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A Christian’s Case for Boycott

By Samantha Borders

View from the University of Haifa's Eshkelon tower

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. –Proverbs 27:17

What will actually bring resolution to the ongoing fighting in the Holy Land?

Upon first becoming interested in promoting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I distinctly remember the sincerity and determination I felt towards understanding the situation and potential solutions to the best of my abilities. I have long viewed the furthering of social justice as the duty of every Christian, flowing from the liberation Christ granted all through the sacrifice of His life, and this was no exception. Every book, article, perspective was to be read and analysed (and in some cases, thrown out the window). Engagement in debate and inquiry were the tools with which I scoured through the darkness of my ignorance, hoping to embody Christ’s principles of turning the cheek, loving my enemies, being the blessed peacemaker.

The first framework I found suitable was the well-known Two-State Solution. Two lands for two peoples, each entitled to individual sovereignty, peace, and security through the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one. And certainly, this is the current paradigm by which the international community practices peacemaking in the region. On the surface, its appeal is far-reaching and enticing, a quick way to end the bloodshed that seems to be the land’s replacement for nourishing rain. Though at the time I could not identify what I was ascribing to, I later came to learn that the framework I was holding on to was based off the 1993 Oslo Accords, a peace brokerage considered a major success if you read the majority of history books in the West.

Only one problem: Oslo was not a solution. It was a fiasco.

The promised Palestinian state became only that: empty words spoken to silence opposition. The Israeli government confiscated more land as the 90s ended and we entered into the new millennium; coming on the heels of heightened peace talks at every level of Israeli and Palestinian societies, and the famous joint efforts toward nonviolent solutions in the First Intifada of the late 1980s. So much for that idea.

Discovering this reality, after having placed such emphasis on the idea of dialogue that the Two State solution purported, I was left wondering what would actually work. Both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority were corrupt, violence did not change anything, this supposed peace treaty was a sham; so what hope was there for the people who suffer daily from dispossession, intimidation, occupation, and violence?

I could not support violence. As a follower of Christ, I understood only too well that those who live by sword will die by it, and that does not sound like a peaceful end. Conversely, I could not support a peacemaking framework that was ineffective (and still is), so I was left wondering what else was left to create stability and justice without shedding more blood.

Luckily for me, I was in a community that was more than willing to engage my questions and where I had access to a plethora of resources. And as I better understood the scope of the problems in Israel and Palestine, I discovered the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

It would be a stark lie to say that I did not approach the idea of boycott with intense trepidation and scrutiny. The word “boycott” itself invoked a sense of uselessness and unfair judgment in me. And yet, I watched people around me who are deeply committed to peace and justice support and engage in the BDS movement. Their focus on peace and liberation from dispossession caused me to pause, reflect, and again hit the books.

What resulted was a change of heart in me. And among other things, I became a supporter of the One-State Solution and of the BDS movement. The latter, however, did not come without some serious questioning and doubting. While I am still reflecting on the benefits and drawbacks of boycotting, I ultimately find it to currently be the best form of pressuring the Israeli government to seriously engage in peace talks rather than merely continuing the occupation with impunity and without repercussions.

About a year ago, I had an email from a former professor urging me to help pass legislation in my state (Georgia) to block BDS efforts. This coming from a woman who I deeply respect and share faith in Christ, I felt that it was the right moment to share with her my feelings regarding the boycott and to perhaps challenge her to reconsider its purpose.

I have decided to share this in a more public forum so that the very same call to contemplation might be extended to others as well. While this is merely an opening to a very long discussion one could have, I hope the reader finds this helpful as each individual searches for answers. My ultimate goal is that people will feel challenged to do more than just accept the status quo: that they might rise to the occasion and offer solutions that may help finally end almost 70 years of occupation and conflict.

 

Hey Alice,

Thanks for thinking of me and sending this along. I have been aware of the recent ruling of the ASA to boycott Israel and have been following its development closely.

The academic portion of the BDS campaign against Israel is, in my opinion, the most difficult aspect to assess with clarity. Because of this, I chose a few months ago to deeply look into this, and the campaign as a whole, before I would make a firm judgment regarding it. After reading a good bit of material for and against the boycott (including the boycott statement itself and book by the movement’s founder, Omar Barghouti), and discussing it with my peers as well as mentors, I am in favour of the academic boycott.

One immediate assumption that I had was that this targets all Israeli academics. I came to find that is false. What the boycott calls for is divestment from the institutions themselves, but not necessarily all academics within. You can see the specific statement from the BDS campaign here: http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869. As mentioned in Barghouti’s book, and echoed by my former supervisor Ilan Pappe, to scrutinize every academic’s work would be McCarthyist and immoral, since there are sincere academics within Israel who genuinely wish to further peace.

This leads to the point of the intention of the boycott. The reason institutions (not individuals) are being boycotted is because they routinely enact the apartheid system within their own institutions against students and faculty/staff of Arab origin. Among the discriminations enacted by Israeli universities against their students and faculty/staff are- ‘restricting their enrolment; persecuting them for political involvement; gagging their freedom of expression and actively working to keep international students away from their towns and villages, amongst others’ (http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/component/content/article/103-topics/news/980-the-case-for-academic-boycott-against-israel-980 with a further document attached, which I encourage you to read).  This point in particular resonates with me, since I have seen it in action with my own eyes, having visited Arab-Israeli scholars and witnessed the gag they have on their opinions within their institutions. American academics frequently invoke the rights of Israelis, but seldom do we hear them speak of the oppression being enacted upon their Arab counterparts.

