An open letter to my progressive Christian colleagues

Hate and intolerance are on the rise, as racists, xenophobes and antisemites have come out from the shadows of society.

May 31, 2019 08:09
4 minute read.
An open letter to my progressive Christian colleagues

US President Donald Trump waves to the media before boarding Air Force One in Maryland on April 27. (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS)

These are troubled times. I now live in a country – the US – that seems almost unrecognizable from my youth. Hate and intolerance are on the rise, as racists, xenophobes and antisemites have come out from the shadows of society. As you’re well aware, it has even become acceptable at the highest levels of our national government to demonize people simply because they’re of a different culture and ethnicity than that of white America.

That makes our collaboration in countering President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants critical.

Particularly abhorrent is the propaganda he deploys to dehumanize refugees fleeing insufferable poverty and violence in Central America, calling them “invaders” and claiming that opening our southern border to them would cause an “infestation,” a term typically reserved for rodents, termites and cockroaches.

Such inflammatory rhetoric is an affront to all people of conscience. All the more reason, then, why I’m perplexed by your support for another disinformation campaign, one that, in my opinion, is equally toxic. I’m speaking about BDS: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Whereas Trump disingenuously frames the immigration issue as a “national security crisis,” BDS is cleverly couched in the language of “human rights.” Yet make no mistake – its aim is to demonize Jewish Israelis along with others outside of Israel who refuse to disavow Zionism, which for many Jews is a core religious conviction.

I recognize that your concern for the Palestinians comes from a deep devotion to the alleviation of human suffering. I also hear loud and clear your disapproval of Israeli settlement expansion and policies that seem to undercut Israel’s guarantee of equality for all its citizens. Though no doubt we see the situation from different perspectives, I – and many Israelis, for that matter – share some of your criticisms.

The leadership of the BDS movement, however, is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies, nor is it interested in peace. Rather, it takes issue with Israel’s very existence – within any borders.

Like Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade, BDS dehumanizes. Israelis are to be ostracized: Israeli scholars are to be banned from international academic conferences, Israeli speakers are to be disrupted, Israeli vendors are to be boycotted. In addition, American Jews must renounce their Zionism or risk being harassed or barred from certain progressive social justice groups.

Last year, for example, 53 student groups at New York University issued a joint statement pledging not only to endorse BDS, but also to boycott the pro-Israel (i.e. Zionist) students on campus. In other words, students who refuse to shed an integral part of their Jewish identity are, according to these organizations, no longer considered acceptable as members of the NYU community.

The problem isn’t just on one campus. In April, Jewish students at Atlanta’s Emory University found “eviction” notices that had been plastered outside their dorm rooms by Students for Justice in Palestine. The mock notices warned them to get out or all their belongings would be destroyed. Jewish students reported feeling afraid for their personal safety. Since when does drawing attention to the Palestinian cause require such hostile behavior?

I appreciate that you’ve called out Trump on the lies he has spread about the Central American asylum-seekers being “criminals” and “thugs” who, far from being persecuted migrants, are “scam” artists. Facts matter to you.

Similarly, I urge you to consider the evidence that BDS is built on demonstrably false claims of Israeli “apartheid” and “genocide” against the Palestinians.

Take, for instance, the observations of Rev. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, a prominent Christian pastor and member of the South African parliament who suffered 40 years under apartheid. Asked how life in Israel, which he visits often, compares to the segregated buses, schools, medical facilities, and beaches he experienced in apartheid South Africa, he commented, “What shook me was the realization that the world would condemn a country guilty of none of the atrocities of the system that oppressed me and my people.”

Given the history of the Jewish people and the Holocaust, the accusation of genocide is especially insidious. Genocide isn’t a matter of opinion; it’s measurable. Since 1967, when Israel took over the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, Palestinian life expectancy has increased by 50 percent, and in the last 64 years, the Palestinian population has grown from 988,000 to 5.2 million. How do these numbers square with BDS claims of genocide?

The president intends to build a wall to deny refugees entry into this country. BDS places a wall around Zionists, seeking to delegitimize us and exclude us from solidarity-based movements, interfaith coalitions and university campuses. Our shared commitment to human dignity compels us to denounce the former. I hope it will also move you to reevaluate your view of the latter.

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