JOURNEYS TO ENGAGEMENT: a panel discussion organized by the NEYM Israel-Palestine Working Group, “Living into NEYM’s Israel/Palestine Minute: Understanding the Interplay of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Racism.” Our interactive panel—Steve Chase (author of Pendle Hill Pamphlet #445 BDS? A Quaker Zionist Rethinks Palestinian Rights); Salaam Odeh (mother raised in Jordan, with family in Nablus, Occupied Palestinian West Bank), and her daughter, Samah Deek; and Steve and Barbara Low (active members of Jewish Voice for Peace, much traveled to Palestine Israel, founder and directors of the GRALTA Foundation)—will examine how anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and privilege affect our understanding of Israel/Palestine today. By sharing their insights & experiences the panel will 1) address ways to overcome feeling the fear, which exists among Quakers, about having this conversation; and 2) suggest how Friends can imagine living more boldly into last summer’s NEYM minute on Israel and Palestine.
Our IsraelPalestine Working Group of New England Yearly Meeting has been meeting since 2015. Each year during NEYM we have organized and facilitated programs including slideshows and movies about the region, workshops, speakers, a Gaza pinwheel display from American Friends Service Committee, photographic displays, and informal lunch sessions. Most recently we have concentrated on helping write and distribute minutes from monthly and quarterly meetings. We are a small, self-appointed interest group from different sections of New England. Most of us have visited Palestine and Israel numerous times and have been active on related issues for more than one decade. Our website is neymip.org. You will find quite a bit of background information and links on the site.
Other religious denominations have devoted substantial time and resources to deepening their understanding of Israel/Palestine, the role of the United States in that dynamic, and in discerning what, if anything, they feel called to contribute to the situation. Many have asked why Quakers are not engaged in these discussions, as our voice as a traditional “peace church” is often looked to for guidance.
At Sessions last August we passed a minute that ended a long period of paralysis and began to engage us in these issues. We have begun to talk. We are facing our fears. And the minute did something more though it barely mentions Israel/Palestine, it does spotlight the problem of US arms trade and foreign policy in the region as something perhaps we can focus on. Also, it commits us to growing in understanding of antiSemitism and Islamophobia. This actually gives us quite a bit of space to work in.
We engage in this work with a few assumptions that we want to put on the table. Perhaps the most important is that there is no one Jewish voice or narrative. And there is no one Palestinian voice or narrative. People enter this story from a variety of experiences and histories. A younger generation of Israelis, American Jews and Palestinians and Palestinian diaspora has a different lived experience and they are beginning to shape the dialogue in new ways. We want for people at NEYM to listen deeply to this variety of voices and experiences.
The other assumption we should name is that we draw from our own experiences challenging our own government we hold that governments are something different from a people. Many of us are fierce critics of US government policies and practices, but many of us also will say that we do so out of love. And that criticizing our government does not necessarily mean criticizing all people who call themselves US citizens. Israel makes criticizing the government more complex by insisting that it is a Jewish state, but we believe that as with any government, its policies are something that can be discussed without impugning all Jews or such criticism being antiSemitic.
We come to this day asking you to engage in deep listening not political debate. We have five panelists: Steve Chase, who will talk about his journey to overcome the perspectives he had been taught as he listened to new voices and educated himself more; Steve and Barbara Low, both members of Jewish Voice for Peace who likewise have had an evolution in their thinking; and Salaam Odeh and her daughter, Palestinian American activists.
QUESTIONS FOR THE PANELISTS
(from the organizers)
- What has been your journey in coming to understand Israel/Palestine—both the dream and the reality?
- What has been your journey in coming to understand the intersections of antiSemitism, Islamophobia, and racism?
- How do you differentiate between antiSemitism and antiZionism?
- What have you had to do to find your voice within your core community?
- What do people who are most directly impacted by these issues want or need from us as allies?
As we enter this discussion, we ask you to think about the words of a British peace activist as she engaged with the Irish man who murdered her father:
In that moment of empathy, there is nothing to forgive, just understanding. We are all born into sides, into different narratives, into communities with their own stories but when we hear each other’s stories then we are connected through our shared humanity.
