The Church of Scotland and Hasbara

Yesterday in the Times of Israel I read about a paper written by the Church of Scotland entitled The Inheritance of Abraham. This paper rejected the idea that “scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory”. In other words, just cos you’re Jewish doesn’t mean that the Holy Land is yours. As it happens that’s not the statement that really caught my attention, this was:

“Reconciliation can only be possible if the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the blockade of Gaza are ended.”

I’m not quite sure how this is within the ecclesiastical mandate of the Church of Scotland or why these holy people would think that their faith provides them with any particular insights into the Modern Middle East but that’s not the point.

The Church managed to do something special in that sentence. They summed up their position regarding the Middle East in a couple of lines that sound perfectly respectable, correct and normal to anyone reading them.

According to the Church of Scotland it’s all very simple, if Israel wants to stop enduring terrorist attacks against it then Israel needs to stop its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

That very simple is message is the reason that Israel is facing such pressure from BDS groups and others in Europe and in the United States and it is our failure to address that message in a meaningful way that has ensured that these groups continue to harrass Israeli academics and musicians as well as businesses and politicians abroad.

People want an instant explanation for the ills of the world and the troubles plaguing society and Jews have yet to provide a butesized chunk to explain why we’re building settlements in the West Bank, why we killed Palestinians at a ratio of 100:1 in Defensive Shield and why on earth it is that Gaza is being blockaded. Quite frankly I can’t provide a simple answer for building houses in the West Bank because I don’t think we should be doing it, but feel free to have a go.

If Israel wants to have a chance at convincing the world that we are just and that our cause is right we are going to have to start communicating in a way that makes sense to the people who are interested in the Middle East and furthermore we are going to have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we can truly defend some of the things that we are doing and whether the affect of doing those things is worth the price we pay in terms of our standing in the world.

When I hear arguments between advocates of Israel and those who agree with the Church of Scotland, that Israel has created it’s own problems, I feel like I need a degree in theology and a phd in the history of the Middle East to keep up. There are some really smart people out there making some really good points in their arguments for Israel but no one cares to hear them because explaining that land in the West Bank is sacred to Jews and that we were attacked here and there and also over there and we need x and y for our own security does nothing to challenge the few simple lines above. I actually read a supporter of settlements invoke a treaty from the 1920s signed in Italy to argue that settlements are legal in international law. 

People this isn’t going to convince anyone to feel anything for Israel.

In the story I linked to above lies a quote from the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities where they say that The Inheritance of Abraham is “an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for” and “reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism.”

Do me a favour.

Do we really expect people to start busily educating themselves about the Spanish Inquisition in order to better understand why this document could be thought of as hurtful to Jews? Because they’re not going to, they’re just going to think that the Jews are screaming anti-Semitism in order to stop ciriticism of Israel.

How about standing up and saying the following: “We understand and share the concern of our brothers and sisters in the Church as to the treatment of Palestinians in the modern day but feel hurt by the fact the Church would refuse so clearly to accept that there are two sides to this story and would surely agree that the pain felt by Israelis is down to the work of terrorists rather than their own fault as is implied in this paper.”

How about arguing that the Church of Scotland have put the cart before the horse. The occupation exists because of terror attacks against Israel not the other way around. How we respond to the challenges around us is incredibly important and recently we have been responding incredibly badly. We make the assumption that our perspective is self evident, that when we complain people will immediately understand why we are offended when, in fact, the opposite is often the case.

It’s time to stop with righteous indignation and get down to making statements that actually make sense to people. Perhaps then we will actually be able to hammer home that we are not fighting a secular national liberation movement but people who are interested in genocide and make no bones about telling everyone about it.

The full text of the paper can be found here.

The conclusions of the paper The Inheritance of Abraham are as follows:

• That the current situation is characterised by an inequality in power and therefore reconciliation can only be possible if the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are ended. (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012).
• 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 international community as a matter of urgency to put pressure on Israel to cease from the expansion of these settlements. (2003, 2006, 2011)
• The Church of Scotland must remain in dialogue and fellowship with ecumenical partners to support concerns for justice and peace. (2002, 2006, 2011, 2012)
• That the Church of Scotland should do nothing to promote the viability of the illegal settlements on Palestinian land. (2006, 2011, 2012)
• The Church of Scotland should support projects which prioritise peace-building, poverty alleviation and the Palestinian economy. (2006, 2011, 2012)
• That human rights of all peoples should be respected but this should include the right of return and / or compensation for Palestinian refugees. (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2012)
• That negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority about peace with justice must resume at the earliest opportunity and the Church of Scotland should continue to put political pressure on all parties to commence such negotiations, and asking all parties to recognise the inequality in power which characterises this situation. (2007, 2009, 2012)
• That there are safe rights of access to the sacred sites for the main religions in the area. (2006, 2007)

About the Author
Marc Goldberg is a copywriter and avid blogger, author of Beyond the Green Line the story of fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada in the IDF Paratroopers