Thursday, September 10, 2015

An Open Letter to the American Friends Service Committee

From: Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) 
Re: AFSC’s position on the expulsion of Alison Weir from the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation

The Context: The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a coalition of social justice groups working for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the social justice "arm" of the Religious Society of Friends, is a member of the U.S. Campaign, and in that capacity, agreed to the expulsion of Alison Weir and her organization, If Americans Knew, from the coalition The reason, apparently, was that an unnamed individual or organization within the coalition had prepared a dossier of Weir's actions, some dating back five years or more, which, in the accusers' opinion, did not sufficiently contest the racism or anti-Semitism of the individual hosting her talks. The idea of discrediting a long-time activist's effectiveness by seizing on a "flaw" in her work was worrisome not only to PIAG, but to many other defenders of Weir's activism. Mike Merryman-Lotze, speaking for AFSC, defends its actions by saying that as anti-racist activists, we "must" confront oppression directly wherever we find it. It has even been insinuated that PIAG members' questioning of AFSC's position is racist in and of itself. This open letter is a reply to these claims. More details of the controversy can be found here and here.

As a Quaker organization, PIAG has always worked against all forms of oppression. 

Individually and/or collectively, we are members of anti-racism groups such as the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and #Black Lives Matter.

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
As a subcommittee of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, PIAG
has engaged in educational efforts with our Monthly and Yearly Meetings over the last twelve years, and have convinced both groups to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

We have distributed over a half million map cards nationally and internationally showing the loss of Palestinian lands to Israel’s Occupation.

In short, we are knowledgeable, seasoned activists who are strongly committed to working for justice and equality wherever that work may lead us.

It is in the spirit of our anti-oppression work that we take issue with the message in AFSC’s online communication, IMPACT; specifically, the post by Mike Merryman-Lotze on AFSC’s Acting in Faith blog, “Palestine Activism in an Anti-Racism Framework” (8/10/2015). We find a disturbing disconnect between the statement: “At AFSC, our work is guided by the Quaker belief that all people are equal in the eyes of God” and the participation of AFSC in the denunciation of one particular person, Alison Weir, and her longstanding work for justice inIsrael/Palestine – work which PIAG deeply respects.

We are also troubled by the insistence that “we” (that is, we presume, Quakers engaged in anti-racism work) “must” act in particular ways, choosing certain tactics, methods, analyses, and goals over others. We cannot agree, as Quakers, that everyone must see the truth in the same way, analyze human behavior in the same way, and agree to work according to principles put forth by any social justice organization, however well-intentioned.
George Fox 

Quakerism's founder George Fox was pretty clear about the idea that everyone has the ability to listen to the voice of God, to think about the meaning of that voice, and above all, to speak for themselves.

As Fox told the assembled at Ulverston steeple-house, “You will say ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this,’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?"

Early Quaker Meeting
This message was one of the earliest and most radical challenges to the dogmatism and demands for obedience required by the Christian Church in 17 th century England. The statement was so compelling that it later formed the basis of Quakerism: There is no dogma. There are no “musts” in Quaker belief and practice. It is enough that Quakers be inspired by the values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, and that we work to incorporate these abstract, but profound Quaker values into our lives and the lives of others as we see fit.

We agree that anti-racism efforts that counter prejudice and bigotry on every possible occasion can be meaningful work. We agree that oppressions are linked and widespread and that opposing only one form of bigotry may not be enough. But we do not agree that everyone must accept these insights as the only way to see and be guided by the light. As Quakers, we strive for inclusion of ideas and perspectives. We have faith in Quaker process in resolving disagreements, rather than removing individuals and groups from the family when their beliefs and practices threaten our vision of the truth.

We do not dispute the “right” of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation to remove any member of the group as the leadership sees fit. But we have seen the effects of that removal: fear and silencing (“Who among us will be next?”) discord and schism, and a loss of focus on Palestinian freedom. Unfortunately, as we have come to understand, righteous zeal creates its own oppression.

PIAG continues to promote vigorous, open debate, a multitude of paths toward justice, and a focus not on transgression, but on the Inner Light, the spirit of the Divine that resides in every human soul.

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