My activity in Palestinian justice issues and the moral authority of economic leverage as a nonviolent tactic have been deepened through the United Church of Christ decision of 2015 to employ boycott and divestment, and to encourage governmental sanctions against injustices imposed by Israel against Palestinians.
For me the BDS movement has provided a direct “ask” which compels, motivates and energizes my work. The Palestinian Call to BDS is a moral call, demanding a response and direct, personal involvement. As we organized and educated our denomination prior to the 2015 decision to boycott and divest from certain businesses, I was pulled into dialogue and clear stances which had, until then, remained less specific. This clarity of commitment and action, along with the conviction that we in the U.S. must heed the tactic chosen by the Palestinian Christian community, have served me well and continues to do so.
As I work for justice in Palestine, it is the bold courage and deep resilience of the Palestinian people via BDS which keeps me rooted, grounded and willing to push past prior insecurities or safety nets. Not only to my United Church of Christ setting, but also in municipal divestment efforts in Portland, Oregon, the necessary and essential imperative for me remains loyalty to the BDS imperative. Although setbacks occur, victories multiply. There is no doubt in my mind that, as in South Africa, Palestinian justice will prevail. I am grateful for the nonviolent tool of BDS which permits my direct involvement in this outcome.
For me the BDS movement has provided a direct “ask” which compels, motivates and energizes my work. The Palestinian Call to BDS is a moral call, demanding a response and direct, personal involvement. ...
Although setbacks occur, victories multiply. There is no doubt in my mind that, as in South Africa, Palestinian justice will prevail. I am grateful for the nonviolent tool of BDS which permits my direct involvement in this outcome.
I was living in Tel Aviv during the 2009 war. My children were very young, and I noticed what little attention other parents were paying to the war happening just an hour away. It was at that time that I began to understand how important it was that there be consequences (as light as they might be) for Israelis for their policies, or the status quo, which was intolerable, would be maintained forever. A few months later, when Naomi Klein came on a book tour that respected the call to BDS, I embraced it fully.
In the particular context of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), we started with an “occupation-only” approach to the BDS call, largely out of fear that endorsing it in full would be problematic and we wouldn’t be able to organize within Jewish spaces anymore. This was always a tension within the JVP membership, because there was always a significant number of members who wanted to endorse the call in full. It also revealed the differing interests of varying constituencies within JVP (Rabbis, for example, were much more worried about the impact of their professional lives than students). After a process of several years, we endorsed the full call in 2015. The factors involved included the 2014 War, which moved many more people to take action, increasing numbers of anti/non-Zionist Jews in JVP’s membership, possibly the existence of JStreet, which pulled in JVP’s “right wing” in the early years, and increased alienation from the mainstream Jewish community and thus a determination to build our own Jewish institution where we could be our full selves.
We like to think that our endorsement of BDS shifted the conversation in the broader Jewish community, making it a serious factor in Jewish communal politics, clearing the way for more moderate Jews to endorse limited forms of boycott, and disrupting the narrative that the Jewish community is unified against BDS. When we talk about BDS we compare it to the effort to end apartheid in South Africa, the civil rights movement of the U.S., indigenous rights movements, and even the successful fight to tip U.S opinions on gay marriage and ultimately make them legal.
We like to think that our endorsement of BDS shifted the conversation in the broader Jewish community, making it a serious factor in Jewish communal politics, clearing the way for more moderate Jews to endorse limited forms of boycott, and disrupting the narrative that the Jewish community is unified against BDS.
Through Global Ministries, the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been engaged in the critical issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace and justice for decades. We have followed closely the debates on divestment since before BDS as a movement was established in 2005, and were not surprised by the call of Palestinian civil society when the original letter was issued. Some of our Palestinian partners were among the original signatories, so we have paid close attention to the substance and to the plea. We read and engaged the letter/call, and since then have made it possible for our church members and delegations to meet with those involved in the movement, both among partners and in the Palestinian civil society movement itself (particular Omar Barghouti) while visiting Palestine, or when he has been present in the U.S. Our churches see it as consistent with efforts to use economic measures to bring justice in situations of oppression, in which our churches have participated historically. For Kairos Palestine to take up the call has made the option additionally relevant for us.
Our response to the BDS movement is consistent with our engagement in human and civil rights struggles in other contexts. Our efforts in regard to Israeli-Palestinian peace and justice are in the same vein. We are helping our churches to know the reality that Palestinians live, under occupation and as refugees. This has been key, and has been an ongoing effort over the decades, not just in the last 14 years. Education has been key, and the voices of our Palestinian partners have also played a crucial role.
