Opinion: Resolution on Israel-Palestine harms peace efforts for all faiths

Oct 26, 2015 by , and

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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.

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  • Berry Friesen

    I avoid Wal-Mart, supporting instead local merchants and companies that don’t force their employees to utilize food stamps to make ends meet. I invest my retirement only in mutual funds that refuse to invest in defense industries. I refuse to buy lottery tickets, even though the proceeds support programs for “senior citizens.” I drive a car that uses gas economically. When I last bought a PC, I avoided Hewlett-Packard because of its association with the Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine in the assembly of its products.

    My church has taught me that the way I use my dollars is called “stewardship” and reflects my values, which my church is shaping to reflect the Spirit of Jesus.

    But according to Gollner, Ramer and Regier, these actions of mine are “antithetical to restorative justice” and “coercive,” reflecting an itch for “supremacy” and “colonialism.” It boggles the mind, this use of words to make the straight crooked and the crooked straight.,

    • Ron Barak

      Re your ‘Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine’:

      The following claims are made:

      • In 1967 Israel conquered Judea and Samaria and part of Jerusalem from the Kingdom of Jordan, which held legal jurisdiction over the territory.
      • This was/and is “Palestinian Arab” territory.
      • The Laws of Occupation apply to Israeli presence in Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem (j-s-j).
      • The settlements are illegal.

      Each of these assumptions is incorrect:

      Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem are part of the area designated by the Mandate for Palestine for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish People only. That status of the land has not changed.
      The Mandate – enacted in international law by the League of Nations and assigned to Great Britain – was preceded by the San Remo Conference’s resolutions.

      Article 80 of the UN charter, 1945, assured that the rights inherent in the Mandate were not abrogated or altered because of the demise of the League of Nations and its succession by the UN.

      Contrary to popular opinion, there was no legal decision made in 1947 to ‘partition’ the land called Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. There was merely a recommendation by the UN General Assembly (Resolution 181). The Arabs refused to accept this and Judea and Samaria then remained, without change, part of the territory that the Mandate for Palestine had established for a Jewish homeland.

      Jordan’s entry into Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem in 1948 as part of an offensive military action was illegal. Jordan’s annexation of this land was in contravention of international law.

      Israel took this land (back) from Jordan in 1967 during a defensive war, which makes its actions legal. The areas that Israel took control of during the Six Day War in 1967 were not part of any other legal sovereignty. They were stateless areas that had in any case been designated for the Jewish People by the Mandate for Palestine.

      The Laws of Occupation apply to a situation in which territory is taken from another state. Since Israel did not take land from a sovereign state, the laws do not apply to Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem. The injunctions and restrictions that lawfully might be placed on an occupying nation are not relevant to Israel’s presence in Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem.

      The claim that Israel’s presence in Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention is frequently used to bolster the argument that Israel is an occupier. However, there is a very solid body of legal opinion – including that of the International Red Cross – that concludes that the Convention was drafted to address situations of coercive transfer of population, such as that practiced by the Nazis. This is not remotely connected to Israel’s settlement policy.

      The charge is made frequently that Israel must “return” to its legitimate “pre-1967 border.” The line – often called the Green Line – was not a border, however: It was an armistice line. The 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan defined this ceasefire line as temporary, saying that a final border would be established via negotiations. Those negotiations were never held.

      Security Council Resolution 242, passed in 1967, did not require Israel to return behind the Green Line, but instead recognized Israel’s need for secure borders. No pullback by Israel was called for until after negotiations had determined the final border. Those negotiations, which would have been with Jordan, were never held. (Note: Jordan officially relinquished all claims to Judea and Samaria in 1988.)

      There was no mention of a “Palestinian People” or a “Palestinian State” in Resolution 242. There has never been a Palestinian State and Judea and Samaria in no sense belong to the Palestinian Arabs.

      The claim that the Palestinian Arabs are entitled to a state is purely a political and not a legal argument.


      The settlements are not illegal.

      Israel is not an occupier in Judea-Samaria or Jerusalem.

      • Berry Friesen

        Mr. Barak, your voice is the one authors Gollner, Ramer and Regier want us Mennonites to hear and respect. So it is fitting that you should post your message.

        Resolution 242, passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in 1967, committed that body to the total withdrawal of Israeli forces from all the territories occupied by Israel as a result of the conflict which began on 5 June 1967. Israel’s refusal to comply with Resolution 242 is the illegality of which I spoke. It has persisted nearly 50 years now.

        I understand that Israel’s Zionist supporters take comfort in the fact that Israel has never declared its borders, preferring to leave that detail open for future developments in the Golan, Lebanon, Palestine, you know, places where Israel has opportunities to expand its holdings before its borders are declared. Thus, it can continue to throw sand in the air when the legality of its behavior is discussed.

        Yet it remains a fact: within the community of nations, Israel’s jurisdiction over the West Bank is a military occupation and its failure to withdraw is illegal.

        Within our Mennonite community, we call it “a sin” before YHWH, the god we worship. As Palestinian Christians stated in a message to us several years ago:

        “The aggression against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed. Primary responsibility for this rests with the Palestinians themselves suffering occupation. Christian love invites us to resist it. However, love puts an end to evil by walking in the ways of justice. Responsibility lies also with the international community, because international law regulates relations between peoples today. Finally responsibility lies with the perpetrators of the injustice; they must liberate themselves from the evil that is in them and the injustice they have imposed on others.”

