We live in an age in which millions of people are exposed daily to some variant of the argument that the challenges of the world they live in are best explained in terms of “Israel.” — David Nirenberg, historian, University of Chicago
Though we desire peace and justice to prevail in the region holy to the faiths of Abraham and find the injustices that happen there abhorrent, we believe the “Resolution on Israel/Palestine,” tabled at the Mennonite Church USA convention at Kansas City this summer, is counterproductive to the cause of peace.
There are significant pitfalls to consider:
– In aligning MC USA with the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel, the resolution and its supporters did not take enough relevant voices from Israel/Palestine, MC USA and other faith communities into account.
– BDS is antithetical to restorative justice and will generate undesirable side effects.
– The resolution neither considers nor improves the troubled legacy of Jewish-Christian-Islamic relations.
Many people drew the connection between the resolution and the multidenominational movement for BDS for the first time in Kansas City, thanks to the presentation by Alex Awad from Bethlehem Bible College. By opposing BDS, we are neither uneducated about nor indifferent to suffering and injustice. Nor do we suggest criticism of the Israeli government is always unfounded.
We find it coercive and unnecessary to bind the consciences of all MC USA members and institutions on this one issue, while we wisely make space for our diversities on other subjects.
Proponents of BDS have listened almost exclusively to the evangelical Bethlehem Bible College, the Palestinian authors of the 2009 Kairos document, and MC USA’s “Come and See” tours, which reinforce these institutions’ narrative. But others tell a different story. We have ignored a wide range of Israeli voices, including its Christian population, rendering us unable to understand their experience of violence, terror and trauma. We have failed to send denominational leaders on tours that include such voices.
Moreover, Muslim peacemakers, such as Bassem Eid, criticize BDS proposals as belittling to Palestinians of all faiths. Progressive Jewish pacifists, such as thirdnarrative.org, warn that BDS “undermines progressive forces in Israel and Palestine who are working for social justice.”
We ought not contribute to marginalization and injustice by failing to listen. Have we not criticized Christian Zionism for similarly selecting evidence?
We support the cause of peace and justice, but BDS is counterproductive to that end. Such initiatives have a questionable success rate in achieving their objectives and limiting their effects to intended targets. Boycotting construction equipment companies, for example, would directly affect the construction of the Palestinian Authority’s first planned city, Rawabi. Instead of investing in what is good, divestment exacerbates adversarial attitudes and bolsters extremist politicians.
These were among the key arguments Mennonites made against sanctions in Iraq and Iran. Is the math for Israel and Palestine different? BDS would disrupt the whole of Israeli and Palestinian society, including allies against injustice. As such, it is by no means the “obvious choice for a peace church,” as it was promoted in Kansas City.
BDS emerges in a troubled historical context of nearly two millennia of Western Christian interaction with Jews that has been marred by anti-Judaism, blood libel accusations, forced migration and extermination. While we do not think that denominational leaders aim to perpetuate these themes, we do believe that this legacy mandates that any Christian critique must be accompanied by careful self-reflection about our biases and the means we employ and not be brushed aside as a distraction from Israeli politics to be dealt with in a separate resolution.
Mennonite scholars such as John Kampen have explored connections between Mennonite engagement in Israel/Palestine and longstanding Christian tropes about Jews. BDS rhetoric feeds into this legacy. Its activists have forced Jewish artists from festivals without regard to their citizenship, simply because they are Jewish.
Naim Ateek, an influential BDS proponent at Sabeel, a center for Palestinian liberation theology, writes, “Palestine has become one huge Golgotha” under “the Israeli crucifixion system” — a reappropriation of the “Jews killed Jesus” trope.
Mennonite media present a lopsided image of Israel as the only obstacle; of Jews as always armed, vindictive and male aggressors; and of Palestinians as always defenseless.
Mennonites have failed to engage their Palestinian evangelical partners regarding troublesome theologies of replacement and supersession.
The Christian divestment movement ignores the need for security for Israel’s people of all faiths and instead forces the supremacy of pacifist Christianity on a modern nation-state with the coercive violence of sanctions. Many supporters have even talked about a “one-state solution” as an end to a Jewish state. This is colonialism and ignores the dangerous situation this would create for Jews worldwide.
The only way to break such patterns is to listen carefully to God, to each other and to all others. Let us engage in dialogue with all faiths of Abraham (Jewish, Muslim and Baha’i). Deconstruct the myth that God can have only one blessing. Tour Israel/Palestine not to reinforce one narrative but to build trust, rapport and partnership with others of good faith who want peace and justice to prevail in their common holy land.
Let us bring God’s seeds of peace to a troubled world, but let us listen to people on all sides where and as they are.
MC USA should not assume opponents simply need more “education” on BDS but instead create space for contrasting voices. We need to transcend old patterns and obsessions and forge a new resolution and future that embraces the many peacemakers and many experiences of all faiths in Israel/Palestine.
Philipp Gollner attends Kern Road Mennonite Church, South Bend, Ind.; Andrew Elias Ramer attends First Mennonite Church of San Francisco; and James Regier attends St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship.