I first knew about the call for boycott of Israeli goods in the West Bank when I was on staff of the World Council of Churches EAPPI Programme in 2005-2006. My first contact with the way the impetus for economic action was being pulled together under the BDS name was when I attended a civil society BDS conference in Montreal in 2008. There I saw a lot of real energy and commitment. I also encountered people who were advocating armed struggle as well as nonviolent means, so I recognized early on that BDS as “the movement” could put people committed to nonviolence means in very difficult situations, and that the shibboleth of “terrorism” would be used.
I understood this call as a potentially very powerful way of addressing a situation of gross injustice in which there was absolutely no impetus for Israel and its allies to deal with Palestinians or to comply with their responsibilities under international
misrepresentation of Palestinians as only interested in violent means which was firmly planted in the public mind and remains so today.
At the General Council of the United Church of Canada in 2006, a number of inter-related resolutions were passed. This provided a true “Kairos moment” for our church. While the title “BDS was not used, there was a clear call for our congregations and other courts to consider economic activity as part of their faithful response. Divestment of church funds was specified, and it would have been a clear step to link that with boycott and sanctions. It was a watershed time.
I worked for the next four years as part of staff and also congregational groups on efforts to encourage the courts and congregations of the United Church of Canada to engage in the work that would be necessary to act on the resolutions that were passed at our General Council in 2006.
I also participated in a consortium of representatives of churches which met regularly in New York, primarily dealing with divestment strategies. My experiences for those four years was that there was immediate, virulent and constant opposition to any kind of economic action against Israel, most particularly opposition which came from upper management levels in the UCC.
Certainly there were initiatives and resources produced, but anything on economic measures was denigrated and blocked. This situation was a part of a very common phenomenon with any justice-seeking proposals about Israel/Palestine. Those that are clearly benign (“come and see”, “engage in Bible study”, “plant an olive tree”, “talk to your elected officials”, etc. will generally receive attention and active support from church structures, while the measures that ask for concerted economic efforts will not.
Those that are clearly benign (“come and see”, “engage in Bible study”, “plant an olive tree”, “talk to your elected officials”, etc. will generally receive attention and active support from church structures, while the measures that ask for concerted economic efforts will not.
In my personal view, most of us should also engage in a process of repentance. We all took the easy road for far too long. We sent money to relieve suffering, but we did not truly engage and commit. We did not name.
Here in Germany, there are very specific reasons that BDS is viewed quite differently from other human rights initiatives:
In the view of the majority of Germans and absolutely of the German churches, BDS is a new and very dangerous movement that would prevent or at least restrict the ability of Jews to seek their livelihood and to operate their businesses. People relate this back to the initial economic actions against the Jews in the Third Reich. Germans react automatically with horror at this possibility. They appear to be more aware of the criticisms of BDS as an anti-Semitic movement than they are about the actual human rights crisis in Israel/Palestine and the nonviolent possibilities found in BDS.
In my personal view, most of us should also engage in a process of repentance. We all took the easy road for far too long. We sent money to relieve suffering, but we did not truly engage and commit. We did not name. We did not confront the realities of suffering and death. We did not repudiate the abuse of God’s word. One thing that living in Germany brings home to me is the horrendous effect of staying silent.