Sunday, June 10, 2012

Boycott- a history- thinking of Item 15-06

One particular item for the General Assembly, 15-06, “On Responding to the Call from Palestinian Christians for Economic Solidarity—From the Presbytery of Scioto Valley,” uses the Palestine Kairos document, “A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith and Hope from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering,” as the foundation for their recommendations.
They ask the GA to (1)“say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land”(2) examine the ways in which our economic power as consumers and investors may be complicit with the abuses of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land;(3) and consider how to respond to the call of the Palestinian Christian Kairos document to engage in “boycott and disinvestment as tools of nonviolence for justice, peace, and security for all.”

The first request presupposes that the entire Kairos document is acceptable, when in truth, (pun intended), it is full of misleading information. That is it fails to give complete information but only holds up one side of the complex struggles and debates within the Israeli and Palestinian debacle. Not only that, it pushes the West to reconsider the right of Israel to be a Jewish State and blames all the problems in that region on Israel. Even Iran’s attempts to build nuclear weapons is blamed on Israel. I have written about the problems contained in this document here, Presbyterian Middle East Study Team & "The Kairos Palestine Document" no longer a Jewish Nation?

The second request is simply a pointer to the primary goal of item 15-06. That is, in number 3, to have the 220th GA vote for the boycotting of Israel products. However, one of the reasons the 219th General Assembly did not approve but received for study the Kairos document was its call for boycott and divestment. There are several reasons why the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should not vote to boycott Israeli products. Boycotting entails punishment rather than peacemaking. It is the easy way out-because it fails to deal with all problems.

But there are other important reasons for not boycotting Israel. David Torrance gives a clue in his chapter in the book, A Passion for Christ. He reminds his readers that “The Holocaust is now regarded as the third most significant event in the Jewish Calendar, not simply because six million Jews (one third of their entire number) perished violently, but because it was an attempt to obliterate everything Jewish, once for all.” This leads to thoughts about the history of Boycotts and their effect on the Jewish people.

The Jewish community has told us that economic leverages push a certain button with the Jewish community, especially when used by Christians. There is a long memory of Christian boycotts of Jews-dating from medieval times and continuing through the Shoah (Holocaust). There is the memory of the Arab boycott, which continues in some forms today and which – some- including the Kairos authors and the Sabeel center, seek to revive.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, boycotts and divestment just drive everyone further apart. The 2009 Presbyterian panel found that almost 80% of Presbyterians feel that a strong relationship between Presbyterians and Jews is important for PCUSA’s work in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.[1]

It is important that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) keep working with the problems of the Middle East, but neither boycotting nor divestment is the right way. We must stay friends with the Palestine people and the Jewish people.

[1] I asked a Jewish friend to help me make this posting more acceptable to those working for peace in the Middle East- as well as upholding the Jewish State of Israel


John Wimberly said...

Viola: As appreciative as I am of your opposition to the BDS strategies, I must object to your linking BDS advocates to the Nazis. It is just over-the-top. My experience with BDS advocates has been that they are well-meaning folks who have a genuine concern for the Palestinians. Are they wrong to express that concern with a BDS strategy? Yes. Are they like the Nazis? Absolutely not. In fact, most of the boycotts against Jews over the centuries have been organized by Christians, not Nazis. So let us simply point out that the church has a long and disgraceful history of using economic boycotts against innocent Jews.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks for your comment-and I understand what you are saying. But I don't mean at all that those who are asking for boycotts are Nazis, instead I am saying that many of the Jewish people do and will equate boycotting with past in Nazi Germany. If we do not understand that we do not understand anything about the nightmares of the Jewish people.

And yes the Church has a long history of boycotting Jewish everything, but it came to its fulfillment in Nazi Germany and that is where the Jews see its worst outcome. I am asking the commissioners of the 220th General Assembly to consider the feelings of the Jewish people.

Viola Larson said...

John perhaps the changes I have made here are helpful.

john wimberly said...

For reasons I stated in the first response, I hope you will remove the photo of Nazis walking down the street.

Viola Larson said...

A dear friend, a Rabbi, after telling me my words were correct asked me to take down the picture of the Nazi boycott- and because I had prayed and told the Lord that if the friend asked I would do so-I have taken it down. (Perhaps I can find some kind of better picture.)

will spotts said...

John and Viola -
I did not read Viola's original post, so I haven't seen how exactly it was changed (except for the picture). Given that, I can't say for certain, but your point is well taken.

Nonetheless, I think there is a faulty premise in your comment. You describe BDS advocates as "well meaning folks who have a genuine concern for the Palestinians". I have found that often to be the case. At times I'm not so sure - when these employ items from Veterans Today and similar sources with apparent approval.

However, a more important point is not so much what is in their hearts but what their actions and statements actually do. There is a kind of language (and also symbolic action) that has historically led to horrendous consequences. When that is employed, even by 'well meaning folk', it is unacceptible. Not because it is poor strategy, or because of what lies in their hearts ... but because the results have been clearly seen.

You mention historic Christian boycotts (which also carried a fair degree of the demonizing rhetoric applied so generously to Israel). Do you imagine all the participants in these thought they were doing something hateful? Some of them at least, were well meaning. Take Augustine ... in some ways he was advocating for better treatment of the then unempowered Jewish population. Yet his framework led to more harm than most of us can even comprehend.

Greg Scandlen said...


If the GA decides to boycott Israel because of "Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land" as defined in the Kairos document, it is in fact calling for an end to the state of Israel. The Kairos document considers ALL of Israel occupied territory. So the PCUSA will be working to push the Jews into the sea. Where is Dietrich Bonhoeffer when we need him?

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Viola Larson said...

if I could correct you just a bit, the Kairos document is calling for the end of Israel as a JewishState.

If we could just get everyone to read Eric Metaxas' new book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy maybe we would have a lot of Bonhoeffers.

While the BDS movement is truly calling for the end of the Jewish State of Israel the PCUSA has a policy of a two state solution. That is important to remember.

I am sorry to read that you are leaving the PCUSA but I understand.

Viola Larson said...

I hope you will understand that I never said that BDS advocates are like Nazis but that the movement gives chills to the Jewish people because of the past.

Greg Scandlen said...

Yes, but as I recall the Kairos document also calls for the "right of return," meaning not only an end to Israel as a Jewish state, but the removal of almost all the Jews. I can't see the PCUSA has done anything to advance a two state solution, so I think that "policy" is just window dressing.