Staking out a middle ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict virtually guarantees a barrage of hostility. Angry words flew last month between staunch allies Israel and the United States over a United Nations resolution condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The difficulty of trying to be both a friend and a critic could not have been more clear.
Yet if anyone can take a stand for justice without alienating either party in such a heated struggle, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada are determined to try. Canadians understand the challenge: After passing a resolution on Israel and Palestine last year, they’ve found it is nearly impossible to be perceived as friends of both. MC USA delegates will be asked to approve a similar but more wide-ranging statement this summer.
The MC Canada resolution passed with just one dissenting vote. The document proposed for MC USA merits passage as well. Both statements direct the denominations to refrain from supporting the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land, by avoiding and withdrawing investments from companies that profit from it.
Controversially, this aligns the churches with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. BDS is such a point of contention that many observers focus on it alone. MC Canada has become the target of criticism from pro-Israeli groups.
Though MC USA might face similar opposition, the U.S. statement’s broader range of concerns might convince potential critics the denomination wants justice and security for all.
“The sufferings of these two groups [Palestinians and Jewish people] have too often been set against each other,” the proposed U.S. resolution states. “We recognize, rather, that the legacy of Jewish suffering is intertwined with the suffering of Palestinians.”
After extensive revision since delegates tabled an earlier version at Kansas City in 2015, the resolution adopts a confessional tone. It laments complicity in anti-Semitism: “In many settings, Mennonites adopted the negative attitudes of the prevailing Christian culture towards our Jewish neighbors.” It acknowledges Americans’ support for the occupation through the payment of taxes that fund a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package to Israel.
Confession is directed toward Palestinians as well — for “embracing or tolerating Christian Zionist theology [the belief that the gathering of Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Christ], which too often has disregarded the well-being of Palestinian people.”
The U.S. resolution’s call to build relationships with the Jewish community will be especially important in light of probable negative reactions to its call for divestment. However, as MC Canada has noted, not all Jewish groups are opposed to BDS. Jewish Voice for Peace and Rabbis for Human Rights believe economic sanctions are helpful. They note sanctions helped end apartheid in South Africa.
Just as the U.S. remains an ally of Israel despite refusing to veto the U.N. resolution condemning settlements, so can North American Mennonites extend a hand of understanding to the Jewish people while opposing the brutal occupation Palestinians endure.