One of the special ironies of the weekend’s news that Israel is barring 20 international organizations from entry because they support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is the appearance on that list of the venerable American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, which was founded 101 years ago as an antiwar organization.
AFSC earned distinction and a Nobel Prize for helping Jews and other refugees escape the Holocaust. Now it is on that list because it is helping Palestinians!
AFSC is honored at Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. From Yad Vashem’s portrait of the American Friends Service Committee:
Relief organization established in 1917 by the Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, as a forum for doing service to humanity in a moral
fashion. The Quakers make up one of the smallest religious groups in the United States.
During the first years after Adolf Hitler rose to power, the Quakers were afraid to jeopardize their reputation in Germany, so they did relatively little to help
refugees escaping the Nazis. However, after the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, the AFSC opened a Refugee Division, which provided services for European
refugees who immigrated to the US. The AFSC concentrated on Americanizing the new arrivals and adjusting them to their new country.
The Foreign Service Section of the AFSC did even more than the Refugee Division. Cooperating with Jewish relief agencies, in 1939 the organization
sent a delegation to Germany to check on the situation of Jews and Christians and provide relief if necessary. They mainly assisted Christian refugees, but
they also helped Jews. Among other activities, they fed and saved children in France, assisted Jews who had reached Portugal, and organized the activities
of relief agencies in Spain.
In 1947 the AFSC won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping refugees during and after World War II.
Mike Merryman-Lotze of the AFSC was quoted today by IMEU on the move by Israel:
“We will continue to stand up for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine regardless of the recent Israeli announcement that staff from AFSC and 19 other organizations may be denied entry to Israel because of our support for the grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement for Palestinian human rights.
“Our response to the Palestinian BDS call is in line with our similar support for divestment from apartheid South Africa and boycotts during the civil rights era. Our work is motivated by Quaker belief in the worth and dignity of all people, and it is that belief that has led us to support and join in nonviolent resistance to violence and oppression around the world, including the Palestinian BDS call, for a hundred years.”
P.S. This story feeds my spiritual understanding that Palestinians are being forced by Israel to recapitulate the history of the Jews. What we experienced in Europe, Palestinians must experience in Israel and Palestine. This time around we play the guys with the jack boots! Of course there is a big arc in that story; the group goes from being humiliated outsiders to people granted prestige by the world for their suffering. Palestinians are gaining prestige by the moment. AFSC is surely proud of being named.