Israel’s Jan. 7 blacklist of BDS agents includes the 100-year-old American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Of all groups included in the ban, the AFSC peacemakers received the lion’s share of sympathetic media coverage. Is Israel stifling courageous Christian rebuke, or exposing world-class hypocrisy?
Also known as Quakers, the Society of Friends is a Christian sect founded in 17th-century England that is known for its members’ refusal to serve in the military or carry weapons. However, Quakers don’t use their pacifism as an excuse to stay home. They serve in conflict areas as humanitarian workers dedicated to peacemaking, justice and aid for the oppressed.
The AFSC in particular is recognized for its decades of efforts to eliminate slavery, prison abuses and anti-Semitism. Media reports mentioned the “irony” of the Jewish state ejecting a group awarded a Nobel Prize in 1947 for their aid to Jewish Holocaust refugees.
For others, the irony runs in the opposite direction. Israelis claim that the AFSC tunes out Palestinian Authority government-sponsored incitement of its citizens to violence against Jews in Israel and worldwide, along with daily indoctrination of future generations. In full view of genocidal anti-Semitism that rivals the Nazi era, the organization gives the perpetrators a lifetime free pass.
One day after Israel published the BDS blacklist, the AFSC responded with dignified outrage and Christian fortitude. They accused Israel of suppressing human freedoms and claimed the moral high ground: “We will continue our legacy of speaking truth to power and standing for peace and justice without exception.”
This brief overview tests the Friends’ declaration of righteousness by reviewing their track record.
We start with the AFSC’s ethical justification for supporting boycotts against Israel: “Palestinians under Israeli control enjoy few or none of those rights or privileges” that are granted to the “Israeli Jews.” Setting aside the subtle repackaging of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinians,” this racially loaded statement is easily and frequently refuted with lists of Arab leaders in many fields of Israeli society. Nevertheless, forcing Israel to grant these rights to “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel” is a declared goal of the Quaker BDS campaign.
Glaringly absent is a call for equivalent rights and privileges for all Jews living under Palestinian control. Then again, it wouldn’t do to draw attention to the complete absence of Jews in the PA.
The proclamation of “justice without exception” notwithstanding, the AFSC message to Israel is indeed exceptional. During 100 years of service in conflict zones, the group has called for whole-country boycotts in only two cases: South Africa and Israel. The organization defends the equivalence by describing BDS against Israel as nonviolent pressure to end Israeli “apartheid.”
It doesn’t matter that Israel has been exonerated by African victims of real apartheid, or that the PA preaches and practices anti-Jewish apartheid throughout its territory. Neither do Quaker injustice sensors detect the scandalous segregation of thousands kept in “Palestinian refugee camps” on Palestinian land by the Palestinian Authority. The triple irony is heightened by the AFSC’s “components of a just peace,” which proclaim that “what holds true for one side in a conflict should hold true for the other as well.”
As advocates for children caught in the crossfire, the AFSC is micro-focused on IDF treatment of young Palestinians involved in violence. Their website section entitled “No Way to Treat a Child” declares that Israel arrests or detains “more than 700 Palestinian children” every year. An email query to the AFSC to clarify their age range was answered by another group called Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), which provided links to their own website. There we learn that most of the “child detainees in Israel” are 18… the same age as first-year Israeli soldiers. A few are reportedly aged 15–17 — much older than these tots who are encouraged to “stab a Jew.”
The DCIP markets itself as “an independent, local Palestinian child rights organization based in Ramallah dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” So I wrote back, sending links to documented abuses of Palestinian children by older Palestinian combatants. I asked about DCIP’s activism for the rights of those children. The organization has yet to respond.
Because the Society of Friends traditionally rejects military service on moral grounds, the AFSC actively supports Israelis expressing pacifist convictions. But here too, “speaking the truth to power” fails the truth test. A 2013 article condemning Israel’s treatment of pacifists revolved around a double accusation: (1) “conscientious objection in Israel is an offense [punished by law];” and (2) “international human rights law (including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel has ratified) protects the right to reject military service on grounds of conscientious objection.”
Fact Check: The International Covenant actually excludes compulsory military service from the category of human rights violations. The relevant clause, Article 8.3(c), implies that allowing the option of conscientious objection is subject to the discretion of each country. The OHCHR’s 90-page dissertation on this issue confirms (p. 7) that “the right to conscientious objection to military service is not a right per se since international instruments of the United Nations do not make direct reference to such a right.”
To support their fake news that Israel’s military draft violates “international human rights law,” the AFSC highlighted the story of Natan Blanc, a “conscientious objector” whose refusal had earned him a shocking “10 jail sentences.” His actual jail time: less than six months.
More serious was Blanc’s testimony that he was denied the nonmilitary option of National Service. This route, called Sherut Leumi in Hebrew, is available for religious women, ultra-orthodox men, permanent residents, Israeli-Arab citizens and others who for personal reasons don’t want military duty; they can instead fulfill their patriotic obligation with one to two years of community service.
