Pro-Israel group bullies Church of Scotland over its ‘sensitive’ commemoration of Balfour centenary

Middle East
on 23 Comments

Once again, the Board of Deputies of British Jews has shown itself to be a bully when it comes to interfaith dialogue on Israel/Palestine. This time its victim is the Church of Scotland. It’s all depressingly predictable and immensely tiresome for anyone who cares about justice in the Holy Land and indeed the future of Jewish-Christian relations in the U.K.

Balfour centenary

Later this month (20-26 May) the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly will consider a new report advising the Church on how to mark this year’s Balfour Declaration centenary. Balfour was a member of the Church of Scotland and the Church has a long association with the Holy Land through schools, projects supporting Christian Palestinians and partnerships with organizations promoting justice and reconciliation. So it has plenty of reasons for taking an active interest in the anniversary.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • A call for any public commemorations of the Balfour Declaration to be undertaken sensitively, and always in the context for calling for peace and justice
  • A call to the UK government to base its engagement in this conflict on the principles of justice, equality, dignity, equal access to natural resources and freedom of opportunity for all
  • That the Church of Scotland should commend all those who are committed to the use of non-violent means of resolving the conflict
  • That the Church of Scotland should deplore the increased expansion of settlements which are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace
  • That a strategic review of the Church of Scotland’s presence in the Holy Land be undertaken and to examine the most effective use of its assets, in the pursuit of a just peace in Israel/ Palestine, and report back to the General Assembly of 2019
  • Encouragement to visit the Holy Land to better understand the realities faced by the Church’s partners working for justice and peace
  • An instruction to all church members to challenge antisemitism and anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • And encouragement to all church members to work ecumenically and with interfaith partners to pursue a shared vision for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine

But it’s clear that the Board and its President Jonathan Arkush have no interest in the Church of Scotland’s vision for peace. Immediately after the report was published, Arkush, condemned it as “deeply flawed” and told the Church of Scotland that it was displaying a “lack of balance and unconcealed hostility towards Israel.”

Once again we see how the Board acts as a self-appointed public arbiter of acceptable discourse on Israel, especially when it comes to Christian denominations. But what exactly are the “flaws” in the report and why is it so “unbalanced”?

Sensitively written

If you read the 21-page document what you’ll discover is a very carefully and sensitively written assessment of the historical background to the Balfour Declaration and the current discrimination faced by Palestinians 100 years later despite the Declaration’s intention to protect the civil and religious rights of all of the land’s inhabitants. The framers of ‘Balfour’ deliberately left out ‘political’ and ‘national’ rights for the indigenous Arab inhabitants – that was only for the Jews. But none of that is of relevance to the Board.

Instead, President Arkush objects that:

“The report encourages the Church to question the very existence of the world’s only Jewish State. With good reason, the global consensus is in favour of a two state solution, yet the report states that the Church should ‘reconsider its support’”

In fact the report does nothing of the kind. It makes it very clear that the Church has no intention of denying the right of the State of Israel to exist and it also remains committed to ‘two States’. What it does question are the ‘facts on the ground’ created by Israeli Settlements that now make it hard to imagine how an independent, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state can ever be established. In its haste to trash the report and smear the Church with sailing close to the UK government’s unhelpful definition of antisemitism, it doesn’t bother to give a truthful summary of its position.

Arkush goes on to say that:

 “…thousands of Palestinian terror attacks and their Israeli victims are reduced to just two lines. The document is woefully inadequate in failing to grasp basic realities and historical truth.”

I wonder how many lines or pages about Palestinian terrorism would have been sufficient for the Board before it considered the report “balanced”? Do publications by the Board of Deputies contain sufficient mention of the daily assault on Palestinian human rights in order to provide “balance”? No, they don’t, not even one line.

