Liberal Jews & Christian BDS


Lost in immediate arguments back and forth, there is a short view and a long view of BDS in the Christian churches and its impact on liberal Jewish-Christian relations in respect to currently worsening political dynamics in Israel and Palestine.

In the short view, given the current governmental configuration in Israel today, there is no solid argument against the moderate forms of BDS coming out of the liberal Christian churches. They are aimed not at individuals or representatives of cultural institutions, like academics and artists, but at U.S. corporations. For the most part, their target is not the existence of the State of Israel as a democratic polity with a Jewish majority. Instead they are meant to oppose the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the settlement project, which is inevitably turning the State of Israel into a binational state with a disenfranchised Palestinian Arab majority. Unlike places like Syria or Iraq where the human rights abuse is truly catastrophic in scale, Christians in fact have and maintain a genuine stake in what for them is the Holy Land.

The long view is more complicated. For all its stated intentions, Christian BDS remains a negative act, an act of negation, which no matter how tempered is going to cast a certain pall over Jewish and Christian relations. As a negative action, it is a rather easy one to make once the very hard decision to make it has been made. Much harder still would be the stubborn work of love to which Christian faith professes to commit itself. What one would rather hope to see come out of the churches is the work to bring together and to reconcile Jews and Muslims, Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians. Christian BDS does nothing to that end. It does nothing to support and extend the values of mutual recognition upon which the work of justice actually depends.

With all due respect to friends and colleagues who support JVP and the “growing number of Jews supporting BDS,” the vast majority of liberal Jews still recognize in a democratic, Jewish-majority Israel a vital and ongoing Jewish interest. Given its history, the churches that represent Christian faith should be cautious about expressions that feed off and contribute to anti-Jewish animus and enmity between Jews and Christians, intentionally or unintentionally. Much more likely than not, mainstream Jewish-Christian relations will survive this targeted form of BDS. But for what I still presume to be the vast majority of Jews, it’s going to be a conversation stopper. Instead of creating a basis for dialogue between Jews and Christians, church-based BDS will ensure that Israel and Palestine will be “the thing” they don’t talk about.

For their part, if liberal Jews are committed to the long view, they have to themselves speak to the crippling status quo and to the dangerous polarization in Israel today. Liberal Jews need to come out more forcefully in favor of a democratic and secure Israel and in favor of Palestinian rights, both within the parameters of a two state solution that recognizes the national rights of two peoples. In the form of a negative or critical act, this means standing against the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the settlement project. In the form of a positive act, it means working to reconcile Muslim-Jewish relations. Such attempts to normalize mainstream Jewish-Muslim relations will mean absolutely nothing to the people and groups actively promoting BDS inside and outside the liberal churches. But it might speak in a genuine way the real concerns that motivate the still vast majority of Christians who look to address the conflict in Israel and Palestine in good faith.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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