Last month, representatives from RBC participated in and helped to lead the Alliance of Baptists' Waging Peace: Doing Justice Through Boycott, Divestment and Sanction conference, which explored nonviolent means of resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine (I told you we were coming back to it). G.J. Tarazi helped to plan the conference and has long been a powerful and informed voice in this movement. This is a brief report on the conference that he originally wrote for the Alliance blog.
Making Lemonade, by G.J. Tarazi
First, I want to thank The Alliance and the good folks at Wake Forest Baptist Church for sponsoring and agreeing to host Waging Peace: Doing Justice Through Boycott, Divestment and Sanction. Their steadfast support before, during, and after this event was invaluable.
The 22 members of the planning committee worked for many months on this gathering. These passionate and committed people accomplished their mission — and more! The gathering fit with our Baptist tradition of Soul Freedom: Learning > Discerning > Acting. We Baptists are independent. We want to collect information, have our questions answered, and decide for ourselves what we should do. We wanted to consider using BDS as a way to wage peace in the Holy Land.
Another goal was Creating a Powerful Weave. Doing justice work is often challenging and lonely. We demonstrated that we are not alone in building God’s reign on earth. We wanted to remind ourselves that the God who loves justice is a part of our weave.
We know that the topic we selected is controversial, which made this gathering even more important. The light of justice was shed on Israeli’s illegal 48 years of military occupation of Palestinian territories and their siege and devastating assaults on Gaza. Presenting nonviolent responses to end the occupation was the purpose of our gathering. Nonviolent strategies of boycotting Israeli products, divesting from companies who profit and perpetuate the harsh occupation, and sanctions against Israel for their breaches of international laws and civil and human rights violations were considered. In addition, churches and organizations shared strategies they are using to wage peace.
BDS strategies are not new. The 1955 boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was critical in the eventual victory over our country’s Jim Crow laws through those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. The international boycott and sanctions of South Africa helped to dismantle their system of apartheid. In both cases, systemic racism was defeated using nonviolent strategies of BDS.
Just like these historical movements, the nonviolent BDS strategies to end racism, apartheid, and occupation in the Holy Land have powerful opponents. The desire to “protect” Israel leads them to attack anyone and anything they perceive as a threat. BDS has been identified as the current “existential threat” to Israel. The enemies of BDS ignore and justify the on-going human suffering and abuses Israel’s occupation is inflicting on Palestinians. These powerful forces include such groups as John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI) and the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC).
Our gathering on the campus of Wake Forest University became another causality of these opponents. They effectively deprived us of our free speech rights on campus. Advocates of these forces used pressure to influence the decision, which made it necessary for us to relocate. I believe our need to move had little to do with our friends at Wake Forest Baptist Church. It had everything to do with those who oppose BDS. And, we are not alone. Attacks on BDS are happening on many campuses. Even as we were relocating last week, the Rev. Graylan Hagler was disinvited by Cornell University’s Crozer School of Divinity for similar reasons.
We refused to have our free speech taken from us. We moved our gathering off campus and the results exceeded our expectations. God was with us and our powerful weave worked. We saw the results of our participation and collaboration with God. And, we made lemonade.