A lesson in ‘balance’

As for the Balfour Declaration itself, the Board is a proud supporter of the official UK Jewish information resource on Balfour for the centenary year Balfour100.com If you want to know what a lack of historical balance looks like then this is the place to go. Of the 20 ‘Reactions’ to Balfour quoted on the website you will not find a single Arab voice or dissenting view on the merits of the Declaration. It’s the Church of Scotland that should be giving the Board a lecture on historical balance.

Finally, Arkush throws in what he intends to be the ultimate blow to the moral standing of the Church and its report:

“It shamefully allies the church to the divisive BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] movement. We condemn the bigotry which runs through this deeply flawed document.”

The President is referring to the recommendation that the Church of Scotland undertakes a review of its investment strategy to ensure it’s not inadvertently encouraging or funding the continuation of the Israeli Occupation. The Board has become so determined to defend the Occupation that it’s no longer capable of, or willing to, recognize a consistent and ethical response to an act which even the UK government still considers illegal. Why would a Church want to prop up an act of on-going injustice? Why, for that matter, would a Jewish organization? But that’s where Zionism ends up taking you.

While the Church talks about “justice, equality, dignity, equal access to natural resources and freedom of opportunity for all” the Board characterizes the entire report as “adopting a narrative of rejection” and of “importing the conflict” to the UK. I don’t think we’ve been reading the same report.

No role to play

If the Board can’t bring itself to recognize that a thoughtful, considered, sensitive report like this has some merit then the Board has nothing to offer to interfaith dialogue on Israel. All it’s doing is showing to Christians across the UK that it’s ignorant, biased and bullying.

This kind of attack on the Church shows how the Board of Deputies has abdicated all independence when it comes to Israel, preferring to act as the local enforcer for the Israeli Foreign Office. There is no diaspora Jewish view. There is no thought leadership. There are no new ideas on the relationship between Jews outside of Israel and the behavior of the Jewish State. There’s certainly not the slightest acceptance that Israel has a case to answer one hundred years after Balfour and 50 years into the Occupation.

The Church must be fearless

While the Board insists on remaining in cloth-eared denial about Israel, the Church of Scotland, like other Christian denominations, should adopt a far more robust attitude. There’s no need to sound apologetic for giving a voice to Palestinian Christians. There’s no need to repeat endlessly that you are not antisemitic. It’s time to go on the offensive.

So here my message to the Church of Scotland

  • Be proud of the report you’ve written. It’s balanced and just and lives up to your values. You have the right, the authority and the obligation to examine this issue and take a position
  • Don’t be bullied
  • If you are accused of antisemitism, or even close to it, go on the offensive. Seek urgent clarification, demand an apology from the Board, summon them to your office, make sure everyone knows you’ve done that
  • Challenge the Board to present its own position in a balanced way, ask them if they can acknowledge a single example of Israeli wrong-doing towards the Palestinian people
  • If the Board sticks to its guns and continues its narrow agenda of intransigence then break off communications, there is no debate to be had, the Board will have proved they not partners for Peace, or anything else.

This post was originally published by Robert Cohen at Patheos, on his blog “Writing from the Edge” on May 1, 2017. 

About Robert Cohen

Cohen is a British writer. He blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift. http://micahsparadigmshift.blogspot.co.uk/

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23 Responses

  1. RoHa
    May 13, 2017, 11:07 pm

    I’m sure it is anti-Semitic to accuse Jewish organisations of bullying. They are representatives of an oppressed and powerless minority, and mere make polite, tentative, requests.

    Sometimes, but not often, those in power condescend to accede to those requests, as that nice Mr. Macron has just done.

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/frances-macron-dumps-parliamentary-candidate-after-israel-lobby-pressure?utm_source=EI+readers&utm_campaign=603e688384-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e802a7602d-603e688384-290660781

    • RoHa
      May 14, 2017, 5:45 am

      And, of course, that should be “merely”. I know Kay is too classy to rub my nose in it, but I will consider it rubbed nonetheless.