        Nations often commit sins, as you know, and Israel is hardly unique in failing to do what is right. Our own nation, the USA, has in recent years led the way in the same kind of aggression that Israel practices toward its neighbors. As Mennonites, we do not presume to fix any of these injustices, only to avoid participating in them, as YHWH is our help.

        • Davidr Hiebert

          This topic is kind of a black hole, in that it sucks in whatever is close to it.
          However, I think that the topic here has strayed from the editorial to something else.

          The topic is the relevance of the BDS movement to the Mennonite Church. I feel that movement is getting Israel’s attention and so must be having an effect on the partied government.

        • Charles Knapp

          Everyone is encouraged to read the text of UNSC Resolution 242 as it is misrepresented in Berryfriesen’s comment. The resolution expressly speaks of “territories” rather than “all territories.” The difference in phrasing was intentional, as both the UK and U.S. Ambassadors said at the time. In fact, the phrasing is unique. In every other UN resolution demanding withdrawal, that demand is either explicitly made (by using “all”), by reference to a return to the lines that preceded hostilities or to the status quo ante of a specified date that also preceded hostilities.
          The UN Security Council understood that the 1949 Armistice lines were not defensible borders, and therefore created the very insecurities that led to war, and that borders needed to be recognized. For what it’s worth, as Sinai and Gaza have been fully evacuated, this 90%+ withdrawal arguably satisfies the UN demand. However, Israel remains committed to a “two states for two peoples” solution – something Abbas rejected out of hand in his direct conversations with Secretary Kerry. As for Hamas’ position on peace with Israel, everyone would do well to read their Charter with care. — Charles Knapp

  • Ryan Rodrick Beiler

    Lots to respond to here. But let’s start with the authors’ assertion that “Mennonite media present a lopsided image of Israel as the only obstacle; of Jews as always armed, vindictive and male aggressors.” Might I direct their attention to the October issue of The Mennonite magazine, which features Jewish Israeli peace activist Yonatan Shapira on the cover. Just one of “the many peacemakers and many experiences of all faiths in Israel/Pal­estine” that the authors suggest we should be listening too. He also supports BDS. https://themennonite.org/feature/combatant-for-a-just-peace/

    • Peter Janzen

      I don’t think that swamping Mennonite papers with stories totally partisan to those who agree with you, and then telling those who disagree “now if you would just read MY article!” is what the authors meant when they say that “We have ignored a wide range of (Israeli) voices.”
      Of course it is true that Mennonites haven’t heard from lots and lots of sides on this issue. Only the loud BDS crowd has dominated. Kudos to this paper for some fresh air.

    • Isaac Rubinson

      Finding a token Israeli BDS supporter is hardly listening to the wide range of Israeli voices available who hold strong moral positions on the issues while opposing the occupation but nonetheless are patriotic to their country. BDS seeks Israel’s elimination, ignores the the voices of over 8 million actual Israelis and instead creates a one dimensional caricature of “the Israeli” that is usually presented in a demonized and dehumanized fashion. How else to explain the support the BDS movement is giving to what it euphemistically calls “popular resistance” but in fact is an incitement campaign by Palestinian religious and ultra-nationalist leaders calling for their people to randomly murder any Jew they come across anywhere? In the last two days alone, two Jews — both non-combatants — died of their wounds from earlier terror attacks. One, a rabbi, died after being in a coma for a year after his synagogue was attacked and four other worshipers were murdered during morning prayers. This synagogue wasn’t in “occupied Palestine” but in West Jerusalem, not that it matters from an international law standpoint if a terror victim is a settler, unless Mennonites believe non-combatant settlers are legitimate targets for random killings (such as the two parents murdered in front of their four children about a month ago). The other victim, a 76 year old bus passenger that was shot in the head and stabbed in an attack two weeks ago, died just today. This is what BDS calls “popular resistance”? Is that the moral sphere the Mennonites want to inhabit? That is what I believe the author is saying.

      • Dave Hockman-Wert

        Mr. Rubinson, all of the examples of violence you cite are indeed atrocious, as was the burning of a Palestinian family in their house by Jewish Israeli settlers a few months ago, and the shooting of teenage demonstrators by police and/or the IDF. Victim trading doesn’t get us very far. Everyone can claim victimhood and rail at the aggressors/terrorists/occupiers.

        How do you oppose the occupation? How would you suggest we Mennonites oppose the occupation in an way that doesn’t offend or unwittingly support violence on either side?

        Also, what is your take on 972mag.com? Are they all “token” Israeli BDS supporters too? (Granted, they aren’t all BDS supporters, but they all seem to oppose the current government and the occupation.) Also, Ha’aretz? Ari Shavit is speaking in at our local university tomorrow, and I am looking forward to hearing his message.

        Dave Hockman-Wert

        • Jon Haber

          It strikes me that the obvious first step would be to withhold support from any state or organization engaging in violence. Which, in this case, would mean refusing to support Israel’s actions (as the church has done) while also refusing to support the Palestinians (by withholding support for BDS, for example) until all violence on their part (such as the current rash of stabbing murders) stops.

          Given the church’s traditional support for non-violent ways to end conflict, a call for peaceful dialog would also seem to make sense (with a full understanding of how difficult that dialog is going to be for all sides involved).

          Alternatively, the church can throw its support behind one side of the conflict (by supporting BDS, for instance) while taking no meaningful action to ensure the side it has chosen stops engaging in violence. This is a perfectly reasonable choice, as long as the church is ready to say that in doing so it has abandoned its historic tradition of supporting peaceful, non-violent means to end conflict in favor of choosing sides in a violent war. Jon Haber

          • Berry Friesen

            Jon, your analysis fits well with sentiments of Gollner, Ramer and Regier. It assumes we Mennonites are primarily concerned with our own righteousness, our own vain perfection, not justice for the oppressed Palestinian church that has asked us to support the liberation of their neighbors and friends.

            True, we often have been just as you imagine us to be. Thus, we are highly susceptible to your insistence that we give equal time to the powerful oppressor with its well-oiled propaganda machine and purposeful deployment of highly refined tools of violence (on the one hand) and the incoherence of the victims, some of whom strike out with ghastly knives (on the other).

            Yet we have our Scriptures, which push us toward solidarity with the Palestinians (I think of Mary’s song). And we have the pleas from Palestinian Christians, a plea for solidarity without violence. These will be our lights.

          • Peter Janzen

            What you have is not a single argument against BDS in Mennonite media until this one, instead richly funded tours that ignore reasonable Israelis (who were not born in the US), lots of onesided seminars at conventions, lots of online comments with moral superiority, and this article even describes an on-stage appearance of a BDS advocate at convention (wasn’t there, might be wrong). So who has the “well oiled propaganda machine”?

          • Berry Friesen

            The propaganda machine of the Israeli government and its Zionist backers has enormous clout in very major media outlet in the USA. It even reaches obscure comment pages such as those offered by MWR. It defeats any candidate for public office who voices criticism of Israel’s policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Its representative can march into the U.S. Congress and bring the assembled representatives to thunderous applause by criticizing their popularly elected leader.

            Now that’s clout, don’t you think?

            If you regard the paltry Mennonite effort to answer the call of Palestinian Christians as a “well-oiled propaganda machine,” then you live in la-la land.

            Peter, the power you correctly sense in the Palestinian message emerges not from funding, organization, cunning or force. It emerges from the gospel of Jesus, the faithful witness, who forever changed the world by his compassion and nonviolent resistance to oppression. His light can never be extinguished; yet today, it judges every man and woman, every nation.

            It is why the Palestinians have not lost hope and refuse to surrender to the constant humiliation and violence of the Israeli occupation.

          • Peter Janzen

            You don’t admit that humiliation and violence is happening to many sides from the beginnigs in this conflict. Mennonites wont solve it by shouting “sinner” at whoever they think is the bigger dog. We didn’t do that either when Arab dictatorships were the bigger dog than the Jews. So you buy into a naive black vs. white story of wolves vs. lambs, and have closed your mind to many, no matter how preachy you sound about it. This is the successful result of propaganda.

          • Jon Haber

            Berry – Presuming your second paragraph was meant sincerely and not sarcastically (which I assume is the case, given the seriousness of the topic), I again would like to stress that there are two (possibly more) interpretations regarding whom the label of “powerful” should apply.
            If the situation in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then indeed the Israelis are the more powerful of the two parties (although one could argue over whether that power is being used to defend, rather than oppress).
            But if it is really the Arab-Israeli conflict, then the adjective “powerful” would modify the 20+ Middle East nations that are not Israel, which includes wealthy and (yes) powerful states that have aligned themselves against the Jewish state for close to a century. This power has been used to (among other things) ensure a constant flow of condemnations of Israel from the UN and other international bodies, coupled with suppression of criticism of nations who use those bodies to attack their political foe. And while one can accuse Israel of having a “well-oiled propaganda machine,” I am not aware of Israel rallying dozens of Jewish states to put their political opponents perpetually in the dock.
            Now people can reasonably disagree over which power relationship should apply (or whether both are applicable). But given that the church is making its pronouncements on the matter in the name of Scripture, it seems reasonable to ask those staking the name and reputation of the church on this political issue to at least acknowledge the possibility that you might be aligning yourself not with Christ but with Caesar. – Jon Haber

        • Steven M. Moses

          If I read correctly, the authors of this article also oppose the occupation. It’s good to hear you are making an effort to listen to progressive Israelis that may not tell you what you have heard so far. Ari Shavit has been very outspoken against BDS. Ask him about it.

  • Evan Knappenberger

    I’d like to respond to the notion that BDS is “antithetical to restorative justice.”

    According to the philosophy taught in courses on restorative justice at Mennonite educational institutions around the world, the process of restoration can really only begin when the violence has ceased. Trauma-restoration cannot occur in media res of the conflict. Thus, the point of Mennonite involvement in BDS against the Israeli state and economy falls outside the realm of RJ and inside the realm of nonviolent conflict resolution.

    I suggest that it is improper to regard the objectives and strategy of the BDS movement as supposedly some kind of restorative justice movement, and furthermore that such an understanding is a categorical misunderstanding of the sciences of both nonviolent conflict management and restorative justice praxis.

    A real understanding of nonviolence theory reveals the Mennonite BDS movement to be in line with both theological practices of gelassenheit as well as Gandhian satyagraha, both of which are disciplines that the Mennonites and all Christians need desperately to learn to perform. — Evan Knappenberger

  • Berry Friesen

    Jon, if you have been following the work of our Mennonite delegates, you know there is already nearly a consensus regarding this matter. After 60-some years of walking with Palestinian people, we know what justice requires.

    So not to worry; ruthlessness by our leaders in shoving something down our throats is not a concern.

    If your purpose is to see our near consensus unravel over the next two years, perhaps you could find ways to remind us of how good it is to seek justice for ourselves, but “coercive” to seek justice for the oppressed.

    Authors Gollner, Ramer and Regier have captured the gist of it, but maybe you could coach them on the finer points.

    • Jon Haber

      I guess I’m curious about why this “consensus” you talk of seems to align so perfectly with the agenda of many wealthy and powerful states who wish to keep the human rights spotlight focused on their political enemy while making sure it never shines on their own record as the most bigoted and reactionary lands not only in the Middle East, but on the face of the earth.

      Given that this “censuses” requires bringing the moral weight of the entire church to bear on one side of what many consider to be a two-sided (or even multi-sided conflict), I would think that both leaders and followers would stop a moment to determine whether or not they are speaking in the name of God, or aligning with what a group of all-to-frail humans are insisting is your only possible moral option. – Jon Haber

      • John M. Miller

        Jon, it seems to me that you speak against the consensus that has emerged in the church because it goes counter to your preferences. Hence, you denigrate it as oppressive. I know that majorities can be wrong and minority voices can express truth. Nevertheless, I find that in the case of the Jewish/Palestinian conflict in Israel, you go at great lengths to defend the powerful over against those who are the victims of that power. I wonder if at heart you seek justice or if you believe Jews have rights that Palestinians do not.

        • Jon Haber

          Hi John – Obviously if I have chosen to argue a different position than what you call “the consensus,” that means I disagree with it. (Hard to have an argument if everyone agrees, after all – which is why I suspect so many interlocutors have chosen to refer to this “consensus” rather than defend it.)

          For example, I have pointed out several times that if you define “The Powerful” as the Israelis and “The Powerless” as the Palestinians (by assuming the Middle East conflict is primarily about those two parties, and “The Occupation,”) then those who disagree with your consensus indeed support the powerful.

          But if we are instead talking about the “Arab-Israeli” conflict in which the Palestinian side is supported by dozens of powerful and wealthy states (with such support taking the form of propaganda effort, arms and even armies), then it is your “consensus” – and thus your church – that has chosen the side of wealth and power, not your critics.

          I would love to hear from someone (maybe yourself) about why the role of everyone in the Middle East save Israel (and the Palestinians – but only in their role of innocent victims) must be ignored in order to achieve “consensus.”

          Similarly, I’d love to find out why a church that prides itself on the embrace of non-violent conflict resolution seems comfortable rewarding one side in a political conflict that has yet to renounce violence (indeed, is preparing to unleash more of it while the church works to make your “consensus” official policy). Jon Haber

          • John M. Miller

            O.k. I get your argument, but I find it is based on a false analogy, comparing cherries with kumquats. And even then omitting a scene changing factor. The injustice of Israel deals with the conduct of a governing state with its citizens or occupants—in this case where citizenship is denied to people in their ancestral homeland. The legitimate comparison would be how other states in the region deal with their citizens. I don’t see the surrounding states creating the apartheid system that Israel is imposing on Palestinians.

            Then you omit the fact that inter-state conditions are based on coalitions. You name the entity of your imagination as the “Arab-Israeli” conflict. But there is no evidence of an established coalition of Arab states intent on the destruction of Israel. To make matters worse, to support the thesis of your false construct, you omit the alliance of the U.S. with commitments to support an protect Israel. This alliance of the most powerful nation in the world along with Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East against the “Arab states.” If there is any imbalance of power, it lies in favor or Israel with its support by the U.S.

            I don’t think this makes a valid argument against the application of economic pressure to get Israel to do justice for the Palestinians.

        • Steven M. Moses

          What consensus are you talking about? You tabled the resolution because you were pretty evenly divided. The consensus that exists is among the Mennonite elites who have been generously funded to go on trips that are designed to exclude the pain and longing for peace among Israelis. Everybody who takes these trips comes back in favor of BDS. That’s not consensus, that’s brainwashing.

          • John M. Miller

            Steve, as I reviewed these comments, I believe Berry Friesen was the one who said: “if you have been following the work of our Mennonite delegates, you
            know there is already nearly a consensus regarding this matter. After
            60-some years of walking with Palestinian people, we know what justice
            requires.” I cannot speak authoritatively, but I believe the vote to table the decision for two years resulted from objections from a church whose members are employed by Caterpillar. I also know there is a reticence among some Mennonites to employ BDS because it is viewed as coercive. I have no basis to support or challenge Barry’s view that there is a near consensus in favor of the Palestinians.

  • Peter Janzen

    You hit the nail on the head. The Mennonite church uses a lot of money to fund very onesided tours to the Middle East where BDSers tell the captive Americans their story. Nothing wrong with that story, but there are many others. Then the Americans come back all riled up loaded with talking points and a closed mind. They believe that everyone who cares about peace and justice must now share their viewpoint and take it personal if they don’t. It’s one thing for Berry Friesen and others to make their stewardship decisions, but to bully the whole church into it is quite different. Whatever happened to forbearance here?

  • Andre Gingerich Stoner

    As a staff person for Mennonite Church USA tasked to work on issues related to Israel and Palestine, I want to offer a few brief comments:

    –The writers of this essay,with whom I’ve had several extended conversations, address some very important matters. I am thankful for that. The legacy of Christian anti-Semitism must be engaged seriously and in various ways.

    –In this piece, Phillip, Andrew and James equate the tabled resolution with movements, statements and actions they find objectionable. Considering how our financial lives are enmeshed in policies of occupation is not an endorsement of every related initiative.

    –The “Come and See” tours include encounter and conversation with a range of Israelis as well as
    Palestinian Christians and Muslims, offering an important though not exhaustive window on the realities of the current situation.

    –The voice of Palestinian Christians, from evangelical and mainline to Catholic and Orthodox, who speak together in the Kairos Palestine appeal is particularly important to us. Followers of Jesus who are deeply committed to nonviolence and the logic of love even in the midst of extreme injustice merit our special attention and support.

    It is good to pause, to listen, to confess, to pray. I encourage continued dialogue and reflection on these issues as the delegates unanimously called for in the Saturday “Statement in Support for our Palestinian and Israeli Partners in Peacemaking.” I trust we can help each other find ways to affirm our deep desire for peace, well-being and flourishing of all in the region even as we address injustices, suffering and violence and our role in them.

    • Jon Haber

      You have obviously been in touch with many more voices within the church than I or anyone else posting to this forum. But while it would be a mistake to claim the comments below represent a microcosm of opinions on the matter, they illustrate a couple of points directly related to your comments.

      Some critics of church policy have stated that the problem with “Come and See” tours is not that they are “not exhaustive,” but that they actively go out of their way to seek people (both Israelis and Palestinians) that will give visitors a skewed version of (among other thing) support for BDS among Israeli and American Jews. If such tours were designed to push people one way or another, by avoiding those with opinions trip organizers would prefer not be heard, this represents a form of “false witness” that has the potential to tarnish not just the church’s embrace of BDS, but the very identify of the church as representing non-violent peacemaking.

      The choice of voices you list (all organized under the Kairos umbrella) presents another interesting challenge for a church claiming its decisions are driven by the urging of fellow followers of Christ. For what if it turns out (because it is true) that Christians suffering under the rule of Hamas or Christians currently being driven out of the Middle East do not face a foe willing to let them organize into a movement created to bring global condemnation down on their oppressors? If this was the case, that would mean all evil would have to do to avoid condemnation by the Mennonites would be to silence the voices of Christians they are suppressing.

      I’ve often wondered why the Mennonites don’t choose the seemingly obvious option of embracing BDS but insisting to their Palestinian brothers that a final decision on the matter awaits the cessation or at least the unambiguous renunciation of violence by anyone you choose to support. Such a move would not require you to “switch sides,” but to simply live by your claimed principles. – Jon Haber

      • Andre Gingerich Stoner

        Jon Haber has been particularly active in writing comments on this site. I’m always interested in knowing something about my conversation partner. Below are links to two articles about Jon Haber. Please correct me if this is the not the same Jon Haber. The articles identify Haber as an American writer and political activist who according to the The Jewish Week has been “a key resource for anti-BDS activists.” The articles don’t address Haber’s religious or organizational affiliations. They report that he worked closely to oppose United Methodist action related to the military occupation of Palestine.



        Jon, you seek to discredit the “Come and See” tours our church is organizing by making false assertions and accusations, carefully couched behind words like “Some critics have stated . . .” Unlike many Holy Land tours, these tours do unapologetically explore the very concrete realities of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Participants hear from a range of voices with a variety of perspectives on the situation and possible solutions.

        • Jon Haber

          I prefer to describe my work as helping organizations like the Methodists (and Mennonites) avoid falling into the trap of supporting a propaganda war masquerading as a human rights campaign called BDS vs. “opposing…the military occupation of Palestine.” But I promise not to use my definition of BDS to describe what you stand against if you will return the favor. Deal?

          Regarding my critique of the “Come and See” tours, I’m not exactly sure what you are complaining about. I simply combined information from this article and associated comments with what I know about the subject to claim that the tours were designed to deliver a pre-determined political message with places and people visited carefully selected to deliver one side (and one side only) of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Your description of the tours seems to confirm this description, the only difference being that you think this is a good thing. Jon Haber

          • Philipp Gollner

            As a co-author of this article, I wanted to clarify that while I understand and welcome the passion of all involved as a sign that there are indeed many question surrounding our resolution, I do NOT believe that a contentious online comment section with new American voices that neither we three authors nor the proponents of the resolution know or have ever talked to, such as the one above, is the best way forward for us as a church.
            We wrote our thoughts with the intent to spark an overdue conversation among Mennonites about making space for a broader range of voices on our tours, in our conversations and in our resolutions so that our witness for peace would be more empathetic, knowledgeable and full. Along these lines, I’m grateful for Andre’s comment and openness.

