Monday, May 31, 2010

A Time for Quakers (and everyone) to Act

Dear All,
Last night, the Israeli army attacked the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza in international waters, killing between 10 and 20 peace activists on board. The international community is in an uproar. Please read the New York Times and/or Aljazeera accounts below. And please, now is the time to act. Letters to the editor, op-eds, talking to friends, sending mail to your Senators and Representatives as well as the President, all can help.

While individual actions are essential, it is time for Quaker Meetings to take a more visible stand on the difficult, controversial, yet crystal clear issue of Palestine. A recent story in Friends Journal on another controversial issue, slavery, makes a similar point. Here is the jist of it.

322 years ago, four Quakers living in Germantown PA, wrote a Minute decrying the Quaker practice of slavery (see attached for the full text).

The signers made several arguments, the first and most prominent being the Golden Rule: "There is a saying that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are." The authors ask, in a tone of anguish, if their fellow Quakers would like to be treated as they treat their slaves, for "Quakers doe here handel men as they handel there ye cattle."

The four Dutch Quakers who wrote the Minute presented it to their monthly Meeting in 1688. It was judged too controversial, and sent to the Quarterly Meeting, where it was judged too weighty. It was then sent to the Yearly Meeting, where "it was adjusted not to be so proper for this Meeting to give a Positive Judgment in the case, It having so General a Relation to many other Parts, and therefore at present they forbear It."

Why was this Minute so controversial? Slavery, by 1688, had become quite profitable, and profit, as well as freedom from oppression, was a draw for new immigrants. And although various forms of slavery were quite widespread at the time (in Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe), slavery in the "New World" had become color-coded (slave=black), which made it easier for the people who saw themselves as "white" to consider blacks as less than human. There are always "reasons" to ignore the Golden Rule.

The proposed Minute, never passed, was filed away in the archives of the Philadelphia Meeting House until it was "rediscovered" by Quaker abolitionists 156 years later, and used to promote the national anti-slavery cause. Pennsylvania abolished slavery 92 years after the Minute in Germantown pointed out its inconsistency with the Golden Rule.

Dear Friends, let us not be like the early Pennsylvania Quaker Meetings, that were unable to take a principled collective stand on the Golden Rule. If Palestinians are human beings like ourselves, and if our own government supports their oppression through monetary and military support of Israel, we cannot in good conscience stand by silently.

In peace with justice
Helen Fox
for the Palestine Israel Action Group
of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

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