MLK: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”; Time to Embrace BDS

By James M. WallNeve Gordon cropped

This is not the time for U.S. denominations to keep debating inadequate, diluted, compromised resolutions on “peace in the Holy Land”.

It is rather, kairos time, the moment to move against Israel’s apartheid dominance over four million Palestinians by embracing the non-violent strategy of BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Christian denominations have spent far too many years trapped in dreary hotel conference rooms working to “get along” with one another by approving meaningless resolutions that fooled few and excited none.

Resolution time has far outlived its expiration date. It is time to join a growing number of justice-oriented communities and take direct action against Israel’s oppressive actions against an oppressed people.

I can hear all those denomination legislative purists out there reminding me that church legislative procedures are as cumbersome as the U.S. Congress, which has mastered the art of delay, delay, delay.

I also know that BDS cannot be implemented into action projects until deliberative  bodies bless the action through legislation.

I was in grade school at the time, but I remember December 7, 1941, when Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the Congress to declare that a “state of war has existed” against Japan.

The Congress did not delay. There were no long speeches nor haggling over details. They just did it. We must understand BDS as a declaration of  non violent action against a major injustice. No more speeches, no more haggling.

And no more listening to those who claim they oppose BDS because they do not wish to harm “fragile” relations with their Jewish neighbors. No more singing Cum Ba Ya instead of fighting injustice.

The BDS train is leaving the station while United Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, UCCs and the rest of the NCCC crowd, sit huddled back in their conference hotel rooms, thinking they will catch a later train, “when our people are ready”.

Not all of them, of course, remained huddled in their rooms. Some found soul mates, and started groups like the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, which was created to work on projects that would “help Presbyterians understand the facts on the ground” in Palestine and Israel.

This network focused on the gospel and justice. Most recently, its members  have produced a remarkable four-color, illustrated, study publication, Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace, complete with a DVD which may be used in church classes along with Steadfast Hope.

Walt Davis, a Presbyterian clergyman who teaches at San Francisco Theological Seminary,  is the Project Coordinator. He has worked with a staff of talented writers, designers, and photographers to create a book that will start a congregation down the straight path of hope, steadfast hope.

MLKThis study project  reaches far beyond the Presbyterian tradition to embrace all who want to shake their faith communities out of their “go slow” lethargy. It is a project that prepares the way for action like BDS.

This book confronts the stultifying grip the fear of offending our fellow Jewish religionists has over mainline Christians. The book uses “facts on the ground” to attack the “go slow” strategy which blocks actions against injustice.

Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted this “go slow until our people are ready” religious mindset when he sat in a Birmingham, Alabama, jail cell, writing a letter on April, 16, 1963, to Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders in the city.

He addressed them as “My Dear Fellow Clergymen” since they were all duly recognized as clergy leaders (five of them were bishops) and they were all male. In his letter, he wrote:

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. . . .

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . .

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.

“Go slow; our people are not ready”. The church mantra of the 1960s was immoral then; it is immoral in 2009.

King used demonstrations. They put him in jail. Later he would be killed, shot down by an assassin while the man of peace stood on a hotel balcony. Fifty years later, some church members, joined by allies who are Jews, Muslims, and non-believers, have also used demonstrations.

They don’t go to jail; they are just ignored. Now they have begun to act in harmony on BDS.

Divestment draws the greatest cry of “go slow” because it works. To withdraw investment funds from corporations that are supporting the Israeli Occupation is painful to the Occupiers and their supporters, because it is a reminder of the effectiveness of the same tactic once used in South Africa. It carries with it the awful tag of “apartheid”.

The Occupiers have spent enormous sums convincing the media and members of Congress of the truth of their narrative that must include a Benign Occupation if it is to survive the scrutiny of history.

A Benign Occupation is an oxymoron of such magnitude that for anyone to accept it as a Truth is to guarantee a visit to the Penalty Box for anyone guilty of committing the foul of Believing False Oxymorons That Do Bodily Harm to God’s Children.

Divestment confronts the lie of the Benign Occupation, with its bulldozers tearing down family homes and building prison walls that run for hundreds of miles. Are you listening Caterpillar, down there in your Peoria, Illinois headquarter?

Divestment confronts the anguish and death of a young woman named Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by a bulldozer destroying a family home in Gaza, a death reluctantly “investigated” by Israeli authorities and dismissed as a an accident, a death ignored by the U.S. Congress which is normally agitated into swift action by the death of an American citizen in a foreign land.

It is time for American churches to act against Occupation by boycott, divestment and sanctions.  That means no buying of products made on Occupied soil, no more church investment in corporations guilty of supporting Occupation, and sanctions against the Israeli economy if the lighter penalties of boycott and divestment fail to end the Occupation.

Look outside the church windows, fellow believers. Pay attention to the recent essay in the Los Angeles Times, by Neve Gordon, a young Israeli scholar who is the author of Israel’s Occupation. He teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel.

