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Within the Church of Scotland, a significant faction has come to identify with the plight of Palestinian Christians, both those living in Israel and under occupation in the West Bank.
This has now manifested itself through this document, the intent of which is the shift by the Church of Scotland away from identification with Jewish theology and toward the Palestinian cause as a political matter and ecumenical matter. That this document has been published now is the consequence of an evolution over a number of years on these issues and a desire on the part of the authors — the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland — to have its conclusions adopted by the General Assembly of the church, which will convene later in May.
Holtschneider believes that this document is a step backward for the Church of Scotland, one that “seeks to challenge developments in Jewish-Christian relations made in the last 30 years.” It is a “problematic document,” one that “conflates issues” and calls for a “radical reassessment” not only of the church’s position on Israel, but also of Christian understanding of the Old Testament.
Indeed, “The Inheritance of Abraham?” is an unusually unlettered document. It is based on a false premise that Zionism is a purely religious movement, ignoring that in its origins, IT was a secular, national movement that aimed to address finally the problem of anti-Semitism. “The Inheritance of Abraham?” displays a very cheap and narrow understanding of Jewish and Israeli history, and presents a caricature of the conflict in its limited analysis of it, one that views Israel as the only actor in the region, as if the Palestinian people have no agency themselves. And in so doing, it makes a very large and triumphalist claim for itself that Jewish claims to all or part of the Land of Israel are rendered invalid by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities broadly concurs with such an assessment. In a statement, SCoJeC labeled “The Inheritance of Abraham?” an “outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for. It reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory. The picture it paints of both Judaism and Israel is barely even a caricature. The arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology is breathtaking.”
In order to repair the damage the document has already caused, the Board of Deputies of British Jews including representatives of Orthodox and Reform congregations met with Church of Scotland leaders yesterday. The statement released jointly by the Church and the Board noted that the original report “has given cause for concern and misunderstanding of its position and requires a new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.”
“The inheritance of Abraham” will thus be redrafted before it is tabled at the General Assembly later this month. Whether the Kirk really wishes to heal its relationship and continue its dialogue with Scotland’s Jews, or turn back the clock on interfaith dialogue to an age of Christian supremacy, will be made all the more clearer then.