  2. paul
    May 14, 2017, 1:59 am

    Terry Eagelton , in his Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, quotes Balfour on the Irish.” We should have exterminated the Irish years ago , , , and now it is too late.” Perhaps that should be included in any celebration of Lord Balfour.

    • MHughes976
      May 14, 2017, 4:45 pm

      See Catherine Shannon, Arthur Balfour and Ireland, reviewed by Anthony Gaughan, Irish Quaterly Review autumn 1989: AJ Balfour had the plan of ‘killling home rule with kindness’, mainly by reforming the land system, which he described as ‘essentially rotten’, so he was not one big mass of hostility, had some idea of human rights and did not exclude the Irish from humanity. I accept that did believe in repressive policies against popular protests.
      The two Balfour brothers, Arthur and Gerald, were both Chief Secretaries for Ireland, Arthur around 1890, Gerald taking over (not directly) c. 1895. There is a record of a speech by him on Oct.19 of that year saying that Home Rule might not be killed by kindness but that the bitterness in Anglo-Irish relations could be and that he wished to achieve better working relationships – but look what happened over the Eurovision Song Contest only yesterday.
      It was Gerald, not Arthur, who is said to have used highly racist language about Darwinism’s implying Irish extinction, but the witness, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, a strong supporter of Irish nationalism, may have been adding colour to what he heard.

      • Maghlawatan
        May 14, 2017, 5:40 pm

        The period 1890 to.1922 in Ireland was fascinating. In 1910 most Irish were happy with the status quo. By 1918 the cause was lost. Something similar will happen with US support for Israel.

      • RoHa
        May 14, 2017, 7:23 pm

        I haven’t seen a mention of Blunt for more decades than I can remember. Perhaps not since I was an undergraduate. As I recall, he was a staunch opponent of imperialism in general. He and Keith would get on famously.

      • amigo
        May 15, 2017, 6:46 am

        “The period 1890 to.1922 in Ireland was fascinating. In 1910 most Irish were happy with the status quo “Maghlawatan.

        To quote the oft cited zionist response, “It is “complicated.”.

        Most Irish people were not happy but more resigned to their fate.They lived in abject poverty , a condition forced on them by their oppressors.This is the main reason Britain was able to fill the ranks of it,s military with tens of thousands of Irish men who needed the money to improve the lives of their families.

        It is true , that when the leaders of the 1916 had been defeated and were being led away, they were vilified and spat upon by those who relied upon the “British Shilling” to survive.However , when the British authorities in their zeal to seek revenge , had 14 of the leaders executed over a period of 10 days , the reaction was swift and the true feelings of the majority of the Irish people emerged.

        That was when the “cause” was lost and the ushered in the end of British domination of Ireland.

        Israel , is it,s own executioner .I just wish they would get on with it .

      • Boomer
        May 15, 2017, 7:39 am

        re: “The period 1890 to.1922 in Ireland was fascinating. In 1910 most Irish were happy with the status quo. By 1918 the cause was lost.”

        Interesting; I have never studied Irish history, but had the vague notion that there was a long history of resentment of British rule in the southern part of the island. If it changed so quickly, and the results were tragic for so long, then the history seems worthy of consideration, as a case study in the sociology of cultural conflict. Of course, each conflict is unique: Ireland isn’t Israel. Still, there may be some lessons to be learned. Any suggestions on things to read for a thoughtful analysis of the conflict from this perspective?

      • MHughes976
        May 15, 2017, 11:37 am

        Many things changed very drastically in that decade, all changes being mediated by the War. Another Great War would do many things and even right many wrongs among the survivors but it would be a cure worse than the disease. And I see no real sign of a great shift in opinion at any point in the spectrum.

  3. Citizen
    May 14, 2017, 4:14 am

    Why are the leadership of so many Christian churches so un-Christian when it comes to anything Israel? How can said leadership be so dishonest and, ultimately, unethical while waving the banner of interfaith dialogue and kinship? There are plenty of American cable tv Christian programs, Christian channels, showing regularly and they all promote solidarity with the Jewish community and with the state of Israel; I’ve never come across any that discuss the plight of the Palestinians. Of course the Evangelical shows practically idolize Israel, but what about the other Christian churches, denominations? What do Palestinian Christians here and over there think about this?