Other leftwing draft-refusers have told Israeli media that National Service was closed to them, but in those interviews we find out why. The IDF rightly defines pacifism as an objection to military service in principle. Those receiving jail sentences are willing to serve in the IDF but refuse to serve in Judea and Samaria. Although the distinction and its consequences have been upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court, Israel’s liberal community tends to equate pacifism with leftwing politics. When a genuine pacifist is exempted from IDF service, opponents of “the occupation” often declare victory regardless of his/her political leanings.
It can be argued that Israeli liberals who are troubled by the thought of serving in the disputed territories should be able to opt for National Service. In Blanc’s case the IDF thought likewise: shortly after his story was publicized, he did receive that opportunity. Instead of reporting the peaceful resolution of that impasse, the AFSC insinuated that the IDF was defeated by Blanc, a soldier in the Quaker-sponsored battle “to transform the system.”
This defamation against the IDF is extended to all Israel by the AFSC’s claims that the Jewish state raises its children on “militarism.” Their short Hebrew film, “From Holocaust to Revival,” hints that Israeli education misuses the Holocaust to indoctrinate youth with military ambitions and paranoia about potential enemies. Among other insults, that one-dimensional portrayal of Israeli society denies our generosity to proven enemies like Hamas terrorists, and censors the phenomenon of Palestinians in distress seeking help at IDF checkpoints. But the caricature is necessary to justify the one-dimensional goal of AFSC activity in Israel: to “promote the demilitarization of Israeli society.”
And what of Palestinian militarism, which dresses kindergarten kids as soldiers and teaches them to sing to their Jewish neighbors: “You come to this land alive, but you will leave it as body parts…”? No AFSC rebukes are published in any language, let alone in Arabic.
When such words are backed by action, the organization soft-pedals it as “resistance.” Their background piece, “Popular Resistance in Palestine,” adds watercolor visions of peaceful Quaker-brand demonstrations:
While the story of armed Palestinian resistance is known, the equally important history of nonviolent resistance is largely unacknowledged. The most well-known early example of popular protest is the 1936 six month long general strike by Palestinians in protest over British colonial policies and the exclusion of local peoples from the governing process.
That passage is exposed as a fabrication by none other than the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL). Although its Palestinian sympathies are beyond dispute, UNISPAL documentation describes the 1936 general strike as repeatedly violent. Moreover, it was not sparked by “exclusion… from the governing process,” but by the anticipated arrival of Jews (emphasis added):
Despite strong Palestinian resistance to Jewish immigration, the British Government issued permits for several thousand new immigrants, offering further provocation to Palestinian nationalists.
An unprecedented feature of this nationalist movement was the open identification with it by senior Arab officials of the Palestine administration who protested to the High Commissioner that Palestinians had been forced to violence because of loss of faith in British pledges [to bar Jews from Palestine] ….
As the strike prolonged, violence increased…. The end of the strike was to prove a lull in the rebellion. The issue of the Royal Commission’s report [on the causes] brought an almost immediate renewal of violence.
Today’s “popular Palestinian resistance” still claims all territory “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” and demands that it be handed to them Jew-free. Quaker supporters of the two-state solution see no problem with that. The only “armed resistance” the AFSC condemns is the Israeli kind.
The Friends call on all fellow-Christians to pressure Israel into repentance by joining the BDS movement. One recommended ally is Kairos Palestine, a like-minded organization also involved in the spiritual BDS sponsored by Christ at the Checkpoint. Another is PACBI, whose founder urged the world to boycott all Israeli universities while studying at one of them.
That BDS primarily harms Palestinians is seen from the movement’s few tangible “victories,” which cost hundreds of Palestinians their livelihood. Global financial experts have pointed out how BDS damages the Palestinian economy and actually sabotages the coexistence that could bring peace. Even the PA has (grudgingly) acknowledged the benefits of Palestinians and Israelis working together in the companies targeted by BDS. The Quakers are deaf to all voices but their own.
How did the AFSC so completely lose its ethical moorings? According to researchers Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe, the “long slide” began in the 1950s when the organization abandoned political neutrality to defend leftist regimes, and even repressive dictators, as victims of America’s militarism. That hostile bias eventually included Israel: the AFSC excused Yasser Arafat’s terrorism, supported Saddam Hussein’s 1991 war, and befriended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who dreams of “a world without Israel”. Romirowsky and Joffe also noted that the newest AFSC General Secretary, Ramallah-born Joyce Ajlouny, intends to target the many Jewish pupils in American Quaker schools with anti-Israel propaganda.
The evidence demonstrates that AFSC’s place on Israel’s list of banned visitors is appropriate and even overdue. No country should issue humanitarian visas to this organization, whose human rights hypocrisy has such far-reaching consequences. To paraphrase scripture, those who sow disinformation will reap dis-invitation. That goes double for those who attach God’s name to lies.