Anti-Jewish text will shame the Church of Scotland
Later MacGregor came to Tiberias which he noted was “chiefly remarkable for the exceeding filthiness of its streets and especially in the Jews’ quarter. How any civilized European Jew can see his people degraded as they are in Tiberias and then come back to his gilded home in the west and leave his brethren to wallow… is beyond conception.”
The Scottish adventurer wondered how, despite “their patience, pluck, learning, science, art, military prowess” the Jews “never ask the world for what the world would give them for free, their own beloved Palestine.”
MACGREGOR INCLUDED in his book an excerpt from a speech given by the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem in July 1860: “With respect to the Jews, 160 adults have been baptized in Jerusalem, whilst a number of the younger Jews have received the first germs of the truth of the Gospel.”
These accounts provide a window into the dual activities of Europeans in the Holy Land in the 19th century.
While some like MacGregor were well disposed toward the Jews and hoped for their return, others saw the role of the church in Palestine as a vehicle to missionize.
In 1838 the Scottish Church’s General Assembly’s Committee for the Conversion of the Jews “resolved to send out a deputation to make personal inquiries regarding their [the Jews’] state and character… these gentlemen will proceed immediately to… Palestine… visiting the places in which the Jews are the most numerous.” According to a Brandeis University thesis by Elizabeth Imber, the church saw the conversion of the Jews as one of its primary goals and one of its five greatest social causes.
The church attempted to build a medical mission in Safed, but settled on Tiberias in 1885 as a location (site of the Scots Hotel today) where they could best convert the Jews. They dangled medical services and education in front of the poverty-stricken, but it took until 1894 to “save” their first soul, James Cohen, a 14-year-old immigrant from Russia.
When Lord Balfour issued his famous declaration supporting a Jewish state, the Scottish Jewish Mission Committee advised him “in any future determination of policy his Majesty’s Government should consult the Christian Churches which have a vital stake in the Holy Land.” The Scottish Church worried that a future Jewish state might jeopardize the rights of “Christian Jews” in the Holy Land who had converted.
In 1939, with war clouds looming over Europe, the Scottish Church condemned Nazism: “The worst of perils ever dreamed of has been surpassed, and such an avalanche of trouble has swept over the Jewish people that the Church’s relation to them can no longer be thought of as simply the relation of a Christian missionary Church to a non-Christian people, but as the relation of the Church to a great political, racial, and humanitarian problem.”
At the General Assembly that year the church noted: “The White Paper [restricting immigration] is the death of Jewish hope and Jewish longing.”
OVER TIME the church, like its European Protestant cousins, became increasingly supportive of the Palestinian cause. This is the context for the creation of the May 2013 document “The Inheritance of Abraham.”
Ostensibly the document seeks to challenge the “assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel.”
It asserts that Zionists believe “the Bible is our Mandate.” It ponders the question of whether “the promise of land is literal,” or whether it “is given conditionally to the Jewish people.” At each point the authors trot out Palestinian Christian theologians such as Mounib Younan and Naim Ateek to challenge the supposed Zionist view.
If the authors had stopped there, with theological wrestling with Christian Zionism and interpretations of the Bible, the document wouldn’t merit much interest.
However, the text then takes an odd turn, from supposedly debating whether God gave the Jews land, to whether Israel is a just country: “The decision [by Israel] not to adopt a constitution led to the limiting of civil liberties.” Then, shockingly, the Holocaust is brought up: “There is also a belief among some Jewish people that they have a right to the land of Israel as compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust.”
The authors produce a Jewish source, one “Mark Braverman, an American Jew who grew up sharing the beliefs of his community,” whose “attitude was radically changed by visiting Palestine in 2006…and [by] his horror that these [injustices] were being done in his name.”
Then the authors write that after reading Braverman, it is clear that “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… They [the Jews] must be challenged, too, to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special.”
The authors use Braverman to whitewash their anti-Jewish agenda. They claim that because the Jews view themselves as “chosen” that “Other people’s part in this is limited to being pushed aside to make way for occupation, being agents of God’s punishment of the Jews for their disobedience and witnessing to God’s glory through Jewish survival and prosperity.”
Anger is directed at the “difficulty of Jewish ‘exceptionalism.’” In discussing the New Testament the church reverts to language that seems more fit for the Inquisition: “Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism, but the people of Nazareth were not ready for it.” They conclude, “Promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally… [God’s] promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people.”
This text is deeply disturbing because it punishes the Jews for having suffered the Holocaust, pretending Jews manipulate the Holocaust in order to make Christians feel guilty. Thus by opposing the existence of Israel the church does not “revert to the particular exclusivism of the Jewish faith.”
The continuous hammering on the “exclusive” claim shows a deep and abiding hatred for the Jews simply because they exist; for example the “exclusivist tradition implied Jews had a special, privileged position in relation to God.”
Why does the Church of Scotland have a right to decide what Jews may or may not believe? The document handily uses a Jewish critic, Mr. Braverman, who few people have ever heard of, to advance its agenda, noting “he is equally clear that the Jewish people have to repent of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.”
By including this claim they assert that in fact the Scottish Church demands that the Jews “repent.” How can “the Jewish people” repent for an action few of them took part in? This echoes the ancient anti- Jewish libel that the Jews must “repent” for killing Christ. This text replaces Jesus with the Palestinians, just as Palestinian- Christian extremists have insinuated at “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences.
In the 19th century the Church of Scotland thought it knew best for the Jews. It surveyed them and sent missionaries to prey on their weak and infirm, sick and elderly.
Although there was a whole world of hundreds of millions of people, it made the conversion and thus the destruction of the Jewish people a main pillar of the Church.
This text continues this tradition. It attacks the Jews for having suffered the Holocaust, claiming that the Jews manipulate Christians into feeling guilty. Furthermore it demands the Jews repent, and claims “they must be challenged to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special.”
This text will deeply shame the Church of Scotland. It is not the Church who should challenge, it is the Jews who should challenge the Church of Scotland to repent for its missionary work, to stop thinking it knows what is best for the Jews, and to stop meddling in Jewish lives.
It is not for the Church of Scotland to decide where the Jews may live, just as they claim that the Old Testament gives no exclusive right over the Land of Israel, so the New Testament does not give them the right to whisk the Jews away.
This is not the time of the Crusades; no church has a right to tell the Jews where they may live. Like any member of the Church of Scotland, any Jew has a right to live in peace where he or she pleases. He may think himself special like any person, and she may think herself a victim of the Holocaust if she likes.
Jews were restored to the land, irrespective of the Church of Scotland. The church owes the Jewish people an apology for this incendiary text that is more fitting to the 13th century than to this one. Jewish groups, Church of Scotland members and others must join together to oppose and repudiate this vicious and defamatory text.