Thoughts about the peace train - part three...

NOTE:  For the next week, I am going to post my thoughts, reflections, concerns as well as an alternative action to the current BDS strategy of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning all of Israel in pursuit of Palestinian justice Not only does the BDS shotgun approach denigrate the whole of Israeli society rather than focus upon the ugly actions within the Occupied Territories, I believe the movement's ambiguous goals can all too easily be manipulated to advance genuinely antisemitic objectives.  Further, as a Christian contemplative, I have been persuaded that a bold people-to-people strategy - along with prayer, creative economic incentives and real political pressure directed towards US legislators - introduces effective, albeit costly nonviolent strategies geared towards long-term change rather than symbolic actions that create the illusion of righteousness without significant results. Let me state at the outset, however, that I don't pretend to have a monopoly upon wisdom. I also recognize that people of good will are likely to disagree with my conclusions. I welcome your insights but ask that you share them in the spirit and tone of peace and respect.(This is part three of a six part series.)


Given the increasingly anti-Arab ideology of some within the new government of Israel, the
judicial system is at times used as a tool of discrimination and subterfuge rather than justice. The unwillingness of the Jewish majority to curtail the ever-expanding settlements poses another massive problem.  And the mounting militarization of the Occupied Territories has become insufferable. Secretary of State, John Kerry, was blunt: it is fair to say that Israel is moving in a direction that could become an apartheid state – especially if the current political trajectory intensifies – so all efforts to thwart this dangerous direction are a moral imperative.

Consequently, I do not see how increased isolation and economic privation will cast out the historic fears between these two peoples nor cause these well-cultivated hatreds to wither away. Rather, I sense that more people-to-people interaction alongside economic incentives, prayer and savvy political engagement holds a greater promise for meaningful change. These tools have a more satisfying track record of accomplishments than either boycotts or divestment strategies, too.

In his analysis of spirituality and the 12 step process, Breathing Under Water, Fr. Richard Rohr describes what he calls the “meritocracy” – the standard operating systems that guide most politics, economics and religions – a dualistic system of “reward and punishment.” The bad are punished, the good are rewarded and the way of retributive justice is fortified. Business as usual, he writes, goes like this:

sin – punishment – repentance—transformation

But the way of God as made clear in the Hebrew and Christian texts offers an alternative that is a game-changer:

sin – unconditional love – transformation – repentance

Politically, ethically, socially, spiritually and personally the choice is between revenge or reconciliation. Rohr puts it like this:  “Studies now show that threat and punishment are the least effective forms of social change or long-lasting improvement. They are efficient yes, but not effective at all… (So the question becomes) do we want to grow or do we just want to be in control of the moment? Only mutual apology, healing and forgiveness offer a sustainable future for humanity. Otherwise we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately.” (pp. 47-48)

I still resonate with the politics of nonviolence incarnated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I know there are times and places where boycotts and economic coercion can help stubborn hearts bend towards justice. I also know that there must be clear goals, compassionate strategies and intellectually honest assessments at the heart of these campaigns. To date, I am unconvinced this is happening in the BDS movement. 

Too often what I read and hear from advocates of BDS is a romanticization of the Palestinian plight mixed with a visceral hatred of Israel. There are exceptions to be sure - and both parties are prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. Still, the anger and disdain that drives so much of the public persona of the BDS cause is troubling and dangerous. Let me explain: strategically and ethically I am grounded in the commitments of MLK and his way of compassionate justice. He knew that there were times for polarization and critique - think of his speech at Riverside Church about the Vietnam War or the plans he put into place before his assassination for a Poor Peoples Campaign to encamp in Washington, DC - and times to nourish a broad, middle road consensus. I believe he lived in the tension of two portions of Scripture:  1) To everything there is a season... (Ecclesiastes 3); and 2) Let justice roll down like a river and compassion like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24.)

 In a book length interview Bono (of U2) did with journalist, Michka Assayas,  Bono in Conversation, a story Harry Belafonte shared  with him about Dr. King is illustrative. Robert Kennedy had just been appointed to serve as Attorney General and the civil rights movement had hit a wall in the early 60s. Belafonte made it clear that there was despair in Dr. King's leadership cadre with RFK's new job."You see," Belafonte continued, "Bobby Kennedy was Irish. Those Irish were real racists; they didn't like the black man."

They were just one step above the black man on the social ladder and they made us feel it.  They were the police and the people who broke our balls on a daily basis. And Bobby at the time was famously not interested in civil rights... so we were in trouble. We were crestfallen... in talking with Martin we began moaning and groaning about this turn of events... Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the bitching. "Enough of this! Is there nobody here who's got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?" "Well that's what we ARE trying to tell you... there IS nothing good to say. The guy's an Irish Catholic conservative badass, he's bad news." To which Martin replied, "Well then let's call his meeting  to a close. We'll return when somebody has found something redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy. Because, my friends, that is the door through which our movement shall pass." (p. 96)

In time  it was discovered that Kennedy was very close with his bishop. Belafonte says, "So they befriended the one person who could get through to Bobby and turned him into their Trojan horse." Through patience and a commitment to radical compassion and redemption, MLK found a way to create an alliance with his former foe.  Belafonte concludes: "When Bobby Kennedy lay dying on a Los Angeles pavement, there was no greater friend to the civil rights movement. There was no one we owed more of our progress to than that one man.... Dr. King was right: don't respond to caricature - the Left, the Right, the Progressives, the Reactionary - don't take people on rumor. Find the light in them."


This is yet another reason why I cannot support the BDS movement as it currently exists Please do not misunderstand: I do not believe that the vitriol and mistrust comes just from one side. there is more than enough Israeli venom being injected into the conversation, too. I think especially of the hyperbole and arrogance of Tzipi Hotovely et al. Hatred and prejudice on one side of the battle does not require hatred and prejudice on the other. And so, my mistrust remains.

credits: Dianne De Mott

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