          • Jon Haber

            Dear Phillip – While we’ve never met, I hope that I might someday get the opportunity to convince you and fellow church members that some of us who criticize the approach the Mennonites have taken on the Middle East do so as much out of respect for your institution as we do out of concern for a nation we care about deeply enough to feel pain when it is the subject of hurtful slanders.

            But if that opportunity arises, it will have to take place outside of this forum since I shall respect your wish to expand dialog within your community without the type of contention and unease questions like mine tend to generate.

            Best of luck with your (difficult) work and I hope our paths cross sometime. – Jon Haber

    • Berry Friesen

      Andre, with all due respect to you and your efforts to stay in dialogue with everyone, it is grotesque to respond to a crime by shifting attention to the behavior of the victim while s/he was being victimized. It is reprehensible to relativize a crime by pointing to crimes other members of the victim’s social group committed at one time or another. Worse still is to respond to a crime victim by turning the conversation to ourselves and how our superior morality does not permit us to take sides.

      If the case in point were a rape or a home invasion, we instantly would recognize this. Yet when the subject is the Palestinian people and their victimization by repeated acts of Israeli state terrorism, some proudly respond in just these ways.

      You stated that “(t)he voice of Palestinian Christians, from evangelical and mainline to Catholic and Orthodox, who speak together in the Kairos Palestine appeal is particularly important to us.” Amen! They are among the victims of Israel’s atrocities, they have suffered unimaginable losses, they have lived out the nonviolence we claim so proudly, they have exercised the faith of Messiah Jesus that we love to talk about. They will be our teachers.

      Notice what is absent from the context as described by authors Gollner, Ramer and Regier and their supporters. Nothing specific about the land seizures, the home evictions, the daily humiliations, the tightening noose, the provocations with which Israel begins its murderous pogroms in Gaza and Lebanon. Instead, they give us abstracted discussion of rocket attacks and knifings, as if it is morally sophisticated to wring our hands over the scratches suffered by a rapist.

      • Jon

        Berry – I need to thank you for providing such a vivid (and public) illustration of one of history’s most important lessons: that evil rarely wears a black cape and Darth Vader mask, but rather presents itself as (and genuinely believes itself to be) the ultimate example of virtue (if not Godliness).

        I suspect that even the most ardent critic of Israel would hesitate to describe 10,000 rockets and dozens of homicidal knifing as “scratches” and discussion of them “abstractions” and distractions from Israeli “crimes” (apparently, the only topic you would like anyone else to discuss or think about). The only way to do so is to embody the very dehumanization techniques you decry in others but turning those you disagree with (Israelis) into “rapists” who deserve what’s coming to them.

        This sort of minimization and apology for violence might be understandable in the context of partisan warfare where everyone involved readily admitted that they suported their chosen side’s victory “by any means necessary.” But what are we to make of this same justification of violence done in the name of a movement that is also demanding we award them moral authority due to their embrace of non-violence as the only means for settling conflict? – Jon Haber

  • Jon Haber

    Fear not! Having once dated an Oregonian, I can still speak the language.

    Your note provides another interesting “vector” that can be used to determine whether this issue is being though of within the church through a moral and religious lens (as BDS-supporting Menonites insist it is) vs. a political one masquerading as faith based.

    First, when it comes time to decide whether moral judgement should be applied to the Palestinians which you support, you have chosen to narrow any “circle of guilt” as much as possible so that, for example, those who are stabbing innocents on the streets of Jerusalem must be treated as individuals whose behavior says nothing about a larger group. In contrast, no such narrowing is allowed for Israelis who BDS targets as a whole.

    Given the involvement of Palestinian government institutions in the incitement of violence and the celebration of violent murder, this narrowing represents a choice to ignore behavior that I suspect you would not ignore if it was the current Israeli government broadcasting similar messages as are the Palestinians or naming streets after Baruch Goldstein.

    Once again, such behavior is completely appropriate if we are talking about a political decision which involves minimizing the faults (including violent behavior) of allies, while maximizing those with whom you politically disagree.

    But if you want to present the Mennonites as embracing this issue out of religious duty, such selective morality presents a problem. And if you want to continue to present yourself as representing a tradition of non-violent conflict resolution, you should not be putting so much effort into figuring out ways to avoid asking those with whom you are allied to give up violence. Jon Haber

    • Dave Hockman-Wert

      Straw man alert yet again. I’ve never stated support for the PA. I simply pointed out that your over-generalization wasn’t helpful, and showed examples as to why. If your measure of support for a group is based on whether just one of its members does something bad or stupid, you’ll never support *any* group. That’s a weird bar to set, in my opinion.

      Nor have I stated a position on BDS, but I will say that I don’t support a blanket BDS approach targeting Israel as a whole. Neither did the resolution, actually. It was targeted at the Occupation, in particular. Even thirdnarrative.org and J Street have sympathy for such an approach.


      Dave Hockman-Wert

      • Jon Haber

        Dave – I have been pointing out problems associated with a religious movement (the Mennonites) which prides itself on not just peacemaking, but an embrace of non-violent peacemaking, choosing a side in a conflict which is currently committing violence, where its government condones and celebrates violence, and where far too many are preparing to unleash more violence as soon as opportunity presents itself.

