Over the last day or so, three remarkable op-eds by church leaders have been published in U.S. regional newspapers in support of some measure of BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions, to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The op-eds are remarkable because they honor BDS as a tool, and two of them specifically reject the equation of BDS with anti-Semitism, a charge that cowed many non-Jewish activists in times gone by. And all three slam the rightwing Israeli government for defying international opinion or using the peace process to expand. So the churches must act, the leaders say.
All you Israel supporters who criticize BDS as a means of excusing Israel’s endless colonization need to read these op-eds. They show that the Netanyahu government has been a boon to the BDS movement, and that enlightened Americans are watching developments in Palestine closely.
The op-eds. First, the Episcopal church is meeting this weekend in Salt Lake City. And here is Newland Smith, Senior Deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Chicago in the Salt Lake Tribune, arguing that the church’s earlier posture of constructive engagement has failed: the Israeli government has “explicitly rejected the two-state solution,” and uses the cover of peace talks to gobble up more land.
In 2005, the Episcopal Church’s executive council adopted a resolution calling for the church to engage in corporate engagement and investment in the Palestinian economy. A decade later, a new political landscape has taken shape, in which the Israeli government has explicitly rejected the two-state solution, which has been the basis of U.S. and international peacemaking efforts for more than 20 years, and continues to relentlessly expand its illegal settlements and entrench its occupation of Palestinian lands.
Yet the Episcopal Church’s support for Palestinian freedom and self-determination has not progressed to reflect these realities. In the 10 years since the executive council’s decision to pursue corporate engagement and positive investment, the number of Israeli settlers living in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased from approximately 430,000 in 2005 to over 650,000 today. For more than two decades, Israel has used unresolved peace talks as cover to expand settlements in the very lands where a Palestinian state is proposed. This status quo — permanent occupation with no solution in sight — is unendurable for the 4.4 million Palestinians who are now living under the third or fourth generation of Israeli military rule…
Taking such a step toward divesting from Israel’s occupation will align our investments with our principles and serve, along with the actions of other churches and institutions, including a growing number of Jewish organizations and voices in Israel and the U.S., to help exert pressure for a just and peaceful end to the destructive status quo of permanent occupation.
The United Church of Christ is meeting in Cleveland. John H. Thomas is the former general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. He writes in Cleveland.com, about a “stridently expansionist new Israeli government” making it necessary for the church to act against a “morally corrupt status quo.”
What the [divestment] resolution will do is allow the United Church of Christ to join a growing chorus of religious and civil society groups around the world no longer willing to tolerate a morally corrupt status quo that grows ever more oppressive for Palestinians and dangerous for Israelis. In the face of a stridently expansionist new Israeli government, the resolution calls upon the church and its members to end their complicity as consumers, investors, and citizens with an illegal occupation. And it offers solidarity to Palestinian Christian partners for whom hope remains the last fragile bulwark against despair, departure, or violence.
He rejects the BDS demonization campaign. BDS is a tradition in the church:
Consideration of this resolution comes amid an intense campaign by the Israeli government and its far-right supporters in the United States to discredit all criticism of current Israeli policies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now elevated familiar charges of anti-semitism to comparisons of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement with Nazi Germany. The charge is both absurd and cruel and meant to intimidate concerned onlookers into silence…
Carefully targeted boycott and divestment strategies are extraordinary actions for the church, but not unprecedented. In the past, the UCC has engaged in these tactics to support migrant farm and textile workers, to change corporate policies dangerous to poor mothers and their infants, to press for the end of apartheid in South Africa, and to reduce reliance on climate-damaging fossil fuels. At a time when deep discouragement over the prospects for peace threatens to overwhelm, this resolution before the Synod signals a refusal to surrender faith in the God who promises courage in the struggle for justice and peace.
Lastly, here is the Rev. Steve Jungkeit of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, CT, who is an author, supporting BDS in the New Haven Register. He led a trip of Muslims and Christians to Palestine in March:
During our travels, we met a Christian priest living in the occupied territories. To go to Jerusalem, he has to first obtain permission from Israel’s military and then wait in a long line, only to be told by a teenage soldier that he may not enter today. The priest persists, saying he only wants to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. All he gets is a shrug: “Not today.” The priest’s experience is shared by millions of Palestinians attempting to cross the Separation Wall every day.
We met a Muslim Palestinian teacher who used to pray at Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem every week, but has not been to Jerusalem for 22 years. He said, “God does not want me to be humiliated every time I go to pray.” It’s a heartbreaking statement, but one his occupiers would endorse…
Here’s Jungkeit’s declaration that Israel’s new government’s obstructionism demands action.
Despite our government’s repeated efforts, Israeli officials have scoffed at and even insulted their peace-making efforts, while subsidizing the illegal settlements. Furthermore, while we were there during the Israeli election, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that on his watch there will be no Palestinian State. He has since cynically “changed” his position.
Peace requires action. When governments are unwilling, other tactics become necessary. The United Church of Christ is about to consider a resolution concerning boycotts and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church have passed similar resolutions. These are part of a wider campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) that is gaining traction throughout the world.
Jungkeit also defies the charge that BDS is anti-Semitic, it is a moral response:
Boycotts and divestments are not anti-Semitic. Those strategies are born from understanding the ethical dimensions of all three Abrahamic faiths and the experience of other historic movements against oppression that have used those methods to leverage social change
All three op-eds show the power of liberal Christians to play an important role in the struggle. I always say the Jews have to move for any change to happen. These church leaders are putting pressure on Jews.