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Church of Scotland accepts controversial report on Israel/Palestine


Today the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland accepted the controversial Church and Society Council report on Israel/Palestine titled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land,'”which has been widely and angrily condemned by Jewish groups and the Israeli government as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

There was a lively debate about the theology and politics in the document, as well as about the friction the report caused between the Church of Scotland and the Jewish community.   It became apparent that an overwhelming majority of the delegates favored the report when a counter-motion, which recommended rewriting the document for next year’s assembly, was almost unanimously defeated in a stand-up vote.  A Church press release says:

The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly today, May 23, debated a revised version of its report, ‘The Inheritance of Abraham?’

Presenting the report Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council said: “This is primarily a report highlighting the continued occupation by the state of Israel and the injustices faced by the Palestinian people as a consequence. It is not a report criticising the Jewish people. Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to anti-Semitism. “

The revised report was overwhelmingly accepted by the General Assembly., Mrs Foster-Fulton said: “The on-going conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been an issue close to the heart of the Church of Scotland – we have a long relationship with the region and have many friends there.

“The Church has kept on thinking about ways we can contribute to a just and peaceful solution. The report we bring to this year’s Assembly has already caused no small amount of controversy. The Church and Society Council has learned a great deal from dialogue with Jewish community which followed the initial release of the report.

“We would like to thank members of the Jewish community who sat down with us and were gracious in their concern. We present a revised version today with a preface that sets the report more in context. While acknowledging that some of the original language, on reflection, was misguided, I want to affirm that the report remains robust. It offers new insights – ones that have come through the experience of those suffering the continuing injustices of occupation. I look forward to the debate and, I hope, to continuing discussion after today exploring the issues and ideas brought forward in the report.”

The recommendations for action are mild compared to the resolutions passed by the Presbyterian and Methodist conventions in the U.S. this year.  There is no mention of even limited boycotts of settlement products.  Neither is church divestment from companies like Caterpillar and Motorola an issue here, as it was at the church meetings in the U.S.

The controversy is mostly about the theological views expressed in the “Inheritance of Abraham” which justify the conclusion that God did not promise any land to the Jewish people.  Specifically, what offended some Jews was the argument that the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament somehow supersede or invalidate the apparent bequest of the land of Israel to the Jewish people found in the Hebrew bible or Old Testament.  The report concludes:

… that Christians should not be supporting any claims by [Editor’s note: “Jewish or” was here in the original version] any people to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. We believe that is a misuse of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land.

After a hastily convened meeting with representatives of British Jewish organizations, the church said it had recognized that “some language in the report caused controversy in some parts of the Jewish community,” but the views expressed were “consistent with views held by the Church of Scotland over many years.”

Still the church agreed to revise the document which it had suddenly removed from its website.  The new version, which was accepted today, was less critical of  the government of Israel and of certain aspects of the Jewish religion, but maintained the conclusion and most of the theological argumentation which was so vociferously objected to by Jewish critics.

The new report is unlikely to mollify those who railed against the original, but most critics have been suddenly silent, choosing not to respond publicly to the revisions.  However, Ben Cohen, a Jewish-American, writing in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, (paywall, 10 free articles with registration) made it clear that he is still offended:

Influenced by Sabeel’s theology, the Church of Scotland elevates the situation of the Palestinians, reinvented as Jesus’s own people, far above the grotesque plight of Christians elsewhere in the region. It’s a stance that is bound to ensure that the Church’s Jewish interlocutors remain fearful of its true intentions. The bluntly anti-Semitic phrasing of the original report may have been removed, but the delegitimization of Judaism – not simply political Zionism – remains very much intact.

Cohen also slams Mondoweiss:

Just as the original version relied heavily on the work of marginal Jewish anti-Zionist figures in staking its moral and theological orientation, so does the new one. Within the Jewish community, the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss is regarded with a mixture of derision and contempt; nonetheless, the Church of Scotland want [sic] to persuade us that it’s an authoritative source on both the political and religious aspects of Judaism. Readers will search in vain for a quote from a mainstream Jewish thinker, whether that’s the Rambam, Rashi, or U.K. Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks

 The reference to this site relates to the fact that the current version of the “Inheritance of Abraham” includes a long quote from a 2012 post written by Marc Ellis, which is part of his ongoing “Exile and the Prophetic” series. (see p.8 of revised report and original post.)

The Ellis addition appears to substitute for the ideas of the Jewish writer and activist Mark Braverman, whose thoughts have been largely excised from the current version of the church document. The deleted excerpts of Braverman’s ideas include a critique of Jewish “exclusivism” and “exceptionalism,” in addition to an admonition to Jews to “repent for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949.”   Also, the necessity of Christians to acknowledge “wrongs done to the Jewish people” does not appear in the present document.  (See pps. 6,7 in original)


Ira Glunts
About Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY. His twitter handle is @abushalom

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9 Responses

  1. yourstruly
    May 23, 2013, 3:20 pm

    “opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated with anti-Semitism” – Scotland Church & Society Council report on Israel/Palestine.

    “Within the Jewish Community the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss is viewed with a mixture of derision and contempt.” – Jewish-American Zionist Ben Cohen

    Bravo, Church of Scotland and Mondoweiss

    • PAZ
      May 23, 2013, 9:59 pm

      Thank you Church of Scotland for having the courage of your convictions and not backing down to “other powers”. I’m proud of my Scottish heritage!!

