For many, faith was both a source of solidarity and a cause for action at this weekend’s national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference — whether they attended the event or not.
On Saturday, the panel discussion “A Faith-Based Approach to BDS” brought together leaders from national Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups to examine the ways that “interfaith coalitions can be used to promote the [BDS] movement,” according to discussion moderator Susan Landau, who works with Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace.
During the panel’s question-and-answer session, many audience members asked how they could get more involved in the BDS movement through their churches, synagogues and mosques.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb from Jewish Voice for Peace — a grassroots movement that works to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians — said young Jewish people, who might feel “alienated” by their synagogues’ compliance with Israeli actions, “come back into Judaism through their Palestinian human rights work. They find community there.”
Gottlieb, who spoke at the panel, added, “There is a generational shift in the Jewish community. People see what’s going on in the Middle East, and they are not so easily fooled about Israel’s human rights abuses.”
Panelist Natalia Cuadra-Saez from the United Methodist Kairos Response — a pro-Palestine group — also believes that through her work with BDS, “church is relevant again.”
“It’s not just about hollow words and hypocrisy,” she said. “When we see our churches taking action for something, we come back to them.”
Faith has also informed the political views of pro-Israeli individuals at Penn and in the greater community.
“I hope my faith inspires my politics, and that my politics are consistent with my faith,” said Bill Borror, senior pastor of Media Presbyterian Church in Media, Pa.
However, Borror, who was one of 14 signers of a recent statement denouncing the BDS movement’s rhetoric, believes that American Christians should think strategically about what will bring a just peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“To think pragmatically is an extremely Christian idea,” he said.
College sophomore and Hillel’s Israel Sector Intern Josh Cooper said that personally, his faith contributes only partly to his support for Israel.
While he believes the question surrounding BDS is largely geopolitical, his relationship to Israel “is not just political and academic, but also rooted in my Jewish faith,” he said.
“Israel is still a very religious factor in my life, but not to say it biases me in my position towards BDS. Social justice is also a major religious factor in my life.”
Saturday’s panel also featured Rev. Graylan Hagler, national president of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice and Cyrus McGoldrick from the Council on Islamic-American Relations.
Panel members explained what each of their affiliated religious groups have done — and can still do — to advance the BDS movement and refute pro-Israel arguments.
Hagler censured pro-Israel Christians for their unilateral support of Israel, urging them to “unhitch [their] theology from Christian Zionism.”
“From a traditional Christian perspective, the response is always if you harm Israel, you will be harmed,” he said. “But there is a difference between the Israel of the Testaments and the Israel of today.”
This sentiment was echoed in Gottlieb’s qualification of Israelis’ right to land in the Middle East, the belief in which she said has culminated in a “terrible sin committed towards Palestinians.”
She added, “The concept of [Jewish] ‘chosen-ness’ is dependent on ethics, but we have really lost our right to claim that land because of our chosen-ness.”
While some of the speakers drew on scriptural and ethical arguments, other speakers used the floor to encourage specific actions that would directly support the BDS movement.
Cuadra-Saez cited a mandate in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which discourages investment in companies “that directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights.”
The UMKR, she said, has drafted a resolution advising United Methodist Church leaders to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard for their “involvement in the Israeli occupation,” according to the resolution.
“[Founder of the Methodist Church] John Wesley said, ‘Do no harm,’” Cuadra-Saez said. “Well, we do do harm when we profit from those who profit from occupation.”
McGoldrick captured the common theme of the discussion — escaping the “common culpability” of less active supporters and “turning principle into action.”
“In Islam, if you believe in something you must act on it,” he added. “This isn’t something just to discuss academically — it’s about life and death.”
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