September 2, 2022
Words Matter: Churches Name Israeli Apartheid
Early this summer we reported on an article by Rev. Jeff Wright published by the Chicago Divinity School entitled "Is Israel practicing Apartheid? U.S. Churches Join the Conversation." Jeff's piece covered recent actions by U.S. denominations that "mark a significant departure from American churches’ longstanding hesitations about criticizing the State of Israel." Without qualification, he wrote, "they all characterize the Israeli government’s laws, policies, and practices as apartheid."

The momentum continued over the summer. In June, Global Kairos for Justice and Kairos Palestine brought out "A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid," and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in its General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution titled "On Recognition That Israel’s Laws, Policies, and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against the Palestinian People." A month before, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church by a wide margin had passed a resolution, “Identifying and Opposing Apartheid in the Holy Land.” The Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference then passed a similar resolution. A year before, in June 2021 the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution naming "Israel’s apartheid system of laws and legal procedures." 

Read Mark Braverman's essay charting these developments and describing what he calls the "unstoppable momentum of church opposition to Israel’s program of discrimination, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing." Together with the BDS call," he writes, "the Kairos call from Palestinian churches has awakened the global church to the urgency of the Palestinian plight and to the theological imperative to act."
Dossier on Israeli Apartheid:
A New Resource for Justice
On July 1, a new resource in the struggle for liberation and justice for Palestinians was launched. The introduction reads: "We, members of Kairos Palestine and Global Kairos for Justice, have created a theological study for Christians and other civil society organizations who want to learn more about the crime of apartheid and why Palestinians and a growing number of churches and human rights organizations are using the word to describe Israel’s oppression of Palestinians." 

  • How Israel’s laws, policies and practices meet the internationally agreed-upon definition of apartheid; 
  • A Biblical and theological perspective on the sin of apartheid; 
  • A comprehensive compendium of statements and declarations by human rights organizations as well as scholarly and educational resources; 
  • A stirring call to the churches of the world to respond to the call of the Palestinian people; 
  • Actions to take now as congregations, denominations and citizens.
"Words matter" declares the Dossier, calling Christians to remember their obligation to address injustice: "Churches are called to use the word apartheid. The word apartheid points—in both its definition in international law and its description of realities on the ground—to a truth. As churches recognize but hesitate to use the word, we fail to name a fundamental motivation for our taking up the ministry of Jesus “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:16ff).”

Recognizing Israeli apartheid carries implications for the broader struggle for equality and dignity, values at risk across the world today. It is not only the oppression of the Palestinians that is at issue, write the authors of the Dossier: "To denounce apartheid affirms Palestinian experience and motivates the international community to explore, embrace and strengthen the framework of international law in a time when it is being eroded though systems of racism, authoritarianism, and other oppressions based on economic, patriarchal, political, and military power—including antisemitism." 

Presbyterians in the U.S. Adopt Apartheid Overture by a Wide Margin
"Why must Presbyterians Act?" The questions is posed and answered in the overture passed by a 2/3rd majority of delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in June. Entitled "On Recognition That Israel’s Laws, Policies, and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against the Palestinian People," the resolution directly addresses the root of the problem that has stood in the way of prophetic church action on Palestine:

"For too long, too many Americans and Presbyterians have seen the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians through the frame of two peoples who can’t get along. This frame is not accurate, and thus not helpful. The core of the conflict is not enmity between two peoples but an unjust structure of power that privileges one group of people over another, a structure that is reflected legally at all levels of society."

The solution lies with calling things by their name:

"Following our Palestinian Christian siblings, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, many Israeli Jewish leaders, and the majority of the Israeli Jewish populace, we must name this unjust structure by its most accurate name—apartheid."

The overture draws the analogy to the most well-known example of apartheid in modern history, reminding the church of the stand it took in that struggle:

"Christians spoke out in the 1950s against segregation in the United States and later against apartheid in South Africa. They must again raise their voices and condemn Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians and give a name to the crime against humanity that this discrimination represents, the crime of apartheid."

The overture in its entirety is a tour de force of facts, analysis and compelling argument. It stands alongside of the "Dossier on Israeli Apartheid" as a game-changing resource for the churches and for society as a whole, called to act to liberate Jews and Palestinians alike from the evil afflicting their societies.
New England Conference of United Methodist Church Passes Apartheid Resolution
On June 11, 2022 in Manchester, New Hampshire, the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church overwhelmingly passed a resolution entitled “Identifying and Opposing Apartheid in the Holy Land.” The vote was 88% “yes” and 12% “no” with 354 people voting.
"The New England Annual Conference…recognizes that the Israeli government has established a system of apartheid, affirms that apartheid is antithetical to the Gospel message, and opposes this injustice and oppression in whatever form it presents itself.”

The resolution "calls on the U.S. government to condition U.S. funding to Israel upon Israel’s willingness to dismantle its apartheid system and implement all the rights due to Palestinians under international law.”

A similar resolution will come before the General Conference of the UMC in 2024. This is the body that speaks for the entire denomination
Don Wagner's New Book: Glory to God in the Lowest: Journeys to an Unholy Land
“Eye-opening, heart-moving ... This is the engrossing story of someone whose experience in the Middle East transformed him from ‘an apathetic, conservative evangelical Christian’ to an energetic and courageous advocate of justice for the Palestinians ....”
— Nicholas Wolterstorff, Emeritus Professor of Theology, Yale University

 “Wagner provides us with that essential contemporary prophetic voice that is much needed to bring peace with justice to our turbulent and changing world.”
— Mazin Qumsiyeh, Professor at Bethlehem University, author of Sharing the Land of Canaan and Popular Resistance in Palestine

“Don Wagner has given us a marvelous gift ... The chapter on Christian Zionism is alone worth the price of admission—a historical review and invaluable analysis that Wagner is uniquely equipped to provide.”
— Mark Braverman, Executive Director, Kairos USA

Read Noushin Framke's review in The Presbyterian Outlook, where you will find information on how to order the book.
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Palestine Portal is a program of Kairos USA. Support the work of promoting the voices of prophetic leadership by making a gift today. Donate online or by check to Kairos USA, 1815 NW 27th Ave., Portland OR 97210.