    • pabelmont
      May 24, 2013, 7:07 am

      “Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to anti-Semitism.”

      Well, it CAN, but I like the idea that Scots “English” regards the word “CANNOT” so as to mean “CANNOT REASONABLY”. So much for the Zionists, even though there are a lot of them and they are very energetic and some of them are very wealthy and spread that wealth around to buy political favor for Israel.

      Bravo Church of Scotland, indeed!

  2. MHughes976
    May 23, 2013, 3:47 pm

    Glad to see that Mondoweiss is regarded by Ben Cohen as an active influence on this report, muted as it is. Whether Zionism is an authentic expression of Judaism is open to much debate. But critical examination of religious beliefs, whether from within or from outside the relevant faith group, is legitimate and unavoidable, not some sort of scandal as Cohen seems to suppose. If authentic Judaism does imply Zionism then I must recognise that I disagree with Judaism in that respect and that believers in authentic Judaism will attribute serious error to me. If authentic Christianity also implies Zionism (which is what the CofS is denying, while the CofE hides under the pulpit) I have to face a crisis of faith.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    May 23, 2013, 10:30 pm

    RE: “However, Ben Cohen, a Jewish-American, writing in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz . . . made it clear that he is still offended . . .” ~ Ira Glunts

    ACCORDING TO THE “HAARETZ” ARTICLE: Ben Cohen is a New York-based writer on Jewish and international affairs. His articles and commentaries have been published in, amongst others, the Wall Street Journal, Commentary and Tablet.

    MY COMMENT: ‘Nuff said?


    Ben Cohen

    Man Utd fan, write for Commentary, WSJ, Haaretz, NY Post, Jewish Ideas Daily, Tablet, Fox News, JNS, Jerusalem Post and more. Archive @

    SOURCE –

  4. W.Jones
    May 23, 2013, 11:40 pm

    Dear Ira and Adam,

    I appreciate your reporting on the Document, and wish to clarify. You commented:
    “The controversy is mostly about the theological views expressed in the ‘Inheritance of Abraham’ which justify the conclusion that God did not promise any land to the Jewish people.”
    My understanding is that the Document doesn’t deny that God ever gave them any land, but rather it repeats the ideas of the Kairos Document that the promise has expanded to all nations, or, consequently, that the promise did not remain limited to one nationality alone.

    On a previous thread Hostage surprised me in showing how compatible the Christian and rabbinical views can be in theory on the “opening up” of the promise. Thus the spreading of the belief in Israel’s God does not “invalidate” it, but rather supersedes it in the positive sense of expanding it.

    One journalist says : “the delegitimization of Judaism remains very much intact.” If the bases of the beneficial promise itself are Abraham and Judaism, doesn’t that rather legitimize it?

    Personally I think it’s important to discuss religion of all faiths in a respectful way, and that means respect for both Rabbinical and Christian views.

    Actually, I found a direct quote by Maimonides on Mondoweiss, and a search for his name brought 308 results. I think it may be helpful to discuss the range of rabbinical views on the topic.


    • SQ Debris
      SQ Debris
      May 25, 2013, 2:14 pm

      W Jones – Personally I think it’s important to discuss religion of all faiths in a respectful way, and that means respect for both Rabbinical and Christian views.

      Why? Any other types of ideologies/social pathologies you think we need to tip toe around? These institutions of man (definitely MAN – look at the way religions across the board codified the abuse of women) are instruments of exceptionalism, mass murder, and oppression.

      “Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.” Karl Marx, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, Paris, 7 & 10 February 1844

  5. pabelmont
    May 24, 2013, 7:26 am

    “The new report is unlikely to mollify those who railed against the original, but most critics have been suddenly silent, choosing not to respond publicly to the revisions.” In other words, let’s not give this statement any more notoriety than we can avoid.

    As to promises of real estate, the only really rock solid promise I recall in the Bible is God driving Adam and Eve out of Eden, forever. Now, it seems, the Holy Land (or some such) is (again) in the realm of promised real estate, in some views promised to Jews. But was that promise absolute or conditional. If conditional, were the conditions met?

    As to the meaning of the Bible(s): I don’t think the Scots are denying (any) Jewish interpretation of the O.T. They’re just saying that the Christian interpretation is different and that Christians (in their view) should not regard the Bible as a document whose proper interpretation (for Christians) should be left entirely in the hands of (some) Jews.

    As to Jewish interpretations, I have only the vaguest ideas of Jewish teachings, but seem to recall that (in some Jewish view) God promised the land (OK, which land, but that’s another question) DURING GOOD BEHAVIOR and it was manifest over history that the Jewish inhabitants of that land had so badly misbehaved as either to forfeit the promise or to delay its next (periodic, due to successive, seemingly endless mis-behavior) implementation.

    In my view the entire Zionist project is criminality carried out in the name of either necessity or religion — and I, for one, am not satisfied that this project should be regarded as having secured God’s favor to Jewish return to (or sole ownership of) the land. (Getting the favor of the USA’s Congress is really not the same thing, is it? Quite the contrary.)

  6. Richard Armbach
    Richard Armbach
    May 24, 2013, 8:29 am

    Meanwhile down the Church of England way…..

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