Gordon includes “faith based organizations” in his direct call for boycott action. He writes:

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv. . . . Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

In a clear indication that economic pressure is an effective tactic often used to defend Israel, Ha’aretz, a Jerusalem newspaper, reported:

Members of the Los Angeles Jewish community have threatened to withhold donations to an Israeli university in protest of an op-ed published by a prominent Israeli academic in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, in which he called to boycott Israel economically, culturally and politically.

Dr. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, a veteran peace activist, branded Israel as an apartheid state and said that a boycott was “the only way to save it from itself.”

Gordon, a political scientist, said that “apartheid state” is the most accurate way to describe Israel today.

No official word on what impact the Los Angeles threat had on Ben Gurion University, but the President of  the university,  Rivka Carmi, told the Jerusalem Post that the “university may no longer be interested in his [Gordon’s] services.”  She added that “Academics who feel this way about their country, are welcome to search for a personal and professional home elsewhere.”

In a letter he is circulating to supporters of BDS, Sydney Levy, of Jewish Voice for Peace, called for support for Gordon through letters to President Carmi:

Is Prof. Carmi really calling on Professor Gordon to leave his country?  Several [Israeli] Knesset members from the right called upon Carmi and the Minister of Education to sack Neve Gordon, while Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar called the article “repugnant and deplorable.

Jewish author and activist Naomi Klein posted on her blog, January 8. 2009, her case for “Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction”:

On July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups . . . called on “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—BDS for short—was born.

Klein confronts a typical stalling tactic to the use of BDS with a sharp rebuttal to the argument that “punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israelis”.

“The world has tried what used to be called “constructive engagement.” It has failed utterly. Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures—quite the opposite. The weapons and $3 billion in annual aid that the US sends to Israel is only the beginning. Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies.

A carefully researched case for BDS has been made in the Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU) publication, The Link, in its September-October 2009 issue. The essay, “Ending Israel’s Occupation”, was written by Link editor, John Mahoney.

At one point in his essay, Mahoney describes the death of Rachel Corrie, (referenced above), and then follows the Corrie family’s journey through the U.S. legal system:

Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a lawsuit against the American company, Caterpillar, the manufacturer of the armored bulldozer that crushed their daughter. In it they alleged that Caterpillar sold the D9 bulldozers to Israel knowing full well that they would be used to unlawfully demolish homes and endanger civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The case was dismissed in November 2005.

The Corries appealed and, in July 2007, they argued before a judge in a Seattle, WA court that corporations must be held accountable for their corporate behavior. Lawyers for Caterpillar argued that Israel’s home demolitions were legal and that American judges do not have the jurisdiction to pass judgment on the state of Israel.

Lawyers for the Corries countered that the U.S. Government has publicly condemned Israel’s policy of building settlements, and that their case was not about the U.S. Government. Instead, they said, the suit was about a corporation’s selling equipment to a foreign country that was known to use that equipment in human rights abuses.

In August 2007, the federal appeals court rejected the Corrie’s appeal.

Meanwhile, Caterpillar has continued to sell armored bulldozers to Israel, and Israel continues to use them to demolish Palestinian homes, to destroy ancient olive gardens and to build Jewish-only roads, Jewish-only settlements, and an apartheid wall, all on confiscated Palestinian land.

The U.S. court system refused to  move against Caterpillar. The Israeli army and the Israeli court system blocked attempts by Cindy and Craig Corrie, to secure justice in the death of their 23-year-old daughter.

This leaves the task to groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, courageous scholars like Neve Gordon, and writers like Naomi Klein, to fight for justice from within the Jewish tradition. And from the Christian side of the aisle? There are strong voices, to be sure. But at the higher official levels?

The church leaders who received the Letter from the Birmingham Jail from Martin Luther King, Jr., were victims of the blindness of their own past, a blindness that plagued them to the end.

What then, may we expect from the Christian community today? More lukewarm resolutions, more stalling, more Cum Ba Ya? More waiting for President Obama to persuade the Israelis to “freeze” settlement building?  Or will there be a stirring of the Christian spirit, rising up in anger against an oppressive Occupation?

If that stirring fails to emerge soon, then we face a replay of that overwhelming sense of shame that burdened those church leaders and church members, who ignored Dr. King’s message in the 1960s that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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18 Responses to MLK: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”; Time to Embrace BDS

  1. Pauline Coffman says:

    Thank you, Jim! You have underlined the push to support the BDS movement; I hope your words galvanize us to take action.

  2. Caroline Cracraft says:

    What, in practical terms, can we as individuals do to support BDS right away?

    How do we know which are Israeli goods?

    How can we punch Caterpillar, when we are not shopping for a bulldozer?

  3. During one of my seven trips to occupied Palestine since 2005, Mohammad Alatar, film producer of “The Iron Wall” addressed my SABEEL group on an Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions tour through Jerusalem and to the village of Anata and the Shufat refugee camp.

