In the aftermath of the shooting rampage in San Bernadino, Calif., I reached out to a respected friend, the pastor of a local Presbyterian church, to seek solace and support. Not only did I want to share my grief in the wake of another tragic episode of gun violence, I was searching for something to do, some way to take action. My pastor friend encouraged me to attend an interfaith gathering for clergy taking place on the steps of another church nearby that very afternoon.When he mentioned that the church hosting the event was affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination of about a million members, a little bell went off in my head. This past summer, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted to divest from companies that “profit from the occupation,” and to boycott all products made in Israeli “settlements.” There was a particularly rousing debate over the proposal in Cleveland, featuring a renowned anti-Israel propagandist and a public excoriation of Israel. Little time was afforded to pro-Israel speakers, and that same synod failed to condemn Palestinian incitement, violence, rocket attacks or terror tunnels.
Rather than concerning itself with the true crisis facing Christians in the Middle East, namely the systematic destruction of churches and wholesale attacks on Christian communities by Islamic extremists, the synod decided to focus its energy on isolating and condemning the Jewish state. The result was a shockingly lopsided vote of 508-124 in favor of the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement. Just more than half the delegates voted to label Israel an “apartheid” state.
I desperately wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow clergy in the wake of the San Bernadino shooting. I yearned for solidarity with other religious leaders who were horrified by this egregious violence and killing. However, before I agreed to go, I did a quick Internet search; I wanted to know if this particular UCC church, whose steps I would be standing on, whose pastor’s voice I would be joining, was a supporter of his denomination’s pro-BDS resolutions or if, perchance, he spoke out against them.
What I discovered was that this local UCC church had invited a number of BDS speakers and had hosted programs about the BDS movement in the aftermath of the General Synod vote. I emailed my Presbyterian friend and told him that as heartsick as I was about the San Bernadino shooting, I just couldn’t bring myself to stand in front of a church that promoted such unfair, one-sided and damaging criticism of the State of Israel. I immediately grabbed a siddur and went into my synagogue’s darkened chapel to pray and meditate alone.
The global BDS movement is not only wrong-headed, it is immoral. It saddles Israel exclusively with blame for the conflict with the Palestinians. It completely ignores or rejects the many attempts Israel has made to exchange land for real peace with the Palestinians, and the movement seethes with such hatred for Israel it’s unclear whether its leaders would even be satisfied with a two-state solution. The BDS movement’s myopic focus on Israel totally disregards human rights abuses, violence and the regular trampling of basic rights that happens much more egregiously in other far more oppressive countries, making the movement’s alleged concern for human rights reek with bigotry and anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, BDS would hamper the efforts of Israel’s high-tech corridor, which is a global leader in health care and technological advancements that help people around the world; it would hurt Palestinians who work for Israeli companies, which would have to terminate their employment because of the economic impact of BDS; and it would stymie the efforts of researchers, artists and academics who would be barred from conferences, exhibitions and collaborations with international colleagues. The BDS movement is truly the most unjust, ill-conceived and hate-filled initiative of those who oppose Israel’s existence.
There has to be accountability for those who associate themselves with this depravity. For me, it meant that a pro-BDS pastor and church has forsaken the right and opportunity to convene people like me — people who love Israel and who hope for peace.
I will continue to seek out meaningful ways to speak out as a faith leader about the scourge of gun violence in this country. I also pray that people of conscience have the strength to stand up to organizations that promote destructive views like those of the BDS movement. I know that I can’t expect ideological coherence with every colleague or fellow clergyman, but on some issues there is simply a line that cannot be crossed. BDS is one of those lines.
Rabbi Adam Raskin is the spiritual leader of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac.