The Quakers and the Jews: Pressing the Restart Button
Last night we had a wonderful three hour dialog about Quaker perceptions of Israel and Jews at the William Penn House, a Quaker center just a few blocks from the US Capitol in Washington. There was some deep listening on both sides. (Specific comments were off the record.)
My role was *not* to defend policy of the government of Israel. The conversation was about how to frame future conversations between Quakers and Jews about Israel. The right and necessity of criticism of government policy (*any* government and non state actor) is accepted, assumed and asserted.
Question: are Quakers conflating radical politics with pacifism? Does binary thinking - "taking sides" - ever hinder, rather than advance, the Quaker values of justice and peace? Rather than being partisan, can Quakers better serve the cause of justice and peace by being "honest broker"? Has Quaker credibility among Jews been harmed by being perceived as a hostile and judgmental? Can this be fixed?
Have Quaker groups violated the three "d's" regarding Israel (1. Demonization, 2. Double standards, and 3. Delegitimization), by which legitimate and necessary criticism of Israel had crossed into caricature and prejudice? Why do Quakers, to give an example, support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel but oppose similar sanctions against Iran? Is Iranian suppression of Baha'is, public hanging of gay people, discrimination against women, Holocaust denial, threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map (to give a few examples) consistent with Quaker values?
What do we mean by "the occupation?" Does that mean the West Bank or also Tel Aviv? Quaker groups delegitimizing Israel have assumed the latter and have, de facto, embraced replacement theology. This is both anti Zionism and theological anti Judaism. Is allowing all groups national self determination except Jews not discriminatory? By denying the right of Israel to exist at all - regardless of borders - will shut down all dialog with the Jewish community.
Regarding Israel: is this the first time in human history that there has been a migration? Refugees? (What about the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Muslim countries, then?) Given the attention focused on Israel, one might think so. If Jewish Biblical claims to Israel are considered questionable, what claims do Quakers of European extraction have to North America?
There are fewer Jews in the entire world than there are Muslims in Karachi, Pakistan. Quakers may not understand that for Jews, it is considered axiomatic that Israel is the last, best and only hope for Jewish survival. There are dozens of Muslim and Arab countries and hundreds of historically Christian ones - Israel is the word's only Jewish state and the only one in 2000 years. Many things are negotiable - but not survival.
Have Quakers developed anti Western prejudices? Has healthy self criticism ever crossed into something unhealthy? What can we celebrate in Western culture? (Is not Quakerism itself a Western concept?) To what extent has anti Western antipathy informed Quaker hostility to Israel? Is Israel, a non Christian nation in Asia, most of whose population is not of European origin, accurately perceived as "Western"?
To what extent do national Quaker organizations such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) - both of which are very hostile to Israel - truly reflect or represent the opinions of the Quaker pew?
By aligning exclusively with Jewish outliers regarding Israel (some of the Friends' best friends are Jews), are Quakers inhibiting dialog with the Jewish establishment-the only Jews who really matter in real-world power and politics? Can Quakers understand why using Jewish outliers against the Jewish mainstream is disrespectful? Shouldn't we work toward the Quaker mainstream interacting with the Jewish mainstream?