In the coming days, three more U.S. churches will consider resolutions to apply economic leverage against the Israeli occupation.
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), United Methodist Church (UMC), and various Quaker bodies have taken similar actions in previous years. Now, as the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Episcopal Church, and Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) meet for national conventions, divestment activists say their case has never been clearer.
The bloodshed in Gaza, Netanyahu’s election rhetoric, and a peace process in which even President Barack Obama has lost hope have convinced many that the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) is the best remaining hope for a just peace.
Now, those who “support divestment or other economic activism will have more space in which to make their voices heard,” says Michael Merryman-Lotze of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker agency whose resources have been used by other churches to develop their resolutions.
But as new voices rise up, the Israeli government and its allies are trying to shout them down with an unchanging refrain of anti-BDS slanders. Apart from broad-brush charges of anti-Semitism, these opponents often accuse churches of unfairly “singling out” Israel while ignoring Islamist violence in Syria and elsewhere.
Here are three reasons why they’re wrong.
1. Moral consistency
When asked the “what about Syria?” question, Merryman-Lotze, who recently served as the AFSC’s Interim Middle East Regional Director, offered a pointed response (emphasis added):
We have publicly spoken out against violence in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere and have opposed policies and actions that contribute to violence in the Middle East. We have worked on the ground in Syria supporting those working to end the Syrian civil war.
We also work across the U.S. and in Indonesia, Myanmar, Burundi, Kenya, Guatemala, and other locations around the world. Our work in Indonesia is not legitimated by our work in Guatemala. Our work in Ferguson, Missouri is not legitimated by our work in Myanmar. Equally, our work on Israel-Palestine is not legitimated by how we respond in Syria.
What gives credibility to our work is our relationship with the communities with whom we partner and ourconsistent application of our guiding values.
Representatives of the UCC and Episcopal Church also cited humanitarian efforts in various countries affected by sectarian violence.
Last summer I worked in Iraqi Kurdistan with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a Mennonite relief, development and advocacy agency. They were responding directly to ISIS violence by aiding displaced victims. I marched with Iraqi Christians to denounce ISIS violence and demand UN action. At the same time, MCC colleagues in Washington, D.C., and at United Nations headquarters in New York were lobbying for policies that would reduce violence and protect the innocent.