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by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

One year ago, on February 12, 2020, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a list of some 112 businesses with ties to the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. According to this report the businesses named were bolstering settlements, for example, by providing equipment to either build settlement structures or demolish Palestinian ones, and providing tools used to usurp water or land.

This public disclosure was a logical corollary to declarations from several international institutions which for years have condemned as illegal the Israeli government’s long existing policy of constructing Israeli enclaves (settlements) in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Among those institutions are the United Nations Security Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Court of Justice. Yet the settlements continue to be constructed.

For years various institutions, among them many church institutions including member organizations of Pax Christi International, have sought to halt the enablement on the part of international corporations in this glaring violation of international law by endorsing the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign against them. Pax Christi International has been careful to call for divestment strictly against the type of businesses cited in the U.N. statement – businesses “bolstering the illegal settlements” in Palestinian territories.

On January 11, 2021, days before President Biden took office, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced the establishment of 800 new Israeli settlements on the West Bank. It was a blatant political move coming shortly before his great and good friend President Trump left office. President Biden has had a long track record of support for Israel and at the same time very public opposition to the illegal settlement policies of their government. It was widely thought that he would be enraