(Updates have been added to this article. See the note below.)
Reverend Graylan Hagler, a veteran social and economic justice activist and outspoken supporter of Palestinian human rights, was invited by the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and the Rochester, NY chapter of Friends of Sabeel – North America to speak about Palestine on September 24. Mere days before he was going to travel to upper New York state for the talk, Hagler was disinvited.
Hagler told Mondoweiss that pro-Israel groups pressured the divinity school to cancel his speaking engagement.
This past week, Rev. Hagler also says he received numerous death threats via phone and email. In some of the phone calls, Hagler said those threatening him identified themselves as members of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a hard-line right-wing Evangelical Christian Zionist organization. Hagler said they warned him “We are going to kill you in the name of Christ if you come to Rochester” and “I hope you come here so I can spit in your face.”
Rev. Hagler, who serves as Senior Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., strongly condemned CUFI. “CUFI basically is a white supremacist group,” he said. The organization is led by John Hagee, a megachurch pastor and Holocaust revisionist who blames anti-Semitism on Jews. CUFI’s theology holds that Christians must support Israel no matter what, so that Jesus can return in the Second Coming—at which point he will save the world’s Christians and send people of other religions, including Jews, to Hell. “It’s not mainstream… It’s really not Christian theology at all. It is really imperialistic ideology,” Hagler explained.
Despite being disinvited to speak, Hagler said, “in the spirit of defiance, I am going to Rochester anyway.” Because he was disinvited by the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, he had to seek a new venue at which to speak. Rev. Hagler will now instead be speaking at the Historic German House, on the same date.
“We cannot let bigots win with threats and intimidation. I intend to go to Rochester in a statement that I am not afraid or intimidated,” Hagler affirmed. “If we just surrender to that basically we are just surrendering” in the overall struggle, he added.
The title of Rev. Hagler’s talk is “From Ferguson to Palestine.” He will speak about the connections between the struggles of Black Americans and Palestinians for justice and liberation, a theme he often addresses.
“What happens in a place like Ferguson also happens in the West Bank. And what happens in Palestine also happens in Baltimore,” Hagler told Mondoweiss, referring to police repression of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement in the US.
Israel’s separation wall is similar “to what existed in Jim Crow America,” Hagler pointed out. “There is a clear relationship that cannot be denied.” Those who seek justice must combat “racism in all of its manifestations,” he insisted.
In January 2014, Rev. Hagler traveled to the West Bank with the Carter Center. He was joined by activist Bill Fletcher, several hip hop artists, and more. Recalling his experience, Hagler said “what I saw there was clearly an expression of white supremacy, of racism, and a real system of apartheid.”
“When I came back I felt compelled and I needed to speak about that and uncover the truth, particularly in faith circles,” Hagler added. He noted that there are people “who want to clamp down the discourse in centers of spirituality.” Hagler says he dedicates himself to opening up the debate in the religious realm, in pursuit of justice.
For decades, Rev. Hagler has been active in various social and economic justice movements. In the 1980s, he was deeply involved in the international movement against apartheid in South Africa. Today, he is a leader in the Palestinian solidarity movement.
He formerly served as president of the United Church of Christ’s association Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice. In June, his church voted to divest from and boycott companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. Hagler has also served on the steering committee of anti-war organization United for Peace and Justice.
In March, Hagler spoke at a rally organized by the DC Metro chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. “We’ve got to be the ones that stand up for justice,” Rev. Hagler maintained. “We’ve got to be the ones that stand up to end the occupation of Palestine. We’ve got to be the ones that stand up to cut off funding to Israel. We’ve got to be the ones that stand up and really begin to drive home what democracy looks like.”
“It’s important to go to Rochester to not allow bigots to intimidate us,” Rev. Hagler said, reflecting on his plans to continue with his planned speech. “The truth cannot be crushed through violence.”
This piece was updated to reflect the new location of Rev. Hagler’s speech. When this article was first published, he was still seeking a place.
Furthermore, Rev. Hagler told Mondoweiss that three groups pressured the divinity school to cancel the event: CUFI, the Jewish Federation, and ROC4Israel. ROC4Israel denies that CUFI was involved. ROC4Israel contacted the author, asking to retract the claim that CUFI was involved in pressuring the school. The author promptly did so. The original draft of this article did not claim that ROC4Israel has any affiliations with CUFI. ROC4Israel also made it clear that it “denounces any and all threats made to Rev. Hagler and that we find them reprehensible.”