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Support for the Palestinians gathers pace in Trump's America

June 24, 2018 at 2:15 pm

People march with banners and Palestinian flags during a demonstration, organized to mark the 70th anniversary of Nakba, also known as Day of the Catastrophe in 1948, and against the Israeli violence in Gaza on May 18, 2018 at Times Square in New York, United States [Mohammed Elshamy / Anadolu Agency]

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the UN Human Rights Commission was an attempt to shield Israel from accountability, but it may have backfired among voters in his own backyard. Support for the Palestinians is gathering pace in Trump’s America.

If you dance to Tel Aviv’s tune — and, sadly, Trump does — then you believe that the only folk who support Palestinians are either religion-hating, secular Lefties or radical Islamists and Hamas cheerleaders who hang out on the fringes of society. The reality is quite different. This was illustrated admirably at a remarkable gathering of mainstream American Christians over the weekend in St Louis, Missouri when the Presbyterian Church overwhelmingly adopted a number of robust resolutions in solidarity with Palestine at its 223rd General Assembly.

There’s nothing fringe about this US church which represents nearly 1.5 million American citizens. They voted in large numbers to support Palestinians with resolutions on everything from opposing legislation which challenges the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, to defending the right to call Israel a colonial state. They were helped along the way by many interfaith groups, including Muslims and Jews as well as people of other faiths and none.

It was clear from the speeches at the Presbyterian Assembly that these Americans are outraged by Trump’s decision to pull out of the UN’s human rights body in an attempt to protect Israel from criticism of its continual violation of UN resolutions and human rights laws and conventions. Israel, remember, has ignored or violated more UN resolutions than any other country in the world today, apart from the 1947 Partition Plan upon which it bases its doubtful legitimacy (although it ignores conveniently the UN intention for Jerusalem to be an international city).

Hundreds of motions are submitted every year for church assemblies, synods and presbyteries across America to consider. Together with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), Friday evening in St Louis was a classic example of how mainstream institutions and faith-based organisations can use their collective voice to strengthen the global movement for justice for the Palestinians. Joining them at the gathering were the US Campaign for Palestinian Equal Rights, American Muslims for Palestine, St Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace and St Louis Jewish Voice for Peace.

IPMN also pushed the conference to consider the human rights of the Palestinians living in Israel — 20 per cent of the population — as well as those in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip; the refugee camps in neighbouring countries; and the wider diaspora.

“These tremendous victories illustrate the power of boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns in educating and moving an institution into alignment with human rights and justice,” said Rochelle Watson, national organiser for the Christian group Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA). The group is now preparing for a big conference in September called Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine, where they will discuss “effective strategies and tactics for leading campaigns in your denomination or community.”

Some resolutions were rejected at the conference because delegates dismissed them as attempts at “whitewashing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” Those which were agreed and pushed through included the following:

  • Condemnation of Israel’s attacks on protesters participating in the Great March for Return and calling for an end to Israel’s illegal siege of the Gaza Strip.
  • Opposition to Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem, and its discriminatory practices targeting Palestinians in access to employment representation, infrastructure, services and education.
  • Voting down legislation that scapegoated Palestinians for the deaths of their children killed by Israel, and presented false symmetry between the violence inflicted on Palestinian and Israeli children.
  • Affirming the right to boycott by condemning anti-BDS legislation being pushed at the state and federal level, including opposing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
  • Standing firmly in solidarity with Palestinian churches and receiving their call to recognise Israel as an apartheid state and intensify BDS campaigns.
  • Challenging the US President and State Department regarding Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians and other citizens of Israel, and calling for US diplomatic action toward equality.
  • Challenging BDS target RE/MAX’s profiting from sales in Israeli settlements.
  • Ensuring that interfaith relationships in the US are oriented toward justice rather than used as a fig leaf for Israel’s violence against Palestinians.
  • Rejecting normalisation efforts that ignore the power imbalance between Palestinians and Israelis.
  • Voting down a resolution seeking to end the classification of Israel as a “colonial project”.

According to Anna Baltzer, the Director of Organising and Advocacy at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, “The resolutions won by a mile following powerful testimonies from local and visiting Palestinians, Black Lives Matter leaders, Presbyterians, and others. Most of the resolutions passed by 80 or 90 per cent or unanimously in committee and through the General Assembly.”

This might be Trump’s America, but the “tide is turning,” Baltzer pointed out. “Four years ago this week, I witnessed with tears in my eyes the PCUSA [Presbyterian Church USA] voting by a hair’s breadth — 310 to 303 — to divest holdings from three US companies profiting from Israel’s occupation. At the time, the church was the first mainline church in the US to do so.”

Four years later, she added, we have gone from near parity to a church standing unequivocally for Palestinian rights. “Moreover, in just a few years we have gone from focusing on Israel’s 1967 occupation to a broad platform challenging all aspects of Israeli colonialism, and advocating the rights of all Palestinians throughout historic Palestine, including those fighting for their right to return home.”

Mainstream institutions like America’s Presbyterian Church show how political orientation and analysis are shifting, and that those claiming to be progressive without standing up for Palestine and the Palestinians are increasingly out of step with the march of history. Trump may yet come to realise he is the one who is out of touch with popular opinion by offering unconditional support to the serial human rights abusers in Israel.

The US President’s evangelical supporters, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and Attorney General Jeff Sessions can no longer claim with any certainty whatsoever that God is on Trump’s side, as they did last week. The Almighty doesn’t need Tweets and Executive Orders signed-off by a swaggering monster of a President to ensure that His Will is done. He has enough good, honest people on the ground to do that. The struggle for justice against oppression is never easy, but it will always be successful.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.