        If you consider such an argument a “straw man,” I suspect it is because too much dialog among people urging an embrace of BDS within the church is dedicated to avoiding grappling with this conundrum by, among other things, limiting engagement primarily with those already in agreement, and narrowing your scope of vision so that the entire Middle East (where both Jews and now Christians are coming close to extinction in every land save Israel) is reduced to “The Occupation.”

        You may not believe it, but the threat posed by the church’s projection of its own non-violent intentions onto allies that have not rejected violence is not to Israel (which must contend with not just slings and arrows, but missiles and rockets) but to the church itself. For you are in the process of mortgaging the reputation of the Mennonite church in order to support one side in a secular political struggle – a side you are ready to do everything for, except ask them to put down their swords before they can earn your embrace. – Jon Haber

  • Peter Janzen

    I know Mennonite leaders who have been recruited to these tours, and their story is like yours. They often come prepared to see Israel as the Goliath, and then the Israelis they talk to are either Settler Zionists or from the other extreme of Israeli politics. So that all feeds into one side of the story as if without the occupation, there would be peace. That’s not a “range” of voices. Did you talk to the average Israeli who survived the Intifada, who saw the body parts of neighbors on the streets of Be’er Sheba, who was forced out of her home (not in settlements)? Where are they in our media and in our social media and our resolutions?

    I’m not surprised your group didn’t know what BDS was.That’s how that resolution was supposed to sail through.

    • June Forsyth Kenagy

      In 2012, I talked to one such “average Israeli” who was actually on our tour with us, and she believes the Israeli propaganda that 1948 was a war forced on Israel whereas many historians like Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe clearly show that Israeli army units (Haganah, IZL, etc.) were already “cleansing” the Palestinian villages even back in 1947. There is a lot of disinformation out there by dedicated Zionists. Morris even wants all Palestinians expelled now, in spite of his research on 1948, because he wants an Israel where there are no “arabs”. That is clearly a racist view. Both sides have seen loved ones killed, to be sure, but only ONE side has lost its entire homeland except for Areas A & B in the West Bank. As to the British Mandate giving the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to the Israelis, that is incorrect. Land allotment wasn’t done by the Mandate, but by the UN in 1947, and Israel was given only 52% of the land, but refused to accept the UN resolution, instead opting to take the land by force, and thereby ended up with 78% instead by the end of the 1948 “war.” Perhaps if each side read books by the other side, there could be some meeting of minds. But by then, 2 years from now, another 1000 to 2500 Palestinians will be dead and I doubt they will even hold land in Areas A and B!

  • Jon Haber

    Dave – In reading over your response again this morning, I realized that the reference made to the Palestinian Mandate also provides important context – an historical context – that can be used to analyze Mennonite positions on this issue.

    As you state, one goal of Mandate was to create a nation state for the Jewish people that would not prejudice the rights of non-Jews. But also remember that the Mandate consisted of not just present-day Israel, but the entire region of what is now Israel and Jordan (including the current disputed territories).

    After making promises to both sides (Jew and Arab – hence the phrase “the twice promised land”), Britain carved 4/5 of the Mandate off to create the nation of Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) where, both then and now, Jews were not allowed. And when Jordan controlled the area commonly referred to as the West Bank, Jews were also expelled (and their property seized and religious shrines desecrated).

    So, if we are talking about a solution that does not “prejudice civil and religious rights,” the expansion of a Jew-free Middle East should at least be part of the discussion over whether the Mennonites are aligning themselves with God and virtue vs. power and violence. Especially during an era when Christians are in the process of following the Jews in being driven out the Middle East (in all places other than Israel). – Jon Haber

    • Dave Hockman-Wert

      What part of “I do fully agree with the idea that we should support Israel’s right to exist and be a safe home for Jewish people” is unclear?

      You can set up all the straw men you want, but I never stated or took the position you are arguing against.

      Dave Hockman-Wert

  • Craig Anderson

    As I understand it, both the specific resolution proposed in KC, and actually the BDS movement generally, oppose the Israeli occupation of the Wast Bank, not Israel itself. The authors of this piece, and especially their apparent allies here in the comments section, seem to ignore of this. If one had the time and ability it would be very interesting to compare the arguments of those so concerned about evenhandedness to those posed a couple decades back attempting to counter those who were opposing apartheid in South Africa. I have no documentary proof but my first reaction to all this was one of: “Haven’t I heard these lines of reasoning before? Oh yeah . . . “

    • Evan Knappenberger

      Yeah it seems to me that this is a reactionary enterprise. A real understanding of the objectives, motives, and contexts of the BDS movement seems to elude the writers of this piece. — Evan Knappenberger

    • Peter Janzen

      Give it a rest. Yelling “apartheid!” a lot is like yelling ‘you’re a Nazi!” a lot. It will scandalize for a while, but people get really tired when they have heard it often enough and when they are confronted with the reality of ALL of Israel long enough. Even multiple South African MPs from the ANC have denounced this boogeyman. So have various religious and ethnic minorities in Israel (Israel proper. You might have heard that Israel is a lot more than “occupation”, I hope).

  • Davidr Hiebert

    The problem I have with the editorial statement is that it assumes that it is one government for all the people under Israeli control. You say: “Boycotting construction equipment companies, for example, would directly affect the construction of the Palestinian Authority’s first planned city, Ra­wa­bi.” If the sources that I’ve read are correct, Israel would not let any construction equipment in no matter what. In Israel, I heard Elias Chacour tell how the Israeli justice system would not schedule a hearing for him except on Sunday morning when he would normally be serving communion to his congregation. There maybe one government in Israel, but it operates two [or more] systems of justice–one for Jews and one for everyone else, including Christians.

    The apartheid system that was set up in 1948 continues today. A solution for the area is possible, but they can’t do it alone. We can help. BDS is one tool to get the government of Israel’s attention.

    • Steven M. Moses

      If anti-Israel divestment and boycott activists were truly interested in aiding Palestinians and promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, they would advocate constructive initiatives between Israelis, Palestinians and others. They would mourn the death of a Jewsih peace activist (last week) through Palestinian knifes (last week! I bet most of you don’t even know) as much as they would mourn the death of Palestinians. Unfortunately, you ignore all that, so you can do what is easy: bash Israel and use worn out ways of child discipline: a little beating will correct them is the motto. Former South African Constitutional Court Justice Richard Goldstone wrote in a New York Times op-ed that accusing Israel of apartheid “is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.” But well-meaning Mennonites drone on and on and on about it.

  • Dave Hockman-Wert


    Those of us who were privileged enough to attend a “Come and See” tour learned much more about the Israeli Occupation and the pain and problems it causes the Palestinian population than we did about BDS. BDS was simply proposed as one option by which to oppose the Occupation. What I find distressing about your essay is the lack of acknowledgement that the Occupation is at the heart of the present problem. (You don’t even mention it.) Even some of the Israeli media (along with former Shin Bet leaders) acknowledge the reality that the Occupation is part of the problem.

    (Ari Shavit is strongly against the anti-Israel sentiment some in the BDS movement promote; he is also equally strongly against the Occupation. As he says, if Israel persists with the Occupation, they can either remain Jewish or democratic, but not both. And BDS supporters aren’t the only ones promoting a “one-state solution.” Israeli rightwing politicians, including the President, are doing the same.)

    So can we agree on that point, that the Occupation is a problem and needs to end? That the two-state solution needs to be supported with all possible energy and speed? If so, what alternative methods would you suggest to help make this happen?

    You write, “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.” Specific suggestions, rather than vague generalities, would be helpful if MC USA is to incorporate your ideas. We heard from some of Israel’s Christian population; who were you thinking of in particular?

    Thinking more broadly about the method in question, did you also oppose BDS being used in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa? I think it was pretty effective in that situation. Not everyone agrees (e.g., de Klerk), but some do (e.g., Mandela). Here are some perspectives on its effectiveness:

    Still, I do support not forcing one approach on everyone in the church. I would support a resolution that supports and encourages a range of responses. But I also find that the anti-BDS movement can get a little strident and blindered as well, to the point of diminishing the ongoing oppression and humiliation of Palestinians while defending a state that receives obscenely large amounts of U.S. military aid.

    May we all listen to one another in the search for peace and truth.

    Dave Hockman-Wert

  • Philipp Gollner

    June, thank you – I must say I am stunned by your comment re. Rawabi. It is nothing short of orientalism for well-meaning Americans to uphold perpetual “subsistence farming” as the ideal for Palestinians. A politically progressive, entrepreneurial Palestinian middle class is no threat to Palestine. Rather, it is a threat to BDS – and apparently to the underlying Western paternalism.

    • June Forsyth Kenagy

      According to the reviews I read, Palestinians themselves don’t like Rawabi because it will involve the lower middle class going heavily into debt. There aren’t many Palestinians in a “politically progressive, entrepreneurial middle class”. GDP growth in 2014 was negative 1.5%. About 1 in 6 are unemployed in the West Bank. Gaza is worse, about 50% unemployed, some 19,000 homes totally demolished and still not rebuilt a year later due to Israeli restrictions on importing building materials.

  • June Forsyth Kenagy

    Actually, many of “their Arab neighbors” in Hebron protected Jews in their own (Palestinian!) homes during the radicals massacre in 1929. And that 20% figure for Palestinian population was in the UN-resolution area designated for Israel which was only 53% of the whole, not the 78% that Israel took in 47-48 before the hostilities ended. Read Ilan Pappe; it’s an easy read, although it does have many footnote references to other material resources.

  • John M. Miller

    Charlie in NY: Are you Charlie Kraybill? If so, I’m surprised by your bias. Yes, the creation of Israel and the oppression of the Palestinians has caused a reaction in Arab and other Muslim countries. This from a pro-Jewish site:

    “Before 1948 an estimated 900,000 Jews lived in what we now know as the Arab states. Since then, the vast majority have left, forcibly in many cases, bringing the total down to fewer than 8,000. THE CONFLICT WITH ISRAEL HAS UNDOUBTEDLY BEEN A MAJOR FACTOR IN THIS.” [Emphasis added.]

    Then there is the consideration that the conditions in these other countries is not parallel to Jews invading and taking away the Palestinian homeland. I do not ignore the plight of Jews in other Arab lands but recall that it was Europe’s desire to get rid of them at the expense of the Palestinians that is a root cause of the current situation. Nothing in Jewish religion permits this kind of oppression of people. Unless you want to use the Joshua stories and a Zionist ideology to argue for what’s going on. Which, of course, would be totally against the teachings of Jesus. But maybe that doesn’t matter to you.

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