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Viewpoint: Freeing the Oppressors

In regard to the accusation in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that Quakers and American Friends Service Committee (conflated into a single religious body) are “no friends to Israel” and border on anti-Semitism because of the AFSC’s affirmation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), here is something we Friends can bear in mind:

One of the greatest gifts of the Hebrew religious tradition to the world is the vital theme of Exodus from slavery, often renewed by the great prophets for their own day, when Israel was threatened by a foreign empire, or the powerful in Israel had become the new overseers of Pharaoh. The message is that God is a compassionate God who cares about the poor and the downtrodden, and wills that they be liberated into a life of abundance and peace. A corollary of this theme is that God does not desire the death of those who do evil, but that they turn away from their destructive ways and Return (t’shuvah) to the divine heart (Ezekiel 33:11, Jonah). In the germ of this potent Seed is the human inspiration and will to liberate all the oppressed throughout time—human slaves, peasants, women, children, persecuted Jews, downtrodden Palestinians, animal slaves—all who suffer from the actions of those who hold power over them and, whenever possible, to free the oppressors from their self-corrupting habits of feeding on others.

This is certainly not to be understood as a defense of revolutionary violence; God’s compassion for the oppressors as well as the oppressed implies that this rejection of evil institutions must be nonviolent. We Quakers are among the few denominations in the Christian tradition who still unconditionally hold to the mandate of the Jewish prophet from Nazareth who said, “Love your enemies and do them good,” rather than following the human impulse to take violent measures. But Jesus did not invent peaceful actions against oppression: shortly before his ministry, his fellow Jews were known to oppose injustice nonviolently, as in the 26 CE lie-in protest in Caesarea Maritima (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, II, Ch. 9:2–3).  This is not to claim that everything in the Hebrew scriptures is consistent with this life-giving theme—in fact it is a minor one—but simply to point out that it is there, and that it still lives today.

Though we are the recipients of this unutterable gift of Exodus, many of us are unaware of our indebtedness.  Educating ourselves will awaken an immense gratitude, and a deeper understanding of how far we are from bordering on anti-Semitism when we seek to put this gift into action through BDS.  We urge the Israeli government today to heed the calls of the daughters and sons of the prophets in their own midst and in the Diaspora, such as members of Jewish Voice for Peace, who work to end the unjust treatment of Palestinians and thereby also enable beloved Israel to find peace and safety.

 

Editors: AFSC also responded to the Wall Street Journal op-ed with “Refusing to water the seeds of war: AFSC and BDS,” available at afsc​.org/​f​r​i​e​n​d​s​/​r​e​f​u​s​i​n​g​-​w​a​t​e​r​-​s​e​e​d​s​-​w​a​r​-​a​f​s​c​-​a​n​d​-​bds.

 

Gracia Fay Ellwood lives in Pasadena, Calif.


Posted in: January 2016: Quakers and the Political Process, Viewpoint

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