Quakers, Jews and Israel’s BDS Blacklist

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AFSC volunteer Evan Jones meeting with Palestinian refugees, 1949. (photo: AFSC)

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By Brant Rosen | Shalom Rav | Jan 11, 2018


“The AFSC helped thousands of people in the United States transfer small amounts of money to loved ones in French concentration camps, [and helped] hundreds of children, including Jewish refugees and the children of Spanish Republicans, come to the United States under the care of the US Committee for the Care of European Children in 1941–42.”
— US Holocaust Memorial Museum


Last Sunday, Israel revealed their list of 20 social justice groups from around the world it was henceforth banning from the country because of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For me, the list represented more than just another news item of the day. As staff person for one organization included on the list — the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) — this news struck home personally as well as professionally

As a rabbi who works for AFSC, I’m proud of the important historical connections between Jewish community and this venerable Quaker organization. As the US Holocaust Memorial Museum itself has noted, AFSC was at the forefront of efforts to help and rescue Jewish refugees after 1938, “assisting individuals and families in need . . . helping people flee Nazi Europe, communicate with loved ones, and adjust to life in the United States.”

The USHM has also acknowledged that “the AFSC helped thousands of people in the United States transfer small amounts of money to loved ones in French concentration camps (and helped) hundreds of children, including Jewish refugees and the children of Spanish Republicans, come to the United States under the care of the US Committee for the Care of European Children in 1941–42.”

AFSC became involved with a different group of refugees — the Palestinians — several years later. At the end of 1948, while military hostilities in Palestine were still raging, the UN asked the AFSC to help spearhead the relief effort in Gaza, which was rapidly filling up with Palestinian refugees. Historian Nancy Gallagher has noted refugee relief was not the ultimate goal of their work in Gaza — rather, they “had accepted the invitation to participate in the relief effort with the expectation of assisting in the repatriation and reconciliation process.” (from “Quakers in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Activism,” p. 97)

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