Commentary

Church’s stand on aid to Israel has sparked valuable debate

September 13, 2013 

As the Session of the Church of Reconciliation, we wish to respond to Mr. Ken Weiss’s commentary in a recent issue of the Chapel Hill News, wherein he accuses our church of hypocrisy because we have failed to exemplify what he regards as a proper attitude of “compromise” in the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He further argues that though we call ourselves the Church of Reconciliation, our position on U.S. military aid to Israel contradicts his notion of what reconciliation is and does.

The Church of Reconciliation is a community of Christian believers and spiritual seekers who have an abiding commitment to justice. We believe that to follow Jesus, however imperfectly, is to practice the kind of love of neighbor, and especially those of our neighbors who have been disempowered and marginalized, to which Jesus dedicated himself.

When our church was founded in the late 1960s, our aim was to try to encourage reconciliation across the racial divides in our community, state and nation. We did not pretend then to have all the answers to the long history of racial division in our community, state and nation. Nor do we pretend to have all the answers to the long history of conflict between the rights of Israelis and the rights of Palestinians equally and mutually to live in peace, security, and freedom.

Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. led marches, demonstrations, boycotts, and other forms of civil disobedience to address a massive power imbalance between whites and blacks in the South. His critics thought he should go slow and be more conciliatory. How could he and his followers bring about what they called “the beloved community” by exacerbating the racial polarization that many blamed the civil rights movement for creating? Where was the spirit of compromise and even-handedness in King’s tactics?

Reconciliation is as great a social and spiritual need today as it was a half-century ago. Compromise remains a worthy method of solving problems. But neither can be effected in a situation in which a massive power imbalance exists between two parties asked to reconcile or compromise. The one that has the power has little incentive to compromise or be reconciled. The one suffering from a power deficit has little leverage with which to induce the party that has the power to consider a different course. This state of affairs was true in the American South 50 years ago, and we believe a similar state of affairs exists today in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The call by the Church of Reconciliation to end military aid to Israel represents our asking whether the current inequality of power in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not perpetuated and exacerbated by U.S. military aid to Israel. Would a reconsideration of such military aid from the United States decrease the power imbalance and enhance the likelihood that genuine talks leading to compromise could occur?

Dr. King understood that asking the South or the nation to “imagine peace” between the races or to seek compromise between the empowered whites and the disempowered blacks of the South was unlikely to bring about change in the status quo. Although the South in the 1960s and Israel-Palestine in the 2010s are only partially analogous, we believe that neither compromise nor reconciliation is likely, then or now, unless people of faith on all sides of a complex issue look for ways to break the chains that bind us to status-quo thinking and business-as-usual policy.

Our efforts to question the status quo and to spark new discussion of the Israel-Palestine issue have provoked a great deal of healthy debate and some genuine dialogue in our community, such as the April 2013 interfaith seminar on U.S. military aid and human rights in the Middle East, sponsored by the Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East, attended by several hundred local citizens. These developments over the past year, we believe, represent steps in the right direction toward reconciliation, peace, and justice for people of good will in Israel and Palestine.

Submitted by Ann Carr Adkins, clerk of the session, on behalf of the 12-member Session of the Church of Reconciliation.

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