that revisions had given a more balanced reading.

“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 anti-Semitism 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.”


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