Sticking to Principle on Palestine-IsraelPosted: October 26, 2015
A controversy erupted earlier this year when Jewish Voice for Peace disassociated itself from the organization If Americans Knew and its director Alison Weir. Not long afterwards, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation removed If Americans Knew from its coalition for violating the Campaign’s anti-racism principles which include rejection of anti-Semitism. In both cases, If Americans Knew and Ms. Weir were asked to stop associating with avowedly racist and anti-Semitic figures and organizations. Ms. Weir and her supporters contend that they are not racist but that in the interest of promoting Palestinian claims for justice, there is no harm—and, in fact, advantage—to being heard by those who are sympathetic to our position on Palestine even if they don’t share our values on other social justice struggles.
There is a Quaker dimension to this controversy. The Ann Arbor Friends Meeting Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) defends If Americans Knew and takes the AFSC to task for being “dogmatic”. The PIAG statement implies that Quakers need not agree on the primacy of anti-racism in their work.
The QPIN Steering Committee appreciates the pioneering work of PIAG among US Quaker meetings on Palestine. However, we take issue with their support of Ms. Weir and If Americans Knew. QPIN stands in unity with the position of the American Friends Service Committee, a US Campaign coalition member organization. The position of the AFSC is clear and in line with the Quaker testimonies of peace, community, equality, and, most importantly in this case, integrity.
Since their beginnings, Quaker social activists have striven to hold tight to principles (and the ultimate guide of the Spirit) over and above what is socially acceptable. That is why so many, beginning with George Fox, prefer discomfort, imprisonment and even death over political expediency.
The events in the United States over the last year have reminded us how important it is to understand the structural nature of violence and racism as well as recognizing the structural foundations of Zionist racism and their colonial manifestations in Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora. We cannot be concerned only with Palestinian rights within Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories if those conditions are made possible by the deep-seated and structural nature of racism, including anti-Semitism, in the US itself.
The Black Lives Matter movement has shined the light on how mass incarceration, the militarization of police, and the intrusiveness of the national security apparatus are global phenomena in which the American and Israeli states are intimately tied. Thus, intersectional resistance among People of Color and their white allies are rightly at the forefront of Palestinian-led progressive organizations like the US Campaign.
Ten years ago Palestinian civil society organizations launched the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Three years ago Palestinians committed to anti-racist principles had to dissociate themselves from “fellow travelers” who truck with racism. Once again, a Palestinian-led organization has the courage to assert the primacy of these principles. Earlier this fall, the US Campaign’s annual convention was devoted to anti-racism and intersectional activism under the banner “Advancing a Mass Movement for Palestine”.
It behooves those of us engaged in the struggle for justice in Palestinians—especially predominantly white American Quaker communities—to check our privilege, stay true to our principles, and not attempt to second-guess principled stands taken by Palestinians.