IPMN Community Blogger
I got on the Community page easily from home just now, which makes me happy, because I never did get on from Chicago. Now I'd like to know how to comment on Jeff and Noushin's blog entries! Just in case I don't learn how to do that, thanks so much for your great summary of our meeting, Noushin. Are you sure you don't want to write the minutes of the meeting for me? And am I ever jealous that you got to the zoo. Dave and I only got to look at "our" lake from the car! I also want to thank Jeff for his sensitive and right on "no-brainer" article re our BDS actions. The first time I was in Israel/Palestine someone told me that it was not anti-Israel to speak out against oppression, repression, violence and corporate punishment and I have hung on to that statement ever since.
Since the IPMN news release about the network endorsing boycotts of Ahava Cosmetics and King Solomon and Jordan River brands of dates, as well as announcing that we are compiling a list of companies doing business in illegal West Bank settlements, the hysteria machine has begun moving into full gear. The first thing out of the mouths and blogs of the loyal opposition is that we are "boycotting Israel," which, of course, is a bald-face lie. Not only that, it is a phrase being pranced out in a very calculated way that intends to manufacture linkage back to 1930's Germany when boycotting the businesses of Jews was the earliest hint that holocaust was coming. Without saying it, they want to set up the implication that such actions are akin to Nazism and anti-Semitism, hanging it out there to be picked up on by others even while maintaining plausible deniability themselves. But it does not wash and it is both tragically cynical and intellectually dishonest. We are doing no such thing.
What we are doing is calling for boycott of Israeli, American, European and other international companies that are profiting from activity in illegal settlements. Duh? We are talking about settlements which the U.N. and international courts call outlaw. We are talking about settlements which both Republican and Democratic Presidential administrations have repeatedly said are illegal and a major roadblock to peace (even if our leaders have never had the backbone to really follow up on such rhetoric--the lack of resolve does not make the rhetoric any less true). If the settlements are illegal, as clearly stated by the entire global community, then it stands to reason that any business taking place in the settlements is illegal as well.
So IPMN is saying: Time to call it the way we see it. In fact, time to call it the way every rational observer on the face of the earth sees it, whether they have the resolve to actually do the right thing or not. This is by no means rocket science. The simple message is: Don't buy stuff manufactured in places where that economy depends upon the oppression of human beings. Don't trade with companies that think they can do business in our neighborhoods as well as in support of an apartheid regime on the other side of the world. You can't have my business and be responsible for the destruction of a people at the same time; I won't permit it. It seems like a no-brainer. If we can boycott (and successfully, mind you) a company that sprays dangerous chemicals on its produce in the fields and then hires poor migrants to go into those fields and be sickened, then how is it that we do not see the moral outrage in regard to wholesale theft of land, resources, human rights and freedom, as well as every measure of the human dignity and self-worth of an entire people? How is it that you can stand below the hills covered by illegal Israeli settlements watching the sewage of countless thousands from the tops of those hills flowing out of pipes onto what is left of actual Palestinian land and not think that this does not differ very much from forcing workers to pick produce out in fields of poison?
I spent most of last week in Chicago at the Cenacle Center for IPMN's annual meeting. It was great to see "all my peeps" and i can't believe how much we got done with such a packed schedule. I arrived Monday for the steering cmt meetings and the rest of the network began arriving on Tuesday; the meeting ended with a big bang Thursday at noon. (look out for the press release to see the "bang!"). One highlight was Rev. Craig Hunter's excellent and moving sermon which is on the front page of the website now. I seriously felt chills when he delivered it - don't miss it! Gotta love his title: "God is a Slow Learner!"
Another highlight was getting Doug Dicks to talk to the plenary group via skype video! We hooked him up to JBL speakers and a projector and after his greeting, spent about 15 minutes asking him questions about the latest facts on the ground. It's always great when technology works and makes the world a smaller place. The meeting officially began at 3:30 pm Chicago time but as Amman, Jordan was 8 hours ahead of us and Doug was getting ready to go sleep, we skyped him right away as soon as we had welcomed everyone to Chicago. It's a new day: free video hookup to jordan! Wow!
Besides a short break mid-day Tuesday when i walked to the zoo and took some fun pics of the bears, the days were packed to the gills with presentations, workshops, decisions and votes. We kicked off a new fundraising campaign called "Sustaining the Hope" and before we left Chicago, our pledges totaled almost 2/3 of the goal. Another Wow!
Mark Braverman was in Tiffen, Ohio which is a very rural part of the state and home of Heidelberg University as well as Tiffen University. He was the keynote for an Israel Palestine conference sponsored by Pax Christi, and it was held at a Catholic center there in the town. A mixed crowd, with some, like me, who made the 90 minute drive from Columbus and with whom I cross paths in our common efforts to strive for Just Peace in I/P. There were also a lot of nuns and priests, but Lutherans and Methodists and Mennonites and Presbyterians and more. And then...there was a group representing John Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI) sitting at the table with a Jewish couple representing Zionists of America.
Mark, as usual, captivated the crowd. In this crowd of 200 (pretty good for that far out in the sticks) there were people present who knew a lot about this issue as well as many who were hearing this stuff for the first time. I watched their faces while Mark spoke. It was an eye-opening, mind-expanding experience for them. Later I heard the buzz from folks and it was all about enlightenment. I ate lunch with Mark, and then he told me he was going to approach the CUFI/ZOA table. I wished him luck. Then I watched the interchange from a distance. Mark was his typical non-plussed self, asking questions and then listening to the answers. Later he told me he felt weird, but he seemed to have a good handle on the situation.
