Recently, the Kansas Commission of Education barred a math teacher from a program for training other teachers because she refused to sign a pledge certifying that she is “not engaged in boycotting Israel.” The teacher happens to be a Mennonite, and she supports a resolution passed by her church denomination opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The resolution urges the boycotting of “products associated with acts of violence or policies of military occupation, including items produced in [the Israeli] settlements.” The bizarre action against this teacher prompted a number of faith-based groups to publish a statement in the Kansas City Star condemning state laws that penalize the boycotting of Israeli products. There are 21 states that currently have such laws. Sponsors of the statement in the Kansas City Star included the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, and organizations like the United Methodist Kairos Response, the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.
The Kansas episode was soon followed by an even more absurd situation in the City of Dickinson, TX, where homeowners and businesses were required to sign a pledge “not to boycott Israel” as a condition of receiving hurricane relief funds. However, the absurdity of this requirement resulted in embarrassing media coverage across the U.S., and Dickinson removed the requirement for homeowners, but kept it for businesses.
It is virtually impossible to find other examples of governmental entities in one country requiring what amounts to a pledge of allegiance to another country, as a condition for doing business involving public funds.
So-called friends of Israel have lobbied for such state laws in response to the successes of the nonviolent Palestinian solidarity movement. In the U.S. faith community, there are seven church denominations that have passed resolutions for economic measures to protest Israel’s oppressive, 50-year rule of the Palestinians under military occupation. And there are numerous faith-based organizations across the U.S. that advocate the boycott of products made in the Israeli settlements—established in defiance of international law-- in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The fact is that faith groups supporting Palestinian rights have also consistently asserted that their message is one of peace and justice for Jewish Israelis as well as for Arab Palestinians. They cite the call of Kairos Palestine, issued by Palestinian Christian leaders in 2009:
We address ourselves … to the international community, and to our Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world…. We say that our option as Christians in the face of the Israeli occupation is to resist.… But it is resistance with love as its logic… [to] engage the humanity of the enemy.… Primary responsibility for [the resistance] rests with the Palestinians themselves.… Responsibility lies also with the international community, because international law regulates relations between peoples today. Finally, responsibility lies with the perpetrators of the injustice; they must liberate themselves from the evil that is in them and the injustice they have imposed on others.
Israel’s 50-year military occupation is not only a grave injustice against the Palestinians, but it is also a deeply corrupting factor in Israeli society. Israel has become addicted to its militarism. It is one of the largest exporters of weapons, frequently arming notorious human rights violators— as in past arming of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and current arming (and training) of the Burmese army in its ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority. The impact of its corrupting militarism is also visible in its relations with its most powerful ally, the U.S. It has consistently championed escalation of U.S. military involvement in destructive conflicts in the Middle East, and it has hosted police forces from across the U.S. for training in methods that have been associated with police brutality and racism.
The faith groups’ statement in the Kansas City Star emphatically rejects state laws— and now proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress— that penalize boycotts as a tool of peaceful support for Palestinian rights. It asserts that the attack on the right to boycott is an attack on Americans’ right to free speech. It raises the question of whether we are to submit to the corruption of our democracy by the champions of Israeli militarism, or support nonviolent means of promoting peace with justice for all the people of the Holy Land.