Editorial Note: With BDS continuously in the news, especially in light of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Altmuslim is hosting a two-part series arguing for and against the movement, which aims to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to abide by international law and end its occupation of Palestine. In this article, Kristin Szremski makes the case for BDS. The case against BDS, is written by Umar Lee.
By Kristin Szremski
Why are we still having this conversation in the Muslim community?
It’s shameful that when it comes to support for the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) we are so far behind our Jewish and Christian counterparts, who for years have waged successful campaigns with tangible results.
There is no legitimate reason to not support BDS. I hesitated before agreeing to participate in this series, which may do more to normalize opposition to BDS than to convince an already weak and recalcitrant population. We need to be clear: BDS is a tool to force Israel to abide by international law and end the occupation, to allow Palestinian refugees the right of return and to afford Palestinian citizens of Israel equal rights.
BDS is protected under the First Amendment. It doesn’t call for the destruction of Israel, as opponents say. BDS also rejects all forms of bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism and it has been adopted by all Palestinian labor unions and at least 170 civil society organizations.
Jewish and Christian Groups Sign on
Within the past few years, the Alliance of Baptists, the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ and some Quaker groups have passed full or partial resolutions divesting from companies profiting from the occupation. Together, their denominations represent at least 15 million Americans, according to the U.S. Religion Census 1952-2010 by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
Jewish Voice for Peace, which today says it has 60 chapters and more than 200,000 supporters, in 2011 launched a campaign against TIAA-CREF, the largest retirement fund in the country. TIAA-CREF eventually dropped Caterpillar and Veolia from its Social Choice fund, a major victory. JVP also has victories against Soda Stream and the global security firm G4S, which not only is participating with the Department of Homeland Security to detain and deport people on the Mexican border, but also is linked to Israeli detention centers, where NGOs have documented cases of abuse and torture against Palestinian children.
The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network initiated a global campaign against the Jewish National Fund, which is complicit in the continued dispossession of Palestinians and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as providing Palestinian land for Israeli settlement construction in violation of international law and U.S. policy.
Where are Muslims on BDS?
Where are we Muslims on BDS? Why are we absent when we know we have a spiritual connection to Palestine and an obligation to work for justice? The Holy Quran says: “Oh, you who believe! Be most upright in upholding justice, bearing true witness for the sake of God alone – even if it is against your own selves, or your parents, or your nearest relatives – regardless of whether one is rich and the other is poor, for God is most regardful of what is good for them both. (Surah 4:135)”Our Divine connection is also abundantly clear in the Quran and Hadith. “Highly exalted is He, who carried His servant, Muhammad, by night from the Sacred Mosque at Makkah to masjid Al Aqsa in Jerusalem – the surroundings of which we have blessed – to show him something of Our wondrous signs. Indeed it is He who is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (Surah 17:1)”
Muslims believe Muhammed (pbuh) inherited the covenants from preceding prophets when he led them in prayer during Al Israa Al Miraj. We believe Allah wouldn’t have made a racist covenant, in which the ‘land He blessed’ was bequeathed to a people based only upon their bloodline. Rather, the Almighty tells Ibrahim, “Indeed, I shall make you an exemplar for all people. Ibrahim implored the favor of his Lord, ‘and also my descendants.’ God said: The promise of My covenant shall not extend to the wrongdoers among them.’ (Surah 2:124).
We take this to mean that Palestine was promised to those who “enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong and believe in God. (Surah 3:110)” It is through this promise that we Muslims are connected to Palestine, and it is this connection that mandates our obligation to work so that justice and liberty prevail there.
Muslims Co-Opted by Zionist Organizations into Silence
Palestine is not for Muslims only. Many have spiritual connections there, especially Jews and Christians, who have been working diligently to support Palestinians as they work toward self-determination, liberty and justice. Why are we Muslims not doing the same? In 2012, when the American Muslims for Palestine, the organization for which I work, first launched the Ramadan Israeli Date Boycott, Jewish and Christians endorsed the campaign.
But one prominent Muslim organization refused, because, I was told: “We don’t know how our (Jewish) partners will react.”
And herein lies the rub. Many Muslims are co-opted by Zionist organizations, the so-called “organized Jewish community,” whose purpose is to garner support for Israeli policies that in reality violate international and American laws. Programs such as the Muslim Leadership Institute, special private “dialogue salons” with the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and “interfaith cooperation” projects sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council aim to keep American Muslims silent on Palestine by getting us to focus only on “domestic” issues. The Israel Advocacy Initiative and the Israel Action Network lay out the guidelines on how to build support for Israel by building relationships with other faith communities.
To be fair, I’m sure many Muslims who engage in normalizing activities are not fully aware of the implications and may have good intentions. But the time has come for us to hear the Palestinian call for BDS and to support this global movement. It is time to stop telling Palestinians we know best.
When some Muslims cooperate with Zionists, we weaken the work other Muslims are doing for Palestinian rights. Consider what happened at this White House iftar. On the Day of Judgment, what will our choices buy us? I’d much rather look toward the example in this Hadith: “Muawiyah Ibn Sufyan relates that the Prophet (saw) said, ‘There is a group among my followers who will continue to be openly on the truth. No one who opposes them can harm them until the coming of the Hour.’ The companions asked, ‘Where will they be?’ The Messenger of Allah said, ‘They will be in and around Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem).’” (Ahmad)
As Muslims, where do we put our hope –- with Zionists, whose agenda is intent on the continued oppression of the Palestinian people — or with justice, a concept so important that Allah SWT named Himself The Just?
BDS. The time for indecision is over. Let’s get to work.
Kristin Szremski is an award-winning, independent journalist living in Washington DC. She currently is the director of media and communications for American Muslims for Palestine, a national education organization. The viewpoints in this column are hers only.