On June 25 the Episcopal Church will gather in Salt Lake City for its week-long triennial General Convention. Among other things, it will decide whether or not to adopt a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution vis-à-vis Israeli policies on the West Bank to replace its decade-long policy of "positive investment" and "corporate engagement" last reaffirmed three years ago in resolution B019.
As should be clear from the rapid growth of settlements and escalating violence, particularly the more than 2,000 deaths in Gaza, the Episcopal Church's (TEC's) policy of "positive investment," as elaborated in resolution B019 has proved woefully inadequate in addressing the situation in the Holy Land or expressing proper moral outrage. In the face of the deteriorating situation on the ground the possibilities for a two-state solution are rapidly disappearing. We are now faced with the need for urgent, forceful action. It must also be said that the Presiding Bishop's "Ubuntu" resolution would be a sad step backward even from B019.
My support for the BDS movement, however, derives primarily from painful personal experience. For me the occupation is not an abstraction. It is the young people in Jenin's Freedom Theater and Nablus' university, seeking hope in art and education. It is the ten-year-old shot in the kneecap in Bilin. It is the dinner conversations with his family in Bilin, in Arbour refugee camp, and in a Bedouin village in the Negev. It is the settler violence I witnessed in At Tuwani in the Hebron hills. It is the broken plastic toy I picked up from the rubble of the destroyed village of Susiya in those same hills. It is the Jersey wall that segregates Hebron's Shuhada Street. It is the rifle pointed at an old woman on that street. It is the dispossessed families in Jerusalem's Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods, the desecrated tombs in Mamilla cemetery, the barbed wire enclosed settlement across the street from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is the stench of tear gas, the indignities encountered at countless roadblocks, the affront of a thirty-foot wall, the string of gleaming white settlements atop nearly every hill, dividing Palestine into unconnected Bantustans. It is the plea of a little boy in an alleyway in Balata camp: "Don't Forget Palestine."
On my three trips to Israel/Palestine I also found many Israeli Jews who seek an end to the occupation and an Israel that reflects the universal values of Judaism – Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions, the young veteran from Breaking the Silence traumatized by his duty in Hebron, the high school girl from Shimistin who refuses to serve, the teenagers of Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah putting on a puppet show for dispossessed kids living in a tent, the brave human rights activists of B'tselem whose only weapon is a camera, the young lawyer in Beersheva who gave me permission to use the word "Apartheid."
To those who would equate criticism of illegal and immoral policies of the Israeli government with the sin of anti-Semitism, I would point to the growing number of American Jews, especially young people, who reject the notion of any such connection. Witness the presence at General Convention of volunteers from Jewish Voice for Peace who come to support BDS and the more than forty rabbis who support such a resolution. Witness also the recent letter to the Washington Post by Allan C. Brownfeld, of the American Council for Judaism who wrote:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the movement to boycott Israel or disinvest from those doing business in the occupied territories as "anti-Semitic." Similarly, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who recently presided over a meeting that raised more than $20 million to fight this movement, referred to it as "anti-Semitic." Whether one agrees with this movement or not, and many Jews are leading participants, the fact is that it is in no way "anti-Semitic." Judaism is a religion of universal values. Israel is a sovereign state. It has violated international law by occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The boycott movement is a nonviolent effort to show opposition to this occupation, similar, its advocates argue, to the movement of sanctions against South Africa to show opposition to apartheid. Hatred of Judaism or Jews, which is what constitutes anti-Semitism, appears to be absent from these boycott efforts.
It was for such reasons that the preamble of the Diocese of California resolution forwarding General Convention Resolution C012 contained the following "resolved":
Resolved, That the Convention expresses its profound love and concern for all the people of the Holy Land, both Israelis and Palestinians, and rejects attempts to equate honest and legitimate criticism of unwise policies of the Government of Israel with anti-Semitism;
I know that there is a fear in the upper reaches of the Church that adopting a BDS resolution would damage or end the interfaith dialogue with those purporting to speak for American Jewry.
If we vote down BDS, the two establishments – Jewish and Episcopalian – can, we are told, continue the "dialogue". The question must be asked, however: "What do we talk about?"
Friends don't ask friends to close their eyes to injustice. Friends don't ask friends to ignore their conscience as the price for continued dialogue. Friends don't dictate to friends what they can or cannot talk about. And friends don't act as enablers of their friends' bad behavior.
Let us act as our conscience dictates, confront injustice, and hold open our desire for honest, sincere dialogue. That is what friends do.
To those who would raise concerns that a TEC BDS resolution might harm the institutional economic interests of the Diocese of Jerusalem, it must be said that 1) such fear only illustrates the pressure the Israeli government exerts on Palestinian society; and 2) positive investment aimed at the Diocese of Jerusalem might well alleviate such pressure. Does it also need saying that man does not live by bread alone, that we have all taken a Baptismal vow to "respect the dignity of every human being," or that it that it is the role of the Church to witness to truth and justice? In this regard, it is worth noting the words of the 2009 Kairos Document endorsed by all the Christian leaders of Palestine, including Archbishop Dawani:
The cruel circumstances in which the Palestinian Church has lived and continues to live have required the Church to clarify her faith and to identify her vocation better.
The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events. If she does take sides, it is with the oppressed, to stand alongside them….
Archbishop Dawani will do what his conscience dictates in this regard. We in the Episcopal Church must do the same. By my lights we must stand with the oppressed Palestinians and pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation. The best means of doing so is to adopt a strong BDS resolution. C012 is such a resolution.
I know that some call C012 one-sided. It is. For the situation it addresses is one-sided. One people – the Palestinians – are on their knees. The other – the Israelis – have a gun to their heads. And we – we Americans - .have paid for the gun. As Americans and as Christians, we have a special obligation vis-à-vis that gun