Let us listen deeply, with empathy for the hearts holding other stories, other sides, that we may grow in understanding and wisdom, and find our own voices, individually and collectively, for a just peace.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
(overflowing, some one-third of all those attending the retreat, a good sign of interest; we passed out cards and didn’t have time to answer more than a few questions; we anticipate answering and encourage readers of this post to send in their own answers, using the reply panel at the bottom of this page.)
- How do we initiate conversations with our Jewish Friends? Some have family in Israel; others are Holocaust survivors
- Talk about the future – what will this Middle East area look like in ten years? Paint the future, please!
- What use is NEYM making of AFSC’s programs and initiatives with regard to Israel-Palestine?
- What is the benefit of looking at how racism affects both Jewish people and Palestinians in Israel? Especially with regard to Ethiopian Jews and other Jews of color? (police brutality, sterilization, socioeconomic marginalization) Does invoking this intersectionality help complicate the suggestion that criticizing the Netanyahu administration/neoliberalism/settler colonialism in Israel is inherently antisemitic?
- The word “Holocaust” I was cautioned should not be used after I came home from AFSC-sponsored study tour to Guatemala/Central America in 1985. I was struck that I had spent days walking in an occupied land in front of Uzi guns and Reagan was visiting the Bitburg Cemetery – so many connections. I was surprised and appalled when I saw photos of the “settlements” – in my mind, I was imagining a refugee camp w/ tents vs high-rise apartments – these visuals I think would help raise the questions we need to be asking to gain understanding.
- (NB – Bitburg was a cemetery for German military war dead; he had visited Bergen-Belsen earlier “in an effort to honor all victims of World War II, including German soldiers.” (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/reagan-visits-concentration-camp-and-war-cemetery)
- Tell us more about “Jews for Peace” (presumably JVP – Jewish Voice for Peace? unless this person meant Americans for Peace Now? – but I suspect it is JVP)
- What are the most reliable news sources on Israel-Palestine? al Jazeera? Other?
- Where is the prophetic voice today? What Jewish prophets are talking to Palestinians? What Palestinian prophets are talking (kvetching) with Jews?
- How much do the victim stories of the Jews who survived Nazism (and who now live in Israel) impact Israel’s policies?
- Talk about the perspective that Israelis have that they “won” the land from Palestinian land during the Intifada (sic) – (NOTE – some historical confusion in this question; can’t tell if they mean 1948 or 1967; but neither way do the Intifadas seem to apply to the question)
- Why do you say a two-state solution is not possible? Is it more possible to have a one state solution that provides for equity and equal justice and equal opportunity
- What do you think will happen with the confrontations at the Gaza border?
- I’d like to know the experience of typical middle-aged Palestinian Arabs. Have their families lost their homes, their lands? How do they feel about occupation by Israelis and about checkpoints?
RELATED AFTERNOON PANEL ORGANIZED BY OTHERS
“Quakers and Antisemitism”
Presenters: Jonathan Vogel-Borne and Allan Korhman
Part of NEYM’s 2017 minute on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (#2017-46), we “call upon all individuals and communities to examine how anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and privilege affect our understanding of the conflict.” In this interactive workshop we will explore our stories and perhaps find more understanding about where and how we participate in the personal and systemic evil of antisemitism. We will look at how antisemitism has operated in our Quaker heritage and especially how it affects us today as we struggle to address our nation’s complicity in the continued suffering. Jonathan Vogel-Borne and Allan Kohrman have been engaged in conversation on the topic of Israel-Palestine, Quakers and Jews, for almost 30 years. While not fully agreeing with all of Allan’s position—but because he felt Allan’s voice needed to be heard—Jonathan helped to edited Allan’s pamphlet, “Quakers and Jews” (2004).
BACKGROUND ON LIVING FAITH
WHAT: Living into New England Yearly Meeting’s Israel/Palestine Minute/statement: Understanding Interplay of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Racism (as part of an all day gathering, Living Faith
WHEN: April 14, Saturday; the panel is from 10:45 to 11:45 with the option of informal conversations during lunch, and attendance at a related afternoon workshop.
WHERE: Portland Maine, Cheverus High School, 267 Ocean Ave, 04103
“LIVING FAITH”—WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Living Faith is a day-long gathering of Friends from throughout New England. The event is a chance for Friends to worship together, get to know each other, share the different ways we experience and live our faith, and build community.