    We traveled through the very area where the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century B.C. critiqued the conflict in the Mid East, which was already old news: “I hear violence and destruction in the city, sickness and wounds are all I see.” [Jeremiah 6:7]

    After we broke bread and ate a typical Palestinian feast prepared by the Arabiya family in the Arabyia Peace Center, Mohammad Alatar said:

    “I am a Muslim Palestinian American and when my son asked me who my hero was I took three days to think about it. I told him my hero is Jesus, because he took a stand and he died for it. What really needs to be done is for the churches to be like Jesus; to challenge the Israeli occupation and address the apartheid practices as moral issues.

    “Even if every church divested and boycotted Israel it would not harm Israel. After the USA and Russia, Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. It is a moral issue that the churches must address.”

  4. Tom McAfee says:

    PREACH, BROTHER!! A long over-due call to arms. Thank you Jim Wall for saying it so well.

  5. You’re doing God’s work, Jim. Thank you, thank you. Andy

  6. I agree with Neve Gordon’s statement that: “The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state,”

    He also came to the conclusion that boycotting Israel may be the only way to save the country from itself.

    As an American-born Christian I am in solidarity with that opinion.
    Click here for more http://tinyurl.com/n85jvl

  7. Bill Gepford says:

    You have done us a great service, Jim. It takes moral courage to speak out against the current. It also takes the willingness to die for a just cause. That is what MLKJr, did. I have also heard and read most of the impassioned “speeches,” “resolutions in august bodies,” and “thousands of suggestions” on how to solve the problem by people in high positions around this country, over the more than fifty years.

    What I have yet to see is anyone (religious institutions, or religious leaders), willing to take the risk of putting into action (taking to the streets) the kind of action required to make the change happen. Those of us who care until it hurts, have yet to come up with the strategy that will bring it to fruition. The other side not only “walks the talk,” but pays the bills. It takes money to do the “walking,” and the willingness to make the sacrifices that may become very personal — by losing some of our best so-called “friends” in the Jewish community. But there are those whom we will never lose!

  8. Gen Katz says:

    How about a list of businesses that have outlets in Israel – I know Gap has just opened a store. I would be happy to not buy at stores that are doing business in Israel and buy no products made in Israel but that is harder to find out.

    Let’s get started.

  9. Sam Jones says:

    Thank you, Jim, for once again being a prophetic “voice in the wilderness.” And thank you for being unafraid to call the Israeli occupation by its correct name, “apartheid”. You have plainly stated what must be done to bring it to an end.

  10. wallwritings says:

    Gen,

    Eileen Fleming suggests you will find this site a good plae to start:

    http://www.whoprofits.org/

    Jim

  11. wallwritings says:

    More information is available on where divestment is taking place, on Richard Silverstein’s blog:

    http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/

    Jim

  12. David says:

    A couple of things for those interested in joining the BDS movement:

    1) Join existing campaigns, such as the campaigns against Caterpillar and Motorola supported by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?list=type&type=203) or the campaign against Ahava being led by CODEPINK: http://www.stolenbeauty.org

    2) WhoProfits.org is a great resource. You can search their database by country of company origin (U.S. companies that support the occupation, for example) or by country of company activity (settlement companies that have outlets in the U.S.)

    3) The most comprehensive list of companies that profit directly from the occupation is available here: http://www.interfaithpeaceinitiative.com/profit.php This list arose out of a call by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, so it puts particular emphasis on those companies that our churches are often invested in. Very helpful.

  13. David says:

    Also, thank you for the post, Jim. Exactly what needs to be said! Amen!

  14. nancykric says:

    There are several simple ways to find out. One is to go to whoprofits.org and see a list of Israeli and international companies that are directly profiting from the illegal occupation of the West Bank. Another is to go to the U.S. Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation site and look at their boycott resources http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?list=type&type=28.

    You can also sign onto our CODEPINK Stolen Beauty boycott campaign against Ahava Cosmetics at http://www.stolenbeauty.org.

  15. Excellent, excellent, excellent Jim! And the revelation of Obama’s “peace plan” is sure to put more momentum into BDS. Surely, politics is failing. It’s time to change the wind. Thank you for issuing the call. And MLK’s letter is precisely to the point. Let’s hear more from what he wrote then: responding to the plea of his fellow clergyman to hold back until the time was right, King called them to account: “Yes, I love the church…Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists…There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man…the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

  16. Ruth F. Hooke says:

    Dear Jim: thanks for your truthful article and keep it up. Our churches have delayed too long in this basic injustice. Two friends and I will visit our congressman tomorrow (Aug. 31) to demand that he work more actively in the opening of the Gaza border. I recommend that your respondees visit the Holy Land ASAP. I have done it twice and I come away enraged. Ruth Hooke, Amherst MA

  17. Pingback: Exciting developments in boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) discourse! « City of…

  18. Bev. Henkel (Sarah Henkel's Aunt Bev.) says:

    Eileen – we met at the Sabeel Conference in Nov. 2008. Great comments. Bev. Henkel

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