It takes a collaborative effort to make change, including local and global partners. We rely on Palestinian Christian partners, and we also are encouraged by the global network engaged on this. In the U.S. we recognize the complicity of our government, and know the challenge we have as churches, but are called to keep up the struggle, encouraged by the message of Kairos Palestine: faith, hope, and love from the midst of suffering!
We are helping our churches to know the reality that Palestinians live, under occupation and as refugees. This has been key, and has been an ongoing effort over the decades, not just in the last 14 years. Education has been key, and the voices of our Palestinian partners have also played a crucial role.
I first heard about BDS about in the early 2010's, and I understood it to be a call by Palestinian civil society for global nonviolent campaign to pressure Israel to grant Palestinians humans rights and self-determination. I learned the specifics of the campaign goals later.
In the academic sector, there have been some significant successes with the Women’s Studies Association and the American Studies Associations endorsing the BDS campaign. Politically, as you know, in the U.S., we are seeing campaigns being pushed by pro-Israeli organizations to make BDS actions illegal and to explicitly create a false link between BDS and antisemitism. I think the situation has become more complex and more difficult.
I use my social media network to share educational articles about the human rights situation in Palestine, and about advocacy initiatives to push for Palestinian human rights, like BDS. I share many articles posted by Jewish Voice for Peace to expressly show that parts of the Jewish community support Palestinian human rights and are critical of Israeli policy. I participate in local peace movement conferences and events and invite others to do so as well. I have also used the occasion of my church’s Christmas Fair Trade Fair to pair Palestinian olive oil with a flyer about how parishioners can help Palestinian Christians. I also contact my elected representatives to let them know that I support Palestinian human rights including the right to self-determination and, in the U.S., the right to boycott and would expect that they would too, is it represents fundamental freedom.
I think making the comparison between South Africa and Palestine is important, and making the connections between Palestine and other struggles. Also highlighting the plight of Palestinian Christians is a good starting point for outreach to Christians. Providing succinct, easy to digest materials with key background facts, including information about violations of human rights and international law are essential, along with ideas for advocacy.
The Christian obligation to work for justice and peace is key. The historical link between the first Christians and today’s Palestinian Christians, who have maintained the traditions of the early Church through the millennia must be repeated. It is important to educate all audiences, even religious/ecumenical ones, about the core violations of UN resolutions, international law and human rights treaties. They also need to know where the support in the U.N. is coming from so they can pressure their governments.
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Years ago, at a seminar we attended in Palestine led by BDS National Committee (BNC) leadership, the question was asked about the many diverse BDS working groups that exist and how it is possible to come up with a common strategy in the midst of such diversity. Some were afraid that the BDS agenda as they knew it might not work for their group or church. The BNC response was: “Do what works.” In some ways that response liberated activists to go from that seminar and do the work they believe they are called to do in their own unique circumstances.
“Do what works” was good advice; it launched a number of Presbyterians into action. The Presbyterian Church (USA) had already decided to refer a breakthrough 2004 General Assembly proposal for divestment to the denomination’s investment oversight committee. In addition, that same General Assembly approved the creation of a mission network that would “give voice to the Palestinian cry for justice.” That mission network is where many of those Presbyterians returning from the Bethlehem seminar found their own voice. (see theIPMN.org)
At that time, American Presbyterians as a whole were not quite ready to hear about BDS all at once. The 2004 action for divestment had already created a good deal of opposition which was beginning to make itself heard. There were fears and accusations about the church becoming “antisemitic”, “anti-Jewish” and “anti-Israel” as early as 2006. Knowing the accusations were unjustified, but also acknowledging that the work for justice can be threatening to some, the Presbyterian mission network began its work fully prepared to handle its opposition.
We decided to take on BDS one letter at a time. In 2010 the Presbyterian Church (USA) called for economic sanctions on Israel until the occupation ended; in 2012 they voted to boycott all Israeli settlement goods; and in 2014 they voted to divest from Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard, for profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In 2010 our denomination called for sanctions on Israel by voting to calling the US government to condition military aid to Israel on their adherence to US laws. In 2012, the denomination voted to boycott all Israeli settlement goods, and in 2014 they voted to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard for profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
When each of the B, D and S policies were passed, the church distanced itself from the BDS Movement by adding into the language of the new policy that it was not joining the movement. Nevertheless, Omar Barghouti called it “BDS, Presbyterian Style!” and the work was counted as a forward step for BDS, because all three were adopted as policy.
Knowing the accusations were unjustified, but also acknowledging that the work for justice can be threatening to some, the Presbyterian mission network began its work fully prepared to handle its opposition. We decided to take on BDS one letter at a time.