Israel-Palestine statement takes a ‘third way’

Resolution opposes military occupation, takes stand against anti-Semitism

Jul 6, 2017 by and

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Mennonite Church USA delegates on July 6 overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Israel-Palestine, confessing “our own complicity in this web of violence, injustice and suffering” and vowing “concrete steps to address these wrongs.”

At the first business session of the denominational convention, the statement received 98 percent support, with 10 dissenting votes in a delegate body of about 550.

Anita Kehr, representing Western District Conference, speaks during open discussion time on the Israel-Palestine resolution. — Vada Snider for MWR

Anita Kehr, representing Western District Conference, speaks during open discussion time on the Israel-Palestine resolution. — Vada Snider for MWR

“Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine” takes what supporters call a “third way,” opposing the Israeli military occupation while taking a stand against anti-Semitism and affirming the need to build stronger relationships with Jewish communities.

In 2015, delegates tabled an earlier version of the resolution, asking that it be rewritten and brought back in two years.

This time, delegates commended the statement as a humble call for justice that recognizes “the legacy of Jewish suffering is intertwined with the suffering of Palestinians.”

“I feel the resolution is a faithful response to conflict in that region,” said Heidi Regier Kreider, representing Western District Conference. “I believe it allows us to reach out to Jewish and Palestinian communities and be consistent in our call to be peace people.”

Regarding the movement known as BDS — boycott, divestment, sanctions — the resolution aims to offer a unique Mennonite position. It urges avoiding “the purchase of products associated with acts of violence or policies of military occupation.” It does not call for a boycott of all Israeli goods or for academic or cultural boycotts.

The resolution asks the financial agency Everence to convene representatives of Mennonite organizations to “review investment practices for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.” It urges all church members to review their investments in a similar way.

Making confessions

“[W]e confess and lament the ways we have supported the military occupation, which has grievously harmed and traumatized the Palestinian people and has not served the well-being and long-term security of Israelis,” the resolution states.

Specific points of confession include “embracing or tolerating Zionist theology,” accepting negative stereotypes of Palestinians based on “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab biases” and contributing tax dollars to military aid to Israel.

The resolution does not endorse either a one-state or two-state solution in Israeli-Palestine. “We hear a call from both Jews and Palestinians,” it says, “to have a state . . . that protects their unique cultures, civil rights, freedoms, security and dignity.”

Delegates overwhelmingly expressed support.

Emily Hedrick of Lima Mennonite Church in Ohio said she had been “looking for a peace witness in this generation,” which has not faced a military draft, “and I see that in this resolution.”

Ryan Ahlgrim of Richmond, Va., said the resolution was already forming Mennonite Church USA in a positive way by making members intentional about not being anti-Semitic and about caring for Palestinians.

Among concerns expressed, Tim Bentch of Souderton, Pa., felt the statement’s call to end the occupation was “political rhetoric” that hindered the ability of Israelis to hear what the statement is saying.

Michael Crosby of Champaign-Urbana, Ill., said the statement had already opened up new inter­faith conversations in his ongoing meetings with a local imam and a rabbi.

Two endorsements

Delegates heard endorsements of the resolution from a Jew and a Palestinian.

Rabbi Brant Rosen, representing the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voices for Peace, read a statement from the council noting that “within North American Jewish communities, there is a growing desire to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine.”

Brant said that as “a Jew and rabbi and a person of conscience” he was deeply impressed with the resolution.

Alex Awad, a Palestinian Christian who has served as a pastor and professor in Israel-Palestine, told of speaking at numerous Mennonite events and visiting in Mennonite homes. He urged support for the resolution and said Christian leaders throughout the Holy Land, where Christianity is in danger of dying out, would be among those who affirm it.

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  • Jake Janzen

    I thought that Andre Gingerich Stoner’s response to Kanagy’s concern about the right of Israel to exist, was brilliant. I wish it could be included verbatim.
    From my perspective, what I regularly see Zionists demanding is the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. In other words, with special privileges not available to non-Jews. All others live as second-class citizens at best. Kanagy put it in terms of just a State, and Gingerich-Stoner adequately pointed out that even the concept of a state is just a convention. And it was a foreign convention to the Palestinians at the time that Israel declared itself. Western nationalism was pushed onto those people just as it was the rest of the world. Palestinians had a stronger village and tribal sense of community. They did not organize as a State, nor defend themselves as one.
    So while the right of the Israeli people to exist has never been questioned, how that region is governed is less important than recognizing the rights of ALL of God’s children living in that area. That should include a restoration in some form, for the refugees that were driven out in order to create the Jewish state that is there today.
    If that happens, I believe the Jewish people living in that area could enjoy a peace and security well beyond anything that they achieve now through walls and weapons.
    Jake Janzen
    Arlington, VA

  • Lynn Miller

    But did you boycott Target? I didn’t think so.

  • Jake Janzen

    Is Target on the list of companies profiting from the Israeli military occupation? — Jake Janzen

  • Brant Rosen

    Thank you for this report. I want to clarify, however, that the letter of support from the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council does NOT state that “there is a growing desire within North American Jewish communities to oppose the Jewish oppression of Palestinians.” The actual text reads: “Within North American Jewish communities, there is a growing desire to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine.”

    It is very important to stress that this is not “Jewish oppression.” There are in fact, many Jews throughout N. America (and the world) who openly oppose Israel’s persecution of Palestinians. (Rabbi Brant Rosen)

    • Conrad Hertzler

      Thanks for your correction to this article. I wonder if MRW’s wording was intentional or if it was an honest mistake.

    • Bruce Leichty

      I heard Brant Rosen speak at the convention and I agreed with 99 per cent of what he said there, and I agree with much of what he says here. However, I do have to note that the kind of distinction he urges on MWR seems to be lost on the drafters of the resolution that was passed by convention delegates. While the drafters took pains to distinguish between Israeli oppression and Jewish oppression in the text of the resolution (notwithstanding the fact that Jewish support in this country for the state of Israel remains indispensable to the oppression of the Palestinian people in Israel), they were less exacting when dealing with “their own” people. In the resolution that was adopted, American Mennonites are made to confess their own guilt for the allegedly antisemitic acts of individual Mennonites in WWII-era Germany or other parts of the world. (I personally am not aware of individual acts of antisemitism, let alone widespread antisemitism, among American Mennonites.) I opposed the resolution in part because of this double standard and because of the reflexive and inauthentic treatment of antisemitism found in the text of the resolution.

      And for all the delegates’ anxious efforts in the resolution to appease the pro-Israel faction in the church that seemed to be largely absent at this convention, the resolution itself has now been labeled antisemitic (see, e.g., reporting in The Jerusalem Post). For more insight into this kind of labeling, read Alison Weir’s The International Campaign to Criminalize Criticism of Israel. I wonder if Rabbi Rosen would have a word to say about that campaign.

  • Bruce Leichty

    I was a convention delegate from San Diego Mennonite Church who opposed the resolution. I wonder if the editors would comment on the removal from this report of any mention of my comment, made from the delegate floor, in opposition to the resolution.

    In an earlier version of the report, MWR reported that “Bruce Leichty said he opposed the resolution because it established a false equivalency between Palestinian suffering and Jewish suffering and that any treatment of anti-semitism required more nuance” (or words to that effect — the editing of the report does not allow me to state exactly what was reported).

    That sentence itself was incomplete and susceptible to misinterpretation; but it may have been a valiant effort to summarize what I said, and at least that much would seem to be warranted in a balanced article. I went on to note from the convention floor that the church had originally been asked to respond to a powerless population undergoing current suffering (Palestinian people) as distinct from a powerful population based on past suffering (Jewish people) — thus the false equivalency.

    I had only “one minute” to speak from the convention floor — that was what all delegates were limited to — and my mike was cut off when I apparently exceeded the time allotted. During my brief opportunity to speak, I noted that the previous day I had been threatened with arrest and removal as a delegate for distributing a written analysis of the Israel-Palestine resolution to fellow delegates, and that I opposed the resolution in part because there was no adequate opportunity for delegates to speak to each other. My written analysis and further details of the arrest threat can be viewed at

    Had any church reporter followed up my comment from the convention floor (none did, and all reporters there know me personally), they would have learned that the threat of eviction from the convention hall and criminal prosecution, delivered by convention security officers backed up by a uniformed sheriff, came from MCUSA convention management, Glen Guyton, and was defended by Ervin Stutzman, MCUSA executive director. (Does anyone sense any incongruity there?) They would have learned that this threat to me based on my nonviolent acts came without any prior dialogue or explanation that I could be removed as a delegate (and ordered to leave the convention grounds) for distribution of written materials. They would have learned that no one ever offered to me any authority for the proposition that all persons chosen by congregations to be MCUSA delegates are deemed to agree to not share written materials with other delegates. Apparently the MCUSA executive board has established a denominational policy on this –although the board professes inability to establish uniform policies binding congregations in other respects.

    A number of delegates and others in the church commented favorably on my analysis, and I believe that anyone who reads it would acknowledge that there are at least some points made that could have been helpful to delegates in their deliberation. So you can understand that, to me, scrubbing the news report of any mention of my comment seems to heap anomaly upon anomaly. .

    • Lynn Miller

      Very sad state of affairs going on in the MC USA.

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