MEDIA RELEASE
Thursday 23 May 2013

Church of Scotland General Assembly 2013Delegates to the Church of Scotland General Assembly have today voted to adopt a report by its Church and Society Council which challenged "claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory". The Church report argues that it is "doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction" given "the fact that the [Palestinian] land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force".

The Church also reaffirmed their view that the present situation in Israel/Palestine "is characterised by an inequality in power" and that Israel's blockade of Gaza and illegal military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem must end before reconciliation is possible.

Delegates further stressed that the human rights of all peoples should be respected and that "this should include the right of return and/or compensation for Palestinian refugees".

The Church and Society Council report, The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the 'promised land', was condemned by the Israeli ambassador to the UK when it was first published earlier this month. The conclusions of the revised report presented to the General Assembly were unchanged from the original, while adding introductory remarks and a reaffirming of the Kirk's rejection of racism and religious hatred.

Dr Bernard Sabella of the Middle East Council of Churches, based in Jerusalem, a delegate to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, called the Church of Scotland report "a wake-up call". Rev Na'el Abu Rahmoun of the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East explained to the General Assembly how Palestinian citizens of Israel face systematic discrimination, and said "we are about 1.5 million, Christians and Muslims together" who are "considered maybe second or third class citizens".

A motion to effectively remit the report until 2014 was overwhelmingly rejected by delegates who agreed instead to promote the widest discussion of the report and its conclusions throughout the local committees of the Church and beyond.

General Assembly delegates also endorsed the Church and Society Council General Report which notes and encourages debate around the Iona Call 2012, a response to Kairos Palestine that endorses the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action.

Iona Community member Eurig Scandrett said that the Church of Scotland "has not been afraid to speak truth to power - the truth that Israel's claims to Palestinian land is unjustifiable theologically or ethically. Israel's credibility has just been dealt a major blow".

Fiona Napier, Chair of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, welcomed the General Assembly decisions, saying that "The Israeli government needs to know that Scottish civil society, including our trade unions and churches, refuse to be complicit in their crimes against the Palestinian people and, as we see the situation for Palestinians worsen, we will find and take more effective action in support of Palestinian rights".

END

NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
www.scottishpsc.org.uk
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Contact:
Sofiah MacLeod
Campaigns Officer
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0131 6200052
0793100361

2. The General Assembly is the supreme court of the Church, and is its annual national business meeting. It has the power to make laws and set the agenda for the coming months or even years for the administrative councils, committees and departments of the organisation.
http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/about_us/general_assembly/guide_to_the_assembly

3. Church and Society Council Report to the Assembly
http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/13790/3_CHURCH_and_SOCIETY_2013.pdf

4. The inheritance of Abraham? A report on the 'promised land'
http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/14050/The_Inheritance_of_Abraham.pdf

5. Daily papers, Thursday 23 May
http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/14760/daily_papers_thurs_23_may.pdf

6. Israeli ambassador criticises 'truly hurtful' Church of Scotland report, Herald Scotland, Thursday 9 May 2013
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/israeli-ambassador-criticises-truly-hurtful-church-of-scotland-report.1368132343

7. Kairos Palestine document 'A moment of truth'
http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/default/Documents/English.pdf

8. The Iona Call 2012
http://www.kairospalestine.org.uk/peace_the_iona_call_4580.aspx

9. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
http://www.bdsmovement.net/bdsintro

10. Church of Scotland General Assembly slams Israeli apartheid and land theft - suggests BDS needed
http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/index.php/174-campaigning/churches/scotland/1562-church-of-scotland-report-slams-israeli-apartheid-and-land-theft-suggests-bds-needed

11. Church debated revised Inheritance of Abraham report, Church of Scotland, 23 May 2013
http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/news_and_events/news/articles/church_debated_revised_inheritance_of_abraham_report

The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the 'promised land' is a ground-breaking report  by the Church and Society Council that was overwhelmingly  agreed this weekend at the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. In adopting the report with only a handful of votes for remitting it, the Church of Scotland rejects the use of the Hebrew Bible to “sanction…occupation of land which involved the displacement of some 750,000 people living there”. 

Mick Napier
Edinburgh  23 May 2013

SPSC Edinburgh members leaflet General Assembly delegates, 23 May 2013Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomes the strong and unambiguous reaffirmation of the Church of Scotland's 2007 statement of opposition to the religious claims of Christian Zionism and advice to Church members to reject them. The national church, which is by far the largest church or religious group in Scotland, criticises Christian Zionism within a wider repudiation of European colonialism in general. The Church rejects any use of the Hebrew Bible to dispossess the Palestinian people.