    • Walker
      May 14, 2017, 6:15 pm

      Why are the leadership of so many Christian churches so un-Christian when it comes to anything Israel . . . I’ve never come across any that discuss the plight of the Palestinians.

      Citizen, the so-called “mainline” moderate/liberal Protestant churches (Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc) have a venerable tradition of support for Palestinian rights. This stems in part from their long involvement in the region as missionaries and educators. Including some ancestors of mine.

      Those communities have a hard time making their voices heard because 1) they have a WASP-like preference for speaking in carefully modulated tones and would never host a TV show and 2) they’ve been shrinking like snow patches in April. Over the past 50 years they have gone from the majority establishment to a dwindling few.

  4. Boomer
    May 14, 2017, 8:02 am

    Thanks for this report, Mr. Cohen. You have said what needs to be said very well indeed.

  5. eljay
    May 14, 2017, 9:33 am

    … Instead, President Arkush objects that:

    “The report encourages the Church to question the very existence of the world’s only Jewish State. …

    And so it should. “Jewish State” is a religion-supremacist construct. No state is entitled to exist as a supremacist state of any kind, and no-one should be expected or required to recognize or accept a supremacist state of any kind.

    If Mr. Arkush believes in all forms of supremacism, he is a consistently hateful and immoral person. If he believes only in Jewish supremacism, he’s a hateful and immoral hypocrite (a.k.a., a Zionist).

    • Misterioso
      May 15, 2017, 4:05 pm

      I hate to nitpick, but…..

      The entity known as “Israel” is not “Jewish.” Over 25% of its population is non-Jewish and also the most rapidly growing segment.

      Also, the entity known as “Israel” is not a “state” (or a country), i.e., it has yet to officially declare its borders and have them accepted as such by the international community.

      • talknic
        May 15, 2017, 8:38 pm

        “the entity known as “Israel” is not a “state” (or a country), i.e., it has yet to officially declare its borders and have them accepted as such by the international community.”

        Israel was recognized as it asked to be recognized, prior to being accepted into the UN on the understanding it would adhere to International Law. Alas, the little rogue state has not lived up to its leral obligations

        http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/israel/large/documents/newPDF/49.pdf

  6. Froggy
    May 14, 2017, 2:37 pm

    …the Church talks about “justice, equality, dignity, equal access to natural resources and freedom of opportunity for all”….

    Can’t have that now.

  7. MHughes976
    May 14, 2017, 2:45 pm

    There is a very fat chance of the commemoration’s being anything other than rather gross celebrations at the top level. Whatever the CofS does the CofE will do worse. However, ministers up and down the country – some of them, more than a few – will strike a different note, enough to get some attention. I hope that when people talk of justice they will recall the normality of the principle that people should be enfranchised citizens of a sovereign state.

  8. Froggy
    May 14, 2017, 4:25 pm

    It looks to me as if the Board of Deputies of British Jews have been taking their training from Crif.

  9. Ossinev
    May 14, 2017, 4:30 pm

    A balanced and enlightening report. Especially liked the challenge:
    “Challenge the Board to present its own position in a balanced way, ask them if they can acknowledge a single example of Israeli wrong-doing towards the Palestinian people”

    Don`t hold your breath. These Israeli Firsters/Fifth Columnists do so love to snipe at a distance but will slink back into the shadows when actually asked to explain and justify their sniping.

    The overarching question in all of this is of course why oh why if Israel has become such an enchanting place are these people still here in the UK. Is it perhaps that they are terrified that if they move “back” to their beloved”homeland” they will have to witness at first hand the stench and gore of on the ground Zionism as opposed to the cosy Hasbara filtered image which they feed off and promote.

