New Year, New Challenges

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And so opposition takes on its newest form…

 Over a decade ago when the Israel Palestine Mission Network began to challenge the illegal occupation of Palestine one could hardly use the word “occupation” without creating a firestorm.  Then the term became an undeniable part of the vernacular when describing the conflict.  Although the word “apartheid” had also been around, it almost seemed as if those who supported the Israeli policy narrative made a conscious decision to allow the occupation description to go unchallenged for the purpose of putting down the apartheid language.  Then Jimmy Carter put it on the front of his book and all hell broke loose for awhile. 
Recently at the church I serve in Southwest Florida, I spoke about Palestine at the weekly Wednesday morning community forum we hold during “snowbird” season.  In the PowerPoint that went along with my talk I flashed a slide showing the cover of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. About a week later someone approached me with his concern about my usage of the phrase “ethnic cleansing.”  He told me that perhaps if I give this talk again I not use that phrase because it might get in the way of people hearing what I have to say. His concern, I think, came from a supportive place.  Yet, I found myself having to explain to him who Ilan Pappe was and where his historical information came from, which he himself apparently did not hear on the day I gave the presentation.  So he was right, at least about himself—the language kept him from listening, for a few minutes anyway, while that slide was up on the screen.  I told him I appreciated his concern about my approach, but went on to say that we do not have the luxury of pulling back on the language that truly describes the situation.  My undergraduate degree was in philosophy and if there is anything I learned it is that our use or non-use of language really does define us and our values.  We think what we speak and we speak what we think, and if there is any truth to be had our words must, often courageously, reflect that. 

And so it goes when it comes to BDS—Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. In 2014 the 221st General Assembly approved divestment, but with an added amendment stating that this particular action does not mean that the PC(USA) is part of the “BDS movement.”  In light of recent PC(USA) General Assembly history, that insertion might make some feel better but it does not reflect our reality.  This is what I mean: In 2010 the 219th General Assembly voted to call upon the U.S. Government to abide by its own laws in regard to sending aid to Israel while it continued to maintain its illegal occupation of Palestine and systematically violate the human rights of Palestinians (sanctions).  In 2012, the 220th General Assembly voted to call for the boycott of illegal Israeli settlement products.   Yes, it is true that through these actions the PC(USA) did not vote for blanket boycott, divestment or sanctions on the whole of Israeli life and economics, but it did vote for the three in those ways that truly reflect what our polity and ecclesiastical culture allows.  Whether or not this is officially part of the BDS movement is a matter of semantics.  There is such a movement, and we have voted for B, D & S in successive General Assemblies over a 5 year period.  There is actually no movement headquarters to call into and say we accomplished all three in some way.  However the “movement” may be defined, it is far more organic than that, rising up out of numerous, intersectional grassroots human rights efforts throughout our nation and the world.

With all of that said, it is pretty clear that the opposition has not been winning the battle over language.  Such terms as “occupation”, “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing” and “BDS” are in the lexicon and are not going away.  This reality marks an erosion of the original opposition narrative campaign to shut down those who stand for Palestinian justice.  Now a new strategy has emerged that goes beyond simply attacking the language and the organizations that use it, even though that still continues unabated. It is now about state legislation with the introduction of anti-BDS bills and resolutions in at least 15 statehouses throughout our nation.   

The legislature in my own state of Florida just unanimously passed such a bill and at this writing the same kind of bill is being put forward in the statehouse in Albany, New York and elsewhere.  Such bills call for the creation of a “blacklist” of individuals and organizations that support BDS.  These actions seek to take the opposition’s name-calling to a new level by giving them legal standing.   If this sounds like McCarthyism to you, you are not alone. History reminds us that once such behavior becomes enshrined by law that is when the horror stories begin.  I recently visited the “Canary Mission” website ( that states:  “The Canary Mission database was created to document the people and groups that are promoting hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on college campuses in North America.  Every individual and organization has been carefully researched and sourced…”  This vague, phantom-like organization posts pictures of individuals and the logos of the organizations it opposes.  I saw pictures of our IPMN friends and partner organizations when I held my nose and clicked onto the website.  It may start in regard to movements on college campuses, but rest assured that it will not stop there.

Although smearing people and organizations has been part of the opposition’s SOP (standard operating procedure) for a long-time, it is now becoming much more aggressive, systematized and well-funded…more than I remember from past years.  It is shocking and disturbing for any reasonable people to witness such a development, as those who work to oppose unjust governmental policies are being labeled anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and even anti-USA.  And now we are witnessing how foreign influence is working its way into American legislative process in a manner that violates the constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens. 

I share this with you, members and friends of the Israel Palestine Mission Network, because I believe that now is not the time to let down our guard.  We have achieved important ecclesiastical milestones in the recent past, but the oppression is not ceasing—it is in fact getting worse. Our small denominational efforts offer hope, but no respite for those who are truly suffering.  In the world today it takes more than ecclesiastical pronouncements.  We must be partnered with many who share our concerns in other faith traditions and throughout secular society.  The new language being used is all about intersectionality, linking the struggle for Palestinian justice with all human rights movements wherever they are taking place.

Indeed, we must be diligent, keeping an eye out for blatant violations of our own rights to expression and activism and exposing them.  And we must be faithful.  The panic we see happening among those desperately clinging to a decades-old occupation reminds us all of Martin Luther King Jr.’s prophetic words:  The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.




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