PORTLAND, Ore. – The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is on record denying any affinity for BDS.
Susan Abulhawa, though, thinks Presbyterians have moved far enough in the BDS direction to deserve her thanks.
Abulhawa, a Palestinian novelist, is an outspoken advocate of BDS — a strategy of using boycotts, divestment and sanctions to undermine Israel economically and isolate it politically.
On June 20, during the PC(USA)’s General Assembly in Portland, she spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the denomination’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN). And she described Presbyterians as allies in the BDS effort.
Abulhawa called BDS the Palestinians’ “nonviolent response” to a history of concerted violence directed against them by Israel.
“And there you are at the top of this list, taking a moral stand even before it’s popular to do so,” she told her audience. “And that means a lot. Because it’s easy when everybody jumps on the bandwagon. The courage comes when it’s not popular, and people don’t know and don’t understand. And for that, I salute you heartily.”
In an interview after her address, Abulhawa said she accepted Presbyterians as allies in the BDS movement because the church had chosen to divest from three companies that it considered complicit in human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine. The 221st General Assembly took that step in Detroit in 2014, but as it did so, it explicitly denied any intent to make common cause with the BDS movement.
Abulhawa, 46, was born in Kuwait to parents who were Palestinian refugees. The author of the novels “Mornings in Jenin” and “The Blue Between Sky and Water,” she now lives in Pennsylvania.
She said she rarely speaks publicly but accepted the invitation from IPMN because she felt the divestment vote showed the PC(USA) had chosen a moral path.
“I wanted to honor that,” she said.
Abulhawa said Israeli Zionists had looked to the United States as a natural ally in their effort to expel the people who had lived for thousands of years on land they wanted to occupy. The reason, she said, was that American history, too, prominently featured a similar expulsion of native peoples.
“Israel may be modeling its plan on America’s colonial past, but so are we modeling our struggle on America’s past, ” she said. “Israel is betting on the United States’ instinctive affinity for conquest, but we are betting on America’s instinctive affinity for justice.”
Israel, she said, offers dual citizenship to Jews from other countries, but makes it impossible for her family to live on the land it had occupied for 1,300 years.
“We are the natives of that land, in every sense of that word, historically, culturally, legally, genetically, linguistically, ethically,” she said. “But more importantly, we are not a lesser species, that we should be treated thus. We are not children of a lesser god that we should be relegated to teeter, and despair, on the margins of humanity, so that every Jewish individual from all over the world can have an extra country.”