UCC, BDS & the Challenge

On Tuesday at the 30th General Synod of the United Church of Christ Resolution 4 was passed by a vote of 508 in favor, 124 against and 38 abstentions calling for boycotts and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of ‘Palestinian lands.’

The vote represents a decade long process within the million member church to align its interests with the Kairos Palestine initiative.

This Christian formulation based on the 1985 Kairos South African document calls on the church as well as all religious and social institutions within Palestine, Israel, the Middle East and internationally to respond to the multifarious oppression they delineate in the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and refugee camps by speaking truth to power and achieving what it calls a just peace.

Israel is portrayed as the villain and the Palestinian people and their government is displayed as the victim without either any separation between or explication of the actions of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Israel is presented as the aggressor actively building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and shrinking the opportunities of the Palestinian inhabitants. It is based on a liberation theology championing the poor that has been promoted by Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek and his Sabeel Center in Jerusalem.

“Despite the lack of even a glimmer of positive expectation, our hope remains strong. The present situation does not promise any quick solution or the end of the occupation that is imposed on us. Yes, the initiatives, the conferences, visits and negotiations have multiplied, but they have not been followed up by any change in our situation and suffering. Even the new US position that has been announced by President Obama, with a manifest desire to put an end to the tragedy, has not been able to make a change in our reality. The clear Israeli response, refusing any solution, leaves no room for positive expectation. Despite this, our hope remains strong, because it is from God. God alone is good, almighty and loving and His goodness will one day be victorious over the evil in which we find ourselves. As Saint Paul said: “If God is for us, who is against us? (…) Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long” (…) For I am convinced that (nothing) in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:31, 35, 36, 39). Kairos Document 3.1

This liberation theology has permeated the conversation of clergy and laymen alike in churches across the United States and plays an increasing role in the depiction as well as the direction of the general discussion surrounding an Israeli government that is seen denying justice to Palestinians. If you look at the United Church of Christ Palestine-Israel Network website, you will become more than uncomfortable, even before you open any of the links or watch the videos. It is an amalgamation of the greatest hits against the state of Israel with no foreseeable balance or attempt to define two sides even asymmetrically or to move the viewer toward understanding or reckoning with any of the challenges that have been faced by the state of Israel.

The merging of three primary goals utilizing BDS, 1) against the occupation, 2) in support of equality for Arab Israelis and 3) actively promoting a Right of Return that would end an independent state of Israel is particularly dangerous because it does not represent the terms that many including the United Church of Christ signed on to bring relief to an oppressed Palestinian people. But each victory is identified, shared and utilized by an international BDS campaign, (that dynamically asserts these three goals), as proof of the furtherance of their foundational campaign that is not only designed to promote justice but to terminate the vision of two states living together in peace. It is the integration of social and religious dreams combined with the realities of the ongoing 48 year occupation that make the international BDS campaign compelling and increasingly difficult to effectively contest politically or theologically let alone defeat. It will take a lot more than money.

About the Author
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in Philadelphia that brings the faiths together to learn about and from each other and to build a new constituency for Middle East Peace.
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