Peace or Polarization?

Is Jesus Opposed to Building Normal Relationships Between Israelis and Palestinians?

The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement is on record as opposing efforts to create “normalization” of relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. They reject all forms of dialogue, cooperation, or engagement between Israelis and Palestinians and their respective supporters. On the BDS Movement website, the BDS National Committee “calls for action against projects and initiatives which amount to recognition of or cooperation with Israel’s regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation (i.e., normalization).  This means opposition to programs like Hand in Hand that promote coexistence and are supported by many PCUSA congregations.  Hand in Hand and programs like it bring young Israelis and Palestinians together to build trust and friendships.

Do we really believe that Jesus would be opposed to such relationship building? Of course not. And yet, we have aligned ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally, with a movement that feels that relationship building is building friendships with the enemy. What would these people have to say about Jesus’ commandment that we love our enemies?

When our General Assembly voted in favor of divestment in 2014 from three stocks related to Israel, the resolution stated that the action was not to be seen as an endorsement of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS). Only the naïve or unknowing believed that to be the case.  Without hours of the vote the BDS movement globally was welcoming the PCUSA as its first mainline “partner.”  Even some pro-BDS advocates within the PCUSA ignored the language and proclaimed the vote as a victory for the BDS movement. With these proclamations, the PCUSA became a player in the deepening polarization between Israel and Palestine.

Social justice advocates dare not be naïve about the ramifications of our actions. When we do something, we need to understand not just what we intend by our actions but how our actions will be interpreted by others. The divestment vote has been widely interpreted within both the Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish communities as the PCUSA accepting the anti-normalization policies of the BDS movement.

The same BDS movement is leading an international effort to wipe out support for the two-state solution. If the PCUSA drops its support for the two-state solution, it will make absolutely no difference what the rationale in the motion states. The world will see it for what it is: another step by the PCUSA to deepen polarization rather than trudge through the hard work of creating peace.

In this New Year, it is our hope and prayer that Presbyterians across the country will unite and say “enough with polarization.”  Instead, the PCUSA will become an advocate for building the only thing that creates peace, in the Middle East or elsewhere: relationships that lead to the early buds of trust.