Using the “A” Word

I just returned from Minneapolis, where I attended our General Assembly; the gathering of our denomination to discern the direction of our church’s ministry and impact. I was there as a resource to the committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues, for an overture which called for the church to recognize that Israel’s laws, policies and practices constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people.

The committee clearly recognized Israel’s apartheid. The U.N. Apartheid Convention states that the term “crime of apartheid” applies to acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group over any other racial group and systematically oppressing them. Practices constituting apartheid include:

  • Denying basic human freedoms, including the freedom of movement, residence, opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly and freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.
  • Denying basic human rights, including the right to a nationality, to education, to leave and to return to one’s country, to work, and to form recognized trade unions.
  • The expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof.
  • Legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups.

There was no committee opposition, no media or rabbis or other Jewish voices that contested these facts on the ground. Jewish community representatives, in fact, supported it. The committee knew it was apartheid, understood it as apartheid, but in the end were afraid of saying the “A” word out loud to the world. Nevertheless, 1/3 of the committee had the courage to proclaim it and voted in favor.

The committee and denomination made it clear that we are true and historical friends and supporters of the state of Israel. We support them so well by trying to stop them from destroying themselves. Real friends don’t let friends self-destruct. If Israel continues down the path they are pursuing, it will not exist, no Palestinian state – no possibility for a two-state solution.

Words are important. Courage is essential. Apartheid is not measured by reference to South Africa, but by the 1973 United Nations Convention on the Crime of Apartheid and as defined by the 2002 International Criminal Court, which apply universally.

Many in the Jewish community too know this to be true, but pressure from within holds them back from voicing the reality of apartheid. Many now do speak knowing that if Israel continues this self-destructive policy, peace will never come.

Alon Liel, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, “injustice done to Palestinians by Israel is apartheid”

Jeremiah Haber, Jewish Israeli studies professor, “the suffering of 31/2 million Palestinians is worse than apartheid”

Dov Yermiya, 1948 war veteran, “a sophisticated Apartheid is about to destroy Israel.”

Shulamit Aloni, Israel’s former Education Minister, “Israel practices a brutal form of apartheid.”

Neve Gordon, Ben-Gurion University, “I call on all to suspend cooperation with Israel as the only way it can be saved from itself. Israel is an apartheid state.”

Roman Bronfman, Chair of the Democratic Choice faction in the Israeli Yahad party, criticized what he termed “an apartheid regime in the occupied territories,” adding, “The policy of apartheid has also infiltrated sovereign Israel, and discriminates daily against Israeli Arabs and other minorities.”

Professor John J. Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago. “Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. A Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term.”

Michael Ratner, President, The Center for Constitutional Rights, “the Holocaust museum’s powerful narrative was trying to make me (as a Jew) accept, or at least justify, what was unacceptable: Israel’s apartheid state. To truly honor the lessons of the Holocaust would be to end the apartheid system that is the Israel of today.“

Mark Braverman – former Zionist, American Jew. “the Jewish dream has been built on another people, a rogue state, worse than south African apartheid – outrageous and indefensible. Hold Israel accountable. As Christians when you are called anti-Semitic you need to say, ‘Our faith tells us that we need to do this.’“ It is an act of respect and love for the Jewish people to hold them to account.

Israel violates its own laws. Even detractors concede these facts – as matching the UN definition of “Apartheid”. We, as the church are the hope of Palestinian and Israeli alike. We must speak the “A” word. Only Christ brings real peace, yet calls us to be faithful, in deed and word.

Here are some questions & answers about the overture.

shalom, salaam, peace,

pastor John


3 thoughts on “Using the “A” Word

  1. So what is the end result. Should Israel divide into two states? Who runs the other one. Hamas, a group that has sworn to drive Israel into the sea, that is more committed to enriching itself or Fatah, that is flourishing in the west bank?

    Labels are very easy, solutions are not. In the case of south africa, there weren’t two territories. Jesus would have said Israel has a right to defend itself.

  2. Your singling out Israel reveals itself as anti-Semitic. Your blog sounds exceptionally vitriolic and one-dimensional.

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