The Church restates its support for Palestinian human rights, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return home or be compensated. This support is in line with Scottish and international public opinion.

The Church of Scotland's support for Palestinian human rights is strengthened by its accompanying rejection of anti-semitism as a form of racism; this parallels the stated positions of the current Scottish Government, is a core principle of SPSC and represents overwhelming public opinion.

The Church of Scotland now stands for

  • an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank
  • and end to the siege of Gaza
  • Israel's illegal settlement building
  • recognition of the right of displaced Palestinian refugees to return and/or compensation
  • safe rights of access to the sacred sites for the main religions in the area
  • the UK Government and the European Union to use pressure to stop further expansion of in Israeli settlements and remove existing illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

 

The General Assembly explicitly condemned the acquisition of Palestinian land “by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force.”  The report now adopted notes how South African Church leaders during visits to ISrael/Palestine observed similarities to the concluding years of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Church of Scotland has accepted the suggestion in the report that sanctions against Israel will be needed to force an end to Israeli human rights violations.

The report approvingly quotes Mark Braverman that "Christian people must not sell out the Palestinian people because of repentance for the Holocaust, 'sensitivity' to Jewish feelings, and fear of being labelled anti-Semitic."  They reject accusations that they are driven by anti-semitism as opposed to justice for all, including Palestinians.

The Church of Scotland now urges study of the Iona Call 2012 which notes "deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel" and challenges the "deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights".  The Iona Call asks Christians to participate only in pilgrimages to Israel/Palestine that encounter Palestinians and supports Palestinian "non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression".  It endorses the Palestinian call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action.

SCoJeC (Scottish Council of Jewish Communities) and the UK Board of Deputies had criticised the revised version of The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the 'promised land'  and will be dismayed by this fresh evidence of public and institutional commitment to solidarity with Palestine. Their earlier response, seemingly shocked and uncharacteristically muted, claimed “the revised report still lacks balance in its approach to the Middle East conflict” and will not “advance the cause of the peace in the Middle East”.  Actually, it will.

Back-peddling furiously, SCoJeC and the BoD then claimed that they “would not presume to make comment on matters of Christian theology and did not do so.” Last week, however, Jonathan Arkush, BoD Vice President, angrily labelled the Church of Scotland report “an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement”.  Ephraim Borowski, Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director, who has something of a record of making unsubstantiated and downright dishonest claims of anti-semitism, called the report “biased, weak on sources, and contradictory” and called “upon the Church to withdraw it from the forthcoming general assembly… on behalf of the Jewish community of Scotland.”  Working as always to associate all Scottish Jews with the crimes of the State of Israel, Borowski claimed, against all the available evidence, that SCoJEC’s “intention was to…draw attention to the increasingly hostile contemporary experience of Jewish people in Scotland” rather than to promote the interests of a foreign state.

Further afield, the Zionist Organisation of America has called the revised Church report “despicable” and “anti-semitic”, and ZOA President Morton A. Klein insisted the Bible contains “God’s promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance”.

Israel underscored the need for action to support Palestinian rights by expanding illegal settlement building just before the Church of Scotland General Assembly expressed its special concern

“at the recent actions of the Government of Israel in its support for settlements, for the construction of the security barrier or ‘the Wall’ within Occupied Territory, for the blockade of Gaza and for the anti-Boycott law…The Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are illegal under international law. The Church of Scotland, individuals and civil organisations should urge the UK Government and the European Union as a matter of urgency to put pressure on Israel to cease from the expansion of these settlements”.

The Church now joins in the insistence of the Palestinian Kairos Declaration that “religion cannot favour or support any unjust political regime, but must rather promote justice, truth and human dignity”, and draws unambiguous conclusions.

"From this last perspective, the desire of those who seek to acquire the land of the Palestinians is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this."

To emphasise the point, Church policy now insists that

“Christians should not be supporting any claims by 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”.

The authors of the report had asked rhetorically whether the Hebrew Bible could “really sanction…occupation of land which involved the displacement of some 750,000 people already living there, and the present injustices and humanitarian issues we see today”.

According to the Church, the “human rights of all peoples should be respected, and this should include the right of return and/or compensation for Palestinian refugees”.