Not only that, but many of Israel’s academic institutions and complicit academics have knowingly contributed to supporting the occupation with purposed innovations for things such as the building of the apartheid wall and the settlements in the West Bank, both of which are illegal under International Law as mandated by the UN. By so doing, these institutions have soiled their own image of being bastions of freedom of thought and dialogue. Pappe had his class stormed by the IDF because he was critical of the state’s practices against Palestinians, and his work is barely allowed publication within Israel.

The question of dialogue is another point of contention which people speak of frequently. The question I have often wondered is how can dialogue be sincere when Israel is the one dictating the terms of negotiation? Keeping in mind the restriction of freedom of speech within Israel amongst its Arab citizens, it is not uncommon to find Palestinian participants dismissed from such talks due to deviation from the prescribed terms of the talks, such as adherence to the Two-State solution (which, as an aside matter, I am not in favour of, but rather promote a One-State solution) or mention of the Nakba, which was the systematic ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians from the region in 1948. If freedom of speech is to be considered, should not Arabs have the right to express their grievances on equal terms, and granted legitimacy in their claims? Because the state of Israel does not acknowledge the extent of their aggression upon the Palestinian population, dissidence from both Israeli Jews and Arabs is often gagged. Considering these terms, I do not feel that the dialogue Israel claims to hold is as effective as they propagate.

So far, I have painted a very bleak picture of the situation, and have probably written more than you bargained for. However, I find hope in this venture. The reason I have chosen to embrace the boycott, in all of its aspects, is because it is a non-violent yet effective way of pressuring Israel’s government to make change. And I do believe, with time, that they will. The BDS is a movement that allows for the redemption of those it seeks to boycott. It is a movement of firm response rather than passivity, and challenges others to embody the morals they claim to promote.  I do wholeheartedly believe that things can change, but I believe that words are not enough, as 66 years of occupation has shown. Stronger, yet peaceful, measures must be taken in order to change things. It worked in South Africa, I believe it can work in Israel too.

 In an article by American academics Colin Dayan and David Lloyd (http://electronicintifada.net/content/why-we-must-boycott-israeli-universities/12945), I agree with their statement that ‘The academic boycott of Israeli institutions will not prevent scholars from working, thinking and exchanging ideas. It will not destroy their institutions wholesale. The boycott has quite specific ends, consistent with human rights conventions and international law, and can be short-lived. The dispossession of the Palestinian people threatens to be permanent and irremediable.’

I have already listed a bit of material, but in case you are interested, I encourage you read the list below as well. If you have more questions, I’m very willing to talk about it.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions: The Struggle for Palestinian Civil Rights- Omar Barghouti

Article by Jewish-American academic Eric Cheyfitz- http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/189409/why-i-support-the-academic-boycott-of-israel/#.UrQ_ikIudqA.twitter

Article by Ilan Pappe- http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/ilan-pappe-boycott-work-israeli-perspective/

I hope you’ll forgive me for the long-winded letter, but I wanted to illustrate for you my reasoning because I know that things like this are important to you, and I wanted to present the information myself so you could see the logic behind my thought-process.

2 Comments on A Christian’s Case for Boycott

  1. Thank you Samantha for sharing this very well argued letter. Did you receive a reply? As a Christian myself I’ve long struggled to convince some Christian friends that Israel is not the underdog they believe it to be, let alone that boycott is worthwhile – others just glaze over and switch off when I mention Israel! In some cases I think they’re afraid of crossing God’s providence re the whole argument about ‘all Israel being saved at the last’…which of course gets us into the minefield of opposing views about who constitutes the Israel of God today. I’m persuaded that it’s the church, by which I don’t mean the visible church institution/s, but rather the whole body of true believers in Christ. The more engaged I’ve become academically with these things, the more convinced I am that the modern state of Israel is just that, and nothing more. ..though of course individual Jews will continue to be saved by the only way given, through faith in Christ. Why don’t you come back to Exeter and do a PhD on Christian Zionism?! I think it’s sorely needed.

    • Jane, so great to hear from you! I apologise for the delayed response. And thank you, I take it as a great compliment that you found it helpful.

      While I did not receive a written response, I had an opportunity to discuss this topic in person with my friend. I can say that she was clearly challenged and has been taking the time to more closely study the issues in Israel/Palestine and the case for boycott. I agree that many Christians fear to engage Zionism out of desire not to offend God (a problem I ran into when initially coming upon the realities of the occupation). The theological arguments are indeed minefields, but from my understanding, nothing could be clearer then seeing that the biblical Israel refers to those who believe in God, not a geo-political country, as you stated. If I ever can be of any help, or somehow come to speak in the UK, I would be more than happy to do so. This issue is of the utmost importance to me, and I’ll go great lengths to speak out. I currently even engage this topic with the University of Tehran annually in attempt to educate supporters of Palestinian justice how to engage Zionism regardless of religious affiliations (or lack thereof).

      I have additionally been provided the opportunity to speak further into Christian communities here in the US, and hope to continue to do so. I’ve been given a full scholarship to George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where I will be engaging Christian and Jewish Zionism with regard to Palestinian Christians. It’s my hope to be an advocate for Palestinians and justice for them through my academics and writings. If you have time, we should skype sometime soon. I’d love to speak further about this.

      And most importantly, thank you for commenting! Feedback is greatly appreciated, and we are hoping our articles here challenge people to confront issues with honesty and openness.

      Best Wishes,
      Samantha

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