Only one person voted against the Mennonite Church Canada Resolution on Palestine and Israel, but we all know the matter is more complex than that. Some Mennonites and others argue that the resolution is predictably polarizing and strategically bereft. In a spirit of diversity and understanding, I suspended my own bias and sought their views. (See “Action seeks solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”)
Rooted in antiquity, touching the foundations of three major religions, playing against the backdrop of history’s most notorious genocide, and fuelled by superpower, it is no wonder the Israel-Palestine conflict has made the Holy Land a burial ground for countless international peace efforts.
From one perspective, Palestine is a terrorism-laced entity dedicated to wiping Israel off the map. Indeed, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is founded on “jihad” against the “Zionist enemy.” Palestinian violence is real. In this narrative, Israel is one of the most oppressed minorities in history, fighting for its very existence in a hostile corner of the world. A common refrain is that Palestinian school children are taught to hate Jews.
On the other side, people point to UN condemnation of Israeli settlements. They point to the fact that Israel kills many Palestinians for every Israeli Jew killed. In this narrative, Palestinians are the underdog, pummelled and routinely humiliated by the far-more powerful, western-backed Israelis.
Of course, there is infinitely more to both perspectives.
While the MC Canada resolution leans toward the Palestinian view, Steve McDonald of the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) told me in a phone interview that Christians are in a good position to serve as bridge-builders since we are neither Jewish nor Muslim. Presumably that means we should primarily locate ourselves somewhere other than in one narrative.
I contacted three Mennonites who feel the resolution fails to do this. I will not use their names, based on the request of two.
Their main critiques are that the resolution does not adequately acknowledge the Israeli reality, does not grapple honestly with violence perpetrated by Palestinians, and is not a prudent strategy for peace. None of them made their case using biblical arguments in favour of Zionism.
They said, in part:
- The resolution represents “an expression of unreflective allegiance to a particular polarizing narrative sealed with the metaphorical spilling of some economic blood.”
- Boycotts are like “chasing the wind.”
- What exactly is the envisioned path to change?
- “North Americans are not going to solve this issue.”
- “We should help people on both sides.”
- While most Palestinians want to get on with life, their leaders are invested in ongoing strife.
- “The triumph of Pauline Christianity was an unmitigated disaster for Judaism . . . [and for indigenous peoples].”
- “Progressive Mennonites seem confused by my unapologetic support of Zionism [the right to a Jewish state]. They seem to slot Mennos who are pro-Israel into two derogatory camps: You must be a right-wing fanatic or you must be a Messianic Christian. I am neither. . . . If I lived in Israel, I would be voting Labour and supporting left-wing policies.”
In what would be for some a comparable blurring of categories, CIJA—the group that condemned the MC Canada resolution as an act that “speaks to the moral blindness and increasing marginalization of a denomination in decline”—is an unrestrained advocate of LGBTQ rights.
McDonald told me that boycotts of Israel, which have a history—and connotation—going back to the Nazis, simply do not work. Merchandise exports to the European Union nearly doubled since 2005 when the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign first coalesced in Europe.
“The only pressure Israel can’t resist,” he said, “is an embrace,” noting that in the 1970s, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Israel and recognized Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s right-wing government responded by pulling its military and all settlers out of the Sinai Peninsula.
He said Mennonites should not see the situation as “a zero sum game.” Israeli and Palestinian aspirations are interconnected. And he says Christians can help bring sides together.
He said that CIJA supports a solution that would include “statehood and prosperity” for Palestinians, adding that polls have consistently shown a majority of Israelis support peace, a two-state solution and even territorial concessions within the context of a peace agreement that ensures their safety and security. He noted that Israel has put forward three such proposals.
But Israel cannot act alone, he said. After Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the vacuum was filled by the openly jihadist Hamas group.
One of the Mennonites I spoke with suggested we should “be trying to muddy the waters a little.” Although not an expert in the region, he suggested we support Palestinians who push their leaders toward nonviolence and work with any Israelis opposing military conscription in Israel. He said that “neither of these suggestions represents a fix,” but they “[raise] the possibility that love of enemy might supersede considerations of both justice and self-defence.
For more of Will Braun’s interview with Steve McDonald, visit canadianmennonite.org/mcdonald-interview.
For more on this subject see:
Broadening our prayers
The view through a prison keyhole
What would you risk for peace?
Don’t interrupt me
Three stories of throwing
Palestinian children face harsh realities
Working group tackles tasks of advocacy on Palestine and Israel