    • MHughes976
      May 15, 2017, 3:37 am

      I too was struck by that challenge. Mind you, Zionism never lacks journalists and academics with golden tongues.

  10. Rashers2
    May 16, 2017, 5:11 am

    Very good exposé of the ludicrous, vicious lengths to which the Zionist apologists will go to avoid confronting any of the REAL I-P issues, by plastering such as the Kirk of Scotland with manure that properly belongs to the Zionists themselves. I shall be in London on 25th/6th May (ironically, also the eve of the start of this year’s Muslim Holy Month): is anyone aware of any planned demos there intended to draw attention to the dark stain on British foreign policy that the Balfour Declaration actually represents?

  11. David Gerald Fincham
    May 17, 2017, 10:25 am

    “The framers of ‘Balfour’ deliberately left out ‘political’ and ‘national’ rights for the indigenous Arab inhabitants – that was only for the Jews.”

    I don’t see any distinction between civil rights and political rights. The declaration makes no mention of Jewish political rights in Palestine. Its objective is to establish a Jewish National Home IN Palestine: this does not necessarily imply that the existing population do not constitute a nation. Indeed, the 1921 Carlsbad Resolution of the World Zionist Congress proposed that Palestine should be the COMMON HOME of TWO nations, Jewish and Arab, with PERFECT EQUALITY between Jews and Arabs. (Rather like the United Kingdom is the common home of three nations: English, Scottish and Welsh.)

  12. JLewisDickerson
    May 17, 2017, 1:06 pm

    RE: “So here my message to the Church of Scotland – Be proud of the report you’ve written. It’s balanced and just and lives up to your values . . . Don’t be bullied If you are accused of antisemitism, or even close to it, go on the offensive. Seek urgent clarification, demand an apology from the Board . . .” – Robert Cohen

    HERE’S WHAT THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND NEEDS TO AVOID:

    Battered person syndrome
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battered_person_syndrome

    [EXCERPT] Battered person syndrome is a physical and psychological condition of a person who has suffered (usually persistent) emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from another person.[1] It is classified as ICD-9 code 995.81 “Battered person syndrome” not elsewhere classified (NEC).

    The condition is the basis for the battered spouse defense that has been used in cases of physically and psychologically abused spouses who have killed their abusers. The condition was first researched extensively by Lenore E. Walker, who used Martin Seligman’s learned helplessness theory to explain why abused spouses stayed in destructive relationships.[2] . . .

    ● Symptoms

    When battered person syndrome (BPS) manifests as PTSD, it consists of the following symptoms: (a) re-experiencing the battering as if it were recurring even when it is not, (b) attempts to avoid the psychological impact of battering by avoiding activities, people, and emotions, (c) hyperarousal or hypervigilance, (d) disrupted interpersonal relationships, (e) body image distortion or other somatic concerns, and (f) sexuality and intimacy issues.[7]

    Additionally, repeated cycles of violence and reconciliation can result in the following beliefs and attitudes:[8]

    · The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
    · The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
    · The abused fears for her/his life, and/or, the lives of loved ones whom the abuser might or has threatened to harm (e.g., children-in-common, close relatives or friends).
    · The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

    ● Causes

    The syndrome develops in response to a three-stage cycle found in domestic violence situations. First, tension builds in the relationship. Second, the abusive partner releases tension via violence while blaming the victim for having caused the violence. Third, the violent partner makes gestures of contrition. However, the partner does not find solutions to avoid another phase of tension building and release so the cycle repeats. The repetition of the violence despite the abuser’s attempts to “make nice” results in the abused partner feeling at fault for not preventing a repeat cycle of violence. However, since the victim is not at fault and the violence is internally driven by the abuser, this self-blame results in feelings of helplessness rather than empowerment. The feeling of being both responsible for and helpless to stop the violence leads in turn to depression and passivity. This learned depression and passivity makes it difficult for the abused partner to marshal the resources and support system needed to leave.[9] . . .

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