28 July 2022

Neutrality revisited

The Middle East Dialogue Quilt at Ramallah Friends Meeting, Palestine.

Dialogue Quilt Description:

In 2006, Jimmy Carter may have been the first prominent American politician to use the word apartheid in connection with Israel's relationship with Palestinians. He faced accusations of antisemitism and was criticized for supposedly abandoning the neutrality he displayed by hosting the Camp David negotiations in 1978.

Since then, this word, apartheid, has often been regarded as an incendiary charge intended to attack Israel. Is this fair? Mark Braverman of Kairos USA defends the term in its literal and legal meanings, and says that its importance goes beyond the particular case of Israel.

The argument extends beyond the case of Palestine. 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.

Braverman's article marks the publication of A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid, which seeks to reinforce the use of that word as technically and theologically appropriate to the Israeli/Palestinian case. The "dossier" then goes on to confront the various reasons that churches (and here I would include Friends) give for not actively opposing Israel's apartheid policies. It's an effective list; I've heard many of these excuses myself over the years.

Perhaps the most frequent excuses for not participating in Palestinians' search for justice can be grouped under the heading of "preserving neutrality." Here's what the dossier says about neutrality:

How will your church, council, conference, region or synod respond? The biblical answer is clear. The theological answer is clear. Neutrality is not a faithful response. Denying or ignoring the reality of Israel as an Apartheid State according to the definitions of international law and ethical discernment is not a faithful response. Complicity with a situation of systemic oppression in the name of interfaith solidarity is not a faithful response. Theological and or biblical justification of oppression and injustice is both sin and heresy.

One of the reasons that some Christians have been reluctant to abandon neutrality is the cost in relationships. The Kairos dossier frankly admits this risk:

“Burns bridges and stops dialogue with partners”

It’s true. By taking a clearly expressed stand against systemic injustice, bridges will be burned. Treasured ecumenical and interfaith relations may be broken, especially with those who benefit from the status quo. But to seek to be more “diplomatic,” to seek conciliatory approaches in a situation grounded in asymmetrical power imposed economically and militarily, is to avoid the harsh reality of Palestinians. We can expect that taking a prophetic stance will be disruptive to the dynamic of traditional dialogues. Yet, it is faithful: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue… (Deuteronomy 16:20).” Churches are called to trust, in times like this, that new dialogue partners will emerge, that former partners may be fruitfully challenged, and that conversations—rooted in truth, compassion, humility and integrity—will realize the promise in Psalm 85:10 “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

I very much appreciate this paragraph, especially the prospect of fruitfully challenging former partners.  Some aspects of neutrality would have to be abandoned as we acknowledge asymmetrical power and the asymmetrical suffering that results; but other principles of neutrality would not be abandoned. For me, those continuing principles would include:

  • No objectification or demonization of those whom we disagree with; no flattery or romanticizing of those whose just cause we seek to advance; no assertions that anyone involved is without flaw;
  • No use of inflammatory rhetoric whose main utility is to gratify those on "our side" rather than advance justice and genuine dialogue;
  • A recognition that the deeper context of any conflict may involve principalities and powers that seek to dominate both sides. Antisemitism has been—and continues to be—a blot on human history. What would happen if the forces opposing antisemitism and the forces opposing all apartheid everywhere joined hands?

It has been fifteen years since Jimmy Carter tried to use the term apartheid to break open the stalled conversations on justice in the Israeli/Palestinian context. Could the Kairos dossier help us make new efforts?

In 2009, I published these two posts on Quakers and neutrality. I'm linking them here rather than repeating all the points that came up at the time.... 

Please tell me what you think, in the comment window below, or on Facebook or Twitter. I hope that we can distinguish the features of genuine neutrality that are worth guarding, and learn when faithfulness is more important than neutrality. Also: how do you feel about the Kairos document?

Finally: Three years ago this summer, I was preparing for my September departure to serve with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, Palestine. Here's a summary: Praying without ceasing in Hebron. And here's how Ramallah Friends Meeting—and a pair of kittens—helped me keep my balance.

Elena Marttila; source.
Jennifer Wilson on Alexander Pushkin, "the first Russian."

Being Black mattered to Pushkin—his own words attest to it. As another contributor, the Pushkin scholar David M. Bethea, put it: “Blackness was for Pushkin both something real, given (he cared about surfaces), and something styled, something to be worked with.”

Ira Rifkin on his seven years with the GetReligion project.

Viktor Orban and more evidence on the spreading popularity of christian nationalism and its variants. This relatively "neutral" Web site, RFE/RL, doesn't mention Orban's popularity among some in the USA's right wing. (PS: Orban is still coming to Texas. Dana Milbank on Orban's "true colors.")

A closed poll measures Russians' views of the war.

Artist Elena Marttila, eternal memory.

Here's a fascinating (to me, at any rate) time capsule gem, 27 minutes of The Johnny Otis Show from 1959, with wonderful performances by Lionel Hampton among others. I remember when television looked like this; even the cheesy ads felt familiar.

1 comment:

kfsaylor said...

The spirit of Jesus Christ is come and in Christ's presence I am drawn out of the reflective nature and drawn into the direct awareness of the increase and decrease of the intensity of Christ's presence as the faculty through which my interactions and relationships are guided.

In the presence of Christ, I am not of the reflective nature and do not participate or engage in the reflective process, or own the thought-entities manifested through the reflective nature, to guide and inform human relationships and interactions.

The thought-entities (such as, apartheid and neutrality) used in your piece and in the "Dossier on Israeli Apartheid" do not inform my understanding of the relationships and interactions between Palestinians and Israelis. Engaging the agency of the reflective nature, and using its thought-agents to inform human relations, discovers to me a decrease in the intensity of Christ's presence in my intellect. Christ's presence in my conscience discovers to me that the source and cause of all human conflict and strife is the reflective nature itself. Participation in the agency of the reflective nature, and the use of its thought-entities to guide and inform human relations, promotes and nurtures conflict in human relations. Christ is discovered to me the way out of conflict and strife is through the turning of the intellect to the living presence of Jesus Christ in the conscience and consciousness as sole guide inmatters of human relations. As long as the human intellect is ruled by the reflective nature (as is the case in Palestinian and Israeli relations) there will be conflict and strife.

The renewal of the mind is the intellect anchored in the living awareness of and habitation in the presence of Jesus Christ in the conscience and consciousness. Christ's presence fulfills the need for the faculty of reflection (the Old Covenant), and the thought agents manifested through it, to guide and inform human relations. The need for the faculty of the reflective nature to guide and inform human relations is come to an end with the coming of the presence of Christ in the conscience; which is New Covenant. The faculty of the reflective nature in the intellect is replaced by the faculty of living awareness of the increase or decrease of the intensity of the spirit of Christ in a given action or interaction to guide human relations.