By adopting The Inheritance of Abraham the Church of Scotland now endorses the “criticism of Christian Zionism” presented in the Kairos Declaration in the name of every Christian denomination in Palestine and encourages "members of the Church of Scotland to reject it”. The report saw as “repugnant” the notion from an earlier era of “European colonialism…that a land was ‘empty’ if western power and culture was not present,” and repudiated claims that the Christian/Jewish Bible confers any exclusive rights to Palestine or any other real estate. An emerging consensus among scholars was cited to support the rejection of the Zionist narrative; the report had noted that “lack of detailed archaeological evidence supports the view that the range of scriptural material makes it inappropriate to try to use the Hebrew scripture to determine an area of land meant exclusively for the Jewish people”.

Anticipating the automatic Zionist response, the report authors “strongly reject accusations of anti-Semitic bias” for their support for Palestinian human and national rights when “the current situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory is characterised by an inequality in power [and] liberal-democratic values have been violated in immigration, citizenship, education, economic, and most of all in land policies”.

The report notes the relevance of the apartheid label to Israel and suggests that BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – will be needed to force Israel to comply with international and humanitarian law:

"Church leaders from South Africa, following a visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the autumn of 2012, observed similarities to the concluding years of the apartheid regime in South Africa…it is challenging that those who remember the reality of apartheid first hand and the consequences of international campaigns on their own nation concur with proposals to consider economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements, as the best way of convincing Israeli politicians and voters that what is happening is wrong."

Despite intense pressure from Zionist sources in Scotland and abroad to abandon the main elements of their report, the Church of Scotland Church and Society Council is to be congratulated on their support for Palestinian human and national rights, their principled stand for justice, their readiness to name Israeli human right violations and their call for effective action at every level of society to remedy the gross imbalance in power in the struggle between apartheid Israel and the Palestinian people struggling for freedom.

Mick Napier
23 May 2013
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Read also
Israeli treatment of Palestinians is "appalling" says senior Scottish cleric
&
Church of Scotland: "Bible is not a mandate to dispossess native people" - Zionists outraged

Ephraim Borowski, Scottish Council of Jewish Communities Director, demanded that Christians condone the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and elsewhere as Biblically endorsed, or accept they are committing "an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for". Borowski, who once dishonestly obtained an endorsement from the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for a a book that libelled Scottish PSC as "demonising Jews" and then had to pulp all 6,000 copies of the libellous publication, concluded that the abandonment of the view that the Bible endorses ethnic cleansing and Jewish supremacy in Israel/Palestine "closes the door on meaningful dialogue".

Mick Napier
5th May 2013

An article in the Jewish Chronicle shows how isolated Zionists are from the mainstream of public opinion. Entitled Scottish Church to debate Jewish right to land of Israel, the piece reports that un-named "Jewish leaders" have attacked the Church of Scotland for concluding what every sane person has already decided - that the Christian or Jewish Bibles are not (any longer) to be treated as title deeds to modern real estate and that Israel's violation of Palestinian human rights is very bad indeed.

The Bible was also used to "justify" an earlier settler colonial project of dispossession The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian and votes on matters of policy and will vote later this month on a document from its Church and Society Council, The Promised Land.  A "Jewish leader who did not want to be named" attacked The Promised Land as a "deliberate attempt to question Israel's right to exist [and] very damaging to interfaith relations in Scotland and throughout Britain".

The Church of Scotland may well soon conclude that Christians should not support exclusive Jewish claims to the land of Israel or use the Bible to "settle contemporary conflicts over land".  This modest and entirely humane proposal is in line with overwhelming and decent Scottish and world-wide opinion.  

It is labelled "ill-considered" and "regressive" by Scottish Zionists. Ephraim Borowski, Director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, demanded that Christians condone the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and elsewhere as Biblically endorsed, or accept they are committing "an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for".  Borowski, who once dishonestly obtained an endorsement from the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for a book that libelled Scottish PSC as "demonising Jews" and then had to pulp all 6,000 copies of the libellous publication, concluded that the abandonment of the view that the Bible endorses ethnic cleansing and Jewish supremacy in Israel/Palestine "closes the door on meaningful dialogue". 

Claiming to act "on behalf of" all Scottish Jews, Borowski called for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland not to discuss their Committee's proposal!  UK Jewish Board of Deputies' Jonathan Arkush claimed the entire UK Jewish Community was committed to ethnic cleansing.  He found enough words to say that he was at a loss for words: "I am at a loss for words that the Church of Scotland should have delivered such a slap in the face to the Jewish community."  Then, in the only way that Zionists seem able to respond to human rights advocates, and just as his comrades have insulted, inter alia, the Scottish Trade Union Congress, the University and College Union, the Green Party, Friends of the Earth and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Arkush insulted the Church of Scotland:

It is an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement. The Church has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based.

After thus condemning  the efforts of the Church of Scotland to align their theology and the Christian Bible with elementary norms of justice and human rights, the spokesperson claiming to act "on behalf of" Scottish Jews condemns any "arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology...[as] breathtaking".  Damn your theology but how dare you even criticise mine!

The Scottish Zionist response would not be a Scottish Zionist response if it did not try to conflate support for human rights with anti-semitism; this does not disappoint. The Church of Scotland document that asks for equality and respect for Palestinian human rights reads, they claim, "like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism".

The Church of Scotland report states: "There has been a widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel. This raises an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning."

The document argues that from a Christian perspective, "the desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this".

Faced with Israeli criminality and US-backed instransigence, the document proposes "economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements".

The Zionist CEO of the Council of Christians and Jews, David Gifford, is reported to have waffled incoherently that "the report was ill-considered, regressive and insensitive to...the range of Israeli public opinion" and asserted that a commitment to equality "smacks of Christian superiority over Judaism".  Ah, the moral universe of ethnic cleansers!

Cambridge academic Ed Kessler, condemned the document for failing to "appreciate that there are two narratives — one Jewish/Israeli and the other Palestinian/Arab" and for having "a partisan agenda — the promotion of Palestinian rights".

Sally Foster-Fulton, Convenor of the Church and Society Council, said:

The Church of Scotland chose the words of its report carefully to question and challenge, not condemn or dismiss. It cannot and will not shy away from difficult subjects nor from speaking the truth in love — otherwise how we will ever progress? A good friend speaks the truth, even when that truth is a hard one. There can be no lasting peace without justice — that is surely the truth."

The Church of Scotland is to be congratulated for tilting towards the side of justice and human rights, however late in the day.  "There is a special place in heaven for those who repent."

Mick Napier
Edinburgh 05 May 2013

"The Church of Scotland is right to criticise Israel because of the 'appalling' way it has treated the Palestinians, according to one of its most senior clerics.

Times 11 May 2013"The Very Reverend Gilleasbuig MacMillan, who is stepping down as minister at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh after 40 years in the post, says that he supports a Kirk report on Israel, which is to be debated at the General Assembly next week, though it has had to be substantially redrafted after complaints from the Israeli Embassy.

"'I feel very strongly about the State of Israel,' he said. '[It] was carved out at the end of the Second World War with no provision whatever being made for the Palestinian people who had lived there for 2,000 years...they have been treated in an appalling way, some of these people have been in refugee camps in Jordan since the Six Day War, some of them earlier than that.'
"'...the creation of these new settlements on the West Bank, the taking over of the water supply, the building of that dividing wall, separating people from their own orchards, so they can't pick their own fruit without enormous diversion round gates and security barriers.  It's difficult to know how the world has tolerated that.  United Nations resolutions have spoken against it, yet they continue.'

'American support for the State of Israel is one of the most dangerous things in the world.  A lot of us would think that.'"
The original article in the Times, Saturday May 11th 2013 by Magnus Linklater is available onl;y by subscription

Gilleasbuig, pronounced keel-yas-pick, is a Gaelic name related to Gillespie.  Gilleasbuig MacMillan steps down after 40 years as Minister of St Giles in September.

Jewish Chronicle: Scottish Church votes to ignore Israel in campaigns
Jonathan Kalmus 31 May 2012

The Scottish Church will no longer consider the Israeli perspective when campaigning on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its General Assembly has voted. Delegates in Edinburgh at the annual conference of Scotland's largest church, which has over 450,000 members, overwhelmingly voted against a motion to "ensure a proper balance between the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives" at a session on Gaza.  It followed the adoption of a special report and vote instructing the church to lobby the British government to "end the inhumane blockade of Gaza and related violence". The report suggested the church may stop support for a two-state solution, but also condemned rocket attacks on Israel.

church of scotland 2
When urged by a delegate to reverse the one-sided approach at last Monday's assembly meeting of the Church and Society Council, convenor Rev Ian Galloway said: "There could never be a truly balanced view between Israel and Palestine". The vote means future reports and resource material produced by the church for its members would not present an Israeli narrative.

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: "After debate the Assembly agreed overwhelmingly that the [Gaza] report was balanced as it stood. The thrust of the report was not to inform commissioners or congregations about the political explanations of either side but to report on the experiences shared by people living and working in Gaza."
Original article in Jewish Chronicle 26 June 2012

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