The words "genocide" and "apartheid" are startling and extreme. Israel may certainly be -- and is -- criticized for its treatment of Palestinians, but Israel is not committing genocide, nor is it an apartheid state.
A number of UU congregations have officially expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Community UU at White Plains, which I serve, resolved last April that it was an "ally of the Black Lives Matter movement and its Guiding Principles"
Does this mean that CUUC (and other congregations that have officially voted to support the Black Lives Matter movement) has condemned Israel -- or has supported an organization that condemns Israel? Not in the least.
1. CUUC supports the Black Lives Matter movement -- which is not an organization, and, in particular, is not the organization called M4BL ("Movement for Black Lives"). The Black Lives Matter movement is made up of a loose coalition of organizations (including, now, CUUC) and individuals. "Black Lives Matter" is a merely a slogan and a hashtag (a point King Downing emphasized when he spoke at CUUC last March) -- not an organization or entity. It has proven to be a particularly powerful slogan, and a number of organizations have formed incorporating part or all of that slogan or inspired by the slogan's sentiment. These organizations differ widely, and most take no position on Israel-Palestine relations. No one, and no single organization, can speak for every person or group who expresses the slogan or tweets the hashtag, "Black Lives Matter." The M4BL platform is not a platform of the entire Black Lives Matter movement, so support for the Black Lives Matter movement does not imply support for M4BL's platform.
2. Being an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement does not entail endorsement of everything that might be endorsed by individuals or organizations also allied with that movement. As an ally, we support the core hopes of the movement for ending discrimination against US blacks and seek to promote the most effective means toward that end. The statements about Israel are not even a core part of the M4BL platform -- they are peripheral to that platform's overall focus of concern. And even if the statements about Israel were (as they are not) the centerpiece of the M4BL platform, remember, again, that the M4BL is not the whole Black Lives Matter movement, but only a part of it. Many other organizations that are part of the Black Lives Matter movement are strongly opposed to M4BL's anti-Israel sentiment. (For instance, the Ecumenical Council of Missouri, representing hundreds of predominantly African American churches: SEE HERE, though the article mistakenly refers to the M4BL platform as "the recent platform of the Black Lives Matter movement.")
3. The CUUC resolution makes no mention of M4BL. If M4BL was even in existence last April, it was no part of our conversation or consideration.
4. The CUUC resolution specifies support for the "Guiding Principles" of the Black Lives Matter movement. (SEE HERE). It is these principles, which are the principles of an organization called the Black Lives Matter Network, and not any subsequent platform from another organization, M4BL, that CUUC voted to support. These Guiding Principles make no reference to Israel or Palestine. (Note: The Black Lives Matter Network has expressed its support of the M4BL platform -- but our support for the Network's Guiding Principles does not imply support for anything else the Network goes on to endorse.)
CUUC's resolution neither condemns Israel, supports condemnation of Israel, nor supports any organization or group that condemns Israel.
That said, we may wish to go farther and explicitly declare that we reject the M4BL's statements about Israel. Personally, I reject those statements. It would be up to the congregation to decide to make a congregational rejection.
What's Going On Here?
Why has the M4BL chosen to take on Israel? Why aren't they sticking to what we would think they would stick to: US racial justice matters? The one foreign government that M4BL singled out for criticism
"wasn’t the Syrian government, which has killed tens of thousands of innocent people with barrel bombs, chemicals, and gas. Nor was it Saudi Arabia, which openly practices gender and religious apartheid. It wasn’t Iran, which hangs gays and murders dissidents. It wasn’t China, which has occupied Tibet for more than half a century. And it wasn’t Turkey, which has imprisoned journalists, judges, and academics. Finally, it wasn’t any of the many countries, such as Venezuela or Mexico, where police abuses against innocent people run rampant and largely unchecked." (Alan Dershowitz, Boston Globe)Perhaps M4BL thought Syria was already widely condemned. And that the abuses in those other places were either on a smaller scale or didn't seem to parallel the type of treatment many blacks experience from US police. I don't know. (Even so, that would still seem to leave Tibet.)
In any case, where did M4BL's condemnation of Israel come from? Why are they doing this? I began digging for an answer. Alan Dershowitz regards anti-Semitism as a sufficient explanation. I can't rule that out as playing some role, however large or small, but I do find there to be also other factors.
A part of the answer is intersectionality -- or intersectional theory -- so allow me to digress to unpack that a bit.
"Intersectionality" is a word I've started hearing a lot in the last couple years in Unitarian Universalist social justice discussions. It has its origins in work I was talking about with my Fisk students 25 years ago: how do the oppressions of blacks and of women intersect? Writers such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Katie Cannon argued that the experience of being a black woman could not be understood as merely additive: the experience of being black plus the experience of being a woman. Rather, the intersection of these identities created more magnified as well as novel forms of discrimination. Injustices based on race, ethnicity, gender, and class interrelate and are bound together in what Patricia Hill Collins called "interlocking oppression."
The intersectionality that I am now hearing about among faith leaders has grown broader. We are now highlighting the importance of seeing how many social justice issues intersect: environmental and climate issues, LGBT issues, income inequality and poverty and class issues, housing, education, war and peace, species extinction and animal abuse, as well as issues affecting blacks and women.
"The term has come into popular use to describe the ways that various systems of oppression intersect and overlap, encompassing other forms of discrimination such as homophobia and classism, and issues ranging from police brutality to colonialism. It has become a banner under which minority groups link up to fight what critics see as unrelated battles, but what activists see as iterations of the same struggle for justice." (Anna Isaacs, Moment)When congregations feel torn between whether to focus on racial justice or climate change, military drone use or affordable housing, it is helpful to remember the intersectional nature of all these issues. The issues are interlinked: peace requires justice, injustice is perpetuated by violence; peace/justice and responsible environmental stewardship help enable each other, etc. Neighboring colleague Rev. Peggy Clarke, who serves the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Hastings, wrote for the Huffington Post:
"The rationale that led to slavery and colonization and the deprivation of humans at various times in history is the same thought process leading to the destruction of earth. It is the framework that suggests everything is in service to the dominant class....Our current American paradigm allows one group to exploit another. The paradigmatic assumption is that women are in service to men, that the poor are in service to the rich, that people of color are in service to white people, that Earth and all her species are in service to humans. Privilege has been conferred on the dominant group and that dominance is maintained by our legal, cultural, religious, educational, economic, political, environmental and military institutions. It is this same assumption of dominance that created and supported slavery, that committed genocide on the indigenous people of this continent, that institutionalized the repression of women for centuries and that has also approached Earth with a power-over mentality." (Peggy Clarke, Huffington Post)Intersectional theory says that ultimately there is a single evil: the disconnection and pain of dominance and inequality. Thus, whether we are marching for peace, for racial justice, or for reducing carbon emissions, we are marching for the same thing: a vision of a fair and caring world. It's true that a single human being can't attend all the meetings of all the activist groups, so we must each make strategic choices -- but it helps to be aware that whether you're organizing "Commit2Respond," lobbying legislators for Planned Parenthood, writing letters for Amnesty International, advocating for reforms to reduce the corruption of our democratic process, or marching for raising the minimum wage, your friends who choose the other activities are, in fact, working for the same thing you're working for -- and each of these activities supports the others.
US Blacks and Palestinians
While intersectional theory began as a way to emphasize the difference between the oppressions of different groups (black women's oppression is qualitatively different from black oppression plus women's oppression), it is currently sometimes used to conflate all oppressions as basically the same -- all the product of the same thought process of dominance. Thus, the troubles of Palestinians and the troubles of US blacks go together. As one student activist put it:
“Throughout history, people who are oppressed do stand in solidarity with others who are oppressed. And now we live in a world where people who live on different sides of the world can actually connect with each other in a really easy way and find out what’s going on. No one is stuck to their own movement anymore.” (qtd Anna Isaacs, Moment)Unbeknownst to me, two years ago, when demonstrators in Ferguson were facing the clubs and teargas of police, messages of support were pouring in from Palestine. Some of the tweets:
“Solidarity with #Ferguson. Remember to not touch your face when teargassed or put water on it. Instead use milk or coke!”The Ferguson activists appreciated the support. As Anna Isaacs, relates:
“Dear #Ferguson. The Tear Gas used against you was probably tested on us first by Israel. No worries, Stay Strong. Love, #Palestine”
“Where I come from, what some call ‘rioting’ we call an uprising #Ferguson #Gaza #Palestine #intifada”
"It wasn’t long before messages of black-Palestinian solidarity reverberated in cities across the country, surfacing in signs and chants at demonstrations in Seattle, DC, Houston, Chicago, Miami and Columbus, Ohio." (Moment)Perhaps, then, black activists felt solidarity with Palestinians, but not Tibetans, because tweets and other electronic communication allowed them to be in touch with Palestinians -- and to feel that the solidarity was mutual.
Angela Davis' latest book, published in 2016 Feb, is titled: Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. Apparently, those of us, like me, caught by surprise by the references to the Israel-Palestine issue in M4BL's platform just haven't been paying attention. Indeed, a number of black activists have been feeling a kindredness with Palestine going back well before Ferguson. For Patrisse Cullors,
"the constant sort of battering and terrorizing by military and for us by police is eerily similar." (qtd Anna Isaacs, Moment)The roots of this alliance go back to the support for the PLO from some of the leaders of the black left of the 60s and 70s. Through the years the solidarity of US blacks with Palestinian has waxed and waned -- as has the relationship between US blacks and Jews, which has usually been the more significant alliance. During the Civil Rights era, Jews were staunch supporters of civil rights for blacks:
"African Americans found in the Jewish community some of their strongest and most vocal allies: Jews were disproportionately represented in Freedom Summer and in the fight for both the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights acts. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. embraced Jews, and the iconic image of him walking side by side with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches remains a powerful reminder of that partnership." (Anna Isaacs)Moreover, while the alliance between Palestinians and US blacks alienates some US Jews, it is not doing so as uniformly as it might have in the past. The plight of Palestinians has been gathering growing sympathy from US Jews, some of which are supporting the BDS movement ("Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" a strategy to pressure Israel to recognize Palestinian rights under international law -- SEE HERE). We are seeing, as scholar Alex Lubin (HERE) put it, "a divorcing of Jewish identity from the state of Israel." Ben Lorber (HERE) finds "a seismic shift is occurring in the American Jewish community" away from identifying Jewishness with Israel. This disconnect, in at least some cases, between Jewishness and Pro-Israel-ness makes Dershowitz's diagnosis of anti-Semitism somewhat less plausible -- at least as a complete explanation. Rather, availability of rapid communications facilitates a mutual recognition of the similarity of the conditions each group faces -- which lead to mutual expressions of support and to solidarity.
Consciousness of intersectionality makes it appropriate to express solidarity with other oppressed people -- this would reasonably include, but not be limited to, Palestinians. Singling out Israel, however, and accusing it of genocide, goes too far.
Unitarian Universalists and Israel-Palestine
In 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church divested from a handful of U.S. companies involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Various Quaker groups have also divested.
The next year, 2015, the United Church of Christ -- a liberal Christian denomination with which Unitarian Universalists often find common cause and collaborate on a number of projects (the "Our Whole Lives" curriculum, for instance, is a joint product of the UCC and UUA) -- adopted a resolution in support of BDS. Under the terms of the resolution, the UCC is divesting from companies that profit from Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and is boycotting settlement products (See ARTICLE HERE). Delegates to the annual June UCC synod voted 508 to 124 (80 percent) in favor of the resolution -- well above the two-thirds required.
With these actions as background, consideration of divestment came up at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Columbus last June. Unitarian Universalists have expressed their concern with Israeli treatment of Palestinians before: the 2002 General Assembly adopted an Action of Immediate Witness supporting "Freedom from occupation and equal rights for all, including the right to exist in peace and security;" and opposing "Israeli settlements, land confiscation, house demolitions, and other violations of international law," as well as "all attacks on civilians, whether by suicide bombers, F-16 or helicopter gunships, or any other means" (See the full RESOLUTION HERE). Twenty years earlier, in 1982, a very brief (57 words) business resolution reaffirmed "opposition to anti-Semitism in all its forms" while recognizing "along with much of the Jewish community, that criticism of the policies of the government of Israel should not be equated with or confused with anti-Semitism."
The 2016 UUA General Assembly, in the end, took no action on Israel, Palestine, or divestment. This was largely due to the fact that a few months earlier, in 2016 March, the UUA's Committee on Socially Responsible Investing adopted a new human rights screen for all UUA investments. The new screen resulted in divestments from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and G4S -- the companies most frequently cited as companies that “directly profit from or support the occupation and its abuses of Palestinian human rights." The UUA approach thus accomplishes the divestment while avoiding the charge of singling out Israel. The new human rights screen for UUA investments examines all companies everywhere that may be profiting from human rights abuses.
For the actions before General Assembly that effected divestment see the UU World article HERE, and the Mondoweiss article HERE. While General Assembly took no additional action on the topic, it was addressed at General Assembly. See coverage of the panel discussion HERE. An article on the General Assembly resolution failing to pass is HERE.
Many have made the point for many years that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Unitarian Universalists officially emphasized that point thirty-four years ago. It's important to see that, while M4BL has condemned Israel, support of the Black Lives Matter movement does not entail support of M4BL. It's also important to see that condemning Israel's actions is not an attack on Judaism or Jews.