This is the kind of grassroots groundswell that Mark has been saying has to happen and is happening to bring movement to this issue. No one knows how long it will take, but when you watch it happen you know that this is the right approach. Later I told Mark that we could be pretty certain that 10 or even 5 years ago there was no way a conference like this would be taking place smack dab in the heart of rural Ohio. The groundswell is continuing to grow...I can see it when I attend events like this. We just have to keep supporting the Mark Bravermans out there on the front lines.
Upon arrival home from the IPMN Annual meeting, I was greeted by the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. It comprises a series of articles under the lead:—Remaking the Middle East:
New Challenges Call for New Policies. Are the U.S. and Israel Ready to Change Course?
Beyond Moderates and Militants
To read more about Mark Braverman, please visit www.markbraverman.org
Ok, so I know keeping score is crass and petty but who best to do that but me? So for those who are sympathetic to justice and peace not just for Israel but also for Palestine (or "PIPS": Progressives INCLUDING Palestine), here is my take on the results of the 219th General Assembly:
In the green column; Denouncement of Caterpillar, End US Military aid to Israel, Embrace Goldstone. In the red; No Divestment and No Apartheid. Somewhere in the yellow column but definitely shading to green is the Middle East Study Committee report. The embracing of the Faith, Hope and Love elements of Kairos as part of the MESC was important, but it fell short of employing BDS as non-violent methods of persuasion. But this isn’t over by any means.
Given the MRTI cop-out, divestment was going to be an uphill battle at this GA even though the mandate was clear from previous Assemblies. When the CEO of Caterpillar told us if we didn’t like their business practices then we should sell our shares, we should have gotten up, walked out and hit the dump button. Instead, we put our hope in a new CEO. Good luck. And while I am at it, how about that commissioner who argued on the floor during the divestment debate that punishing Caterpillar for selling equipment to Israel, who in turn uses them to destroy Palestinian homes, would be like punishing 3M if Al Qaeda used post-it notes. OMG. The analogy might work if 3M helped to design a weaponized post-it note, then used 3M employees in the field to repair the post-its when they broke down, and then the 3M CEO tells us to go jump in the lake.
As for Apartheid, it was a long shot but it is out there now, and I guarantee it will come back in two years unless something significant changes. If you haven’t read the overture it is a must read. Even if you disagree, and hate my posts (you know who you are), you should still take the time, then tell me the facts on the ground don’t fit the definition. You can find it here:
In the end, this was an important week for pushing the “persuadable middle” of the PCUSA further down the road to stand for justice in Palestine. I score it a 7 out of 10. I have to say though that the AP headline coming out yesterday was the icing on the cake:
“U.S. Presbyterians urge government to end Israel aid over settlements”
The 219th General Assembly of the PCUSA has just passed two significant pieces of business that further moves the PCUSA towards true justice and peace in Palestine. The first is a denouncement of Caterpillar for their continued profiting from business with Israel that harms Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. While stopping short of divestment as directed by previous General Assemblies and an attempt on the floor to put a deadline to divest by June 2011, the CEO of the Board of Pensions spoke and said they have devised a workable system over the decades to make divestment possible, but the assembly weaseled out and made it open ended. It does however, further affirm that Caterpillar, of all the firms with whom MRTI has engaged, continues to disappoint in their corporate engagement with the PCUSA. The day of divestment reckoning is coming.
The second is the passing of the Middle East Study Report as amended by Committee 14. While the changes will seem heavy handed by some, it strikes a better balance while maintaining the spirit of our Denomination's desire to listen to the voices of Palestinian voices that are crying out for us to stand for justice and peace in the region. I urge you all to read the amended report, and the Kairos document as contained within approved 14-08. Kairos is a letter from Palestinian Christian leaders and their fellowships pleading for us to hear their cry.
Where to begin? For many involved in Middle East issues and the PCUSA, the elephant in the room has been whether interfaith considerations, i.e. relationships with the Jewish community, trump justice in Palestine.
Today we saw old tactics fail to work as they have in the past. During the debate on interfaith papers from the Offices of Theology and Interfaith Relations, we heard a Commissioner from Philadelphia basically threaten commissioners with being anti-Semitic. He insinuated that if they voted to go with committee 8’s decision of sending the “Christians & Jews” paper back for improvement, they would be guilty of anti-Semitism. Cynthia Campbell, the president of McCormick Seminary in Chicago got to the microphone and argued that the paper called "Christians and Jews, A People of God" was sound theology and worthy of publishing now versus referring back as the committee had recommended. What both speakers failed to address was the fact that no Middle Eastern Presbyterians or Middle Eastern Christian partners were at the table for the writing of this paper. Both Cynthia Campbell and the commissioner from Philadelphia basically said that it’s okay that no Mideastern Christians were part of the consultation process and to go ahead and approve the paper anyway. The assembly voted to send the paper back and said go get a bigger table. Campbell was obviously okay with excluding all Middle Eastern Christian voices. Thanks but no thanks said the assembly; the vote was 80/20 to send the paper back. Campbell came out looking small and exclusionary. That is not okay for the president of a major “progressive” seminary in our denomination. Or is it?