The Church of Scotland has revived an anti-Jewish Christian doctrine long thought buried in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Last week, in advance of its General Assembly later this month, its Church and Society Council released a report, “The Inheritance Of Abraham? A Report On The ‘Promised Land’”, which declares theologically invalid any claims the Jewish people have to the Land of Israel. Further, the report seeks to demolish what it calls Christian “guilt” over “centuries of anti-Semitism” and the Holocaust as a basis of support for Israel.
While these sentiments are, in themselves, morally unconscionable, the stain is spread as a result of the activities led by taxpayer-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The Church of Scotland report is influenced by the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian Christian group. Sabeel is a major actor in the effort to convince Christian churches worldwide to support anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Sabeel’s influence is noted in the report’s main theme: the “promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people.”
This is called replacement theology, or supersessionism, whose origins run deep in Christian history. Its central claim is that “national Israel has somehow completed or forfeited its status as the people of God… and the church is now the true Israel that has permanently replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God.” After the Holocaust, the Vatican and many mainline Protestant churches reinterpreted this theology to avoid breathing life back into antisemitism.
In contrast, Sabeel laces its Palestinian Liberation Theology, developed by founder Rev. Naim Ateek, with supersessionist language, forging it into a theological sword to undercut Jewish religious and historical claims to Israel. As such it “Christianizes” Palestinian nationalism, which in one of its foundational documents (the PLO Charter) declares, “Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history.”
Ateek has been developing his thesis since 1989 when he wrote, “The tragedy of many Zionists today is that they have locked themselves into the nationalist concept of God. They are trapped in it and they will be freed only if they discard their primitive image of God for a more universal one.”
Ateek’s shocking belittlement of Judaism is odious. But its echo in the Church of Scotland’s report ratchets up its offensiveness: “Christians must not sacrifice the universalist, inclusive dimension of Christianity and revert to the particular exclusivism of the Jewish faith because we feel guilty about the Holocaust.”
Sabeel is an official partner of the Church of Scotland, which describes Sabeel as an organization that “promotes non-violence and reconciliation.” How such intolerant rhetoric can be seen as inspiring reconciliation is difficult to see.
The Church of Scotland is not alone in fostering support for Sabeel. Many Western governments, especially in Europe, outsource their foreign aid through a network of Christian humanitarian aid NGOs. In this manner, Sabeel receives financial support from the governments (and the taxpayers) of the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada.
Sabeel lists the Dutch government-funded Kerk in Aktie among its donors, supplying €50,000 in 2012. Kerk in Aktie itself backs a “general boycott” of Israeli products, in contradiction to official Dutch government policies. Meanwhile, the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) used Dutch taxpayer money to fund a Sabeel project that sought “to reflect in a theological manner on the Palestinian situation in terms of Israeli occupation.”
The Swedish government, through its International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), funds Diakonia, a partnership of five Swedish churches. Sabeel states that “Sweden, a country which was strongly pro-Zionist in the past, manifests strong support [for Sabeel’s agenda],” and that “Diakonia is closely associated with Sabeel.” In 2008 Diakonia funded Sabeel’s Nakba Memory program. In 2011 Sabeel received SEK 225,000 ($32,390) from Diakonia for its “Community Program.” And in 2012, Diakonia donated €44,277 to Sabeel.
The Canadian government provided $44.6 million to the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace for the five year period 2006 to 2011, some of this making it into Sabeel’s coffers. In 2010 and 2011 Development and Peace gave Sabeel a total of ₪279,374 (about $79,000).
This is how Western taxpayers in the 21st century are subsidizing medieval religious intolerance.
It is bad enough that the Church of Scotland echoes Sabeel’s radical Palestinian nationalist agenda, and as a result, undermines the positive and historical developments in post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian relations. The fact that Western governments are funding and enabling the poisonous message spread by groups like Sabeel is no less disturbing.