Taking Israel’s side

Seeking justice for Palestinians is not anti-Israel

Jul 31, 2017 by

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The Mennonite Church USA resolution on Israel-Palestine is not anti-Israel. That is one of the first things advocates of the statement want everyone to know. They call it a third way, a recognition that neither Jews nor Palestinians can thrive under a cloud of injustice.

Approved July 6 at the denomination’s convention in Orlando, Fla., the statement intends to be both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. Some might consider such a stance impossible. But the writers of the resolution, and the 98 percent of delegates who voted for it, refuse to accept that a friend of one must be an enemy of the other.

The resolution protests a specific Israeli policy: the military occupation of Palestinian land. Regarding Israel in general, the document comes from a place of hope in the hearts of its writers that Israel will flourish as a strong, safe, just nation.

Simultaneous critique of Israel and solidarity with the Jewish people arises from several beliefs that Mennonite supporters of the resolution and many other Christians would affirm: We believe that the Jewish people, who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust, need a homeland that affirms their identity and history and protects their security. We admire the Jewish faith and cherish the Hebrew scriptures as our own. We pray to the God of Abraham.

At the same time, we want Palestinians, some of whom trace their Christian lineage to ancient times, to live securely in their ancestral land. Mennonites are pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

But it has not always been so. Mennonite history is scarred by anti-Semitism. The MC USA resolution plays an important educational role by acknowledging a legacy of prejudice that many know little about.

The statement frames its confessions of sin in both contemporary and historical terms. It says Mennonites have ignored the gravity of ongoing anti-Semitic violence, neglected to build relationships with Jewish communities and adopted negative attitudes toward Jews from the Christian culture that surrounds us.

How much of the sin to be confessed is contemporary, and how much is in the past? Each of us can judge for ourselves, but all should welcome the call to greater sensitivity, wider relationships and better knowledge of neglected history.

Strictly speaking, no one can repent of the sins of others, but the resolution rightly calls for lamenting something most Mennonites probably never have thought to confess: “bearing complicity in the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews . . . and failing to fully examine the historic record of Mennonite complicity in these atrocities.”

In the past couple of years, this failure has begun to be corrected, with conferences in Germany and Paraguay acknowledging collaboration with Nazis, a conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust scheduled for next March at Bethel College, and the June publication of Benjamin W. Goossen’s Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era. The latter sheds new light on complicity with Hitler’s industry of death as Russian Mennonites welcomed the Nazi conquest of Ukraine, received goods taken from murdered Jewish neighbors and even aided Nazi death squads, inspired by visions of a German-ruled Mennonite homeland freed from Communist oppression.

Can we read Scripture in light of the Holocaust? What does it mean to confess that Mennonites bear a portion of guilt for genocide and anti-Semitism? How would it change us if we built relationships with the people of a local synagogue? These are just a few of the questions that make the MC USA resolution’s pro-Jewish emphasis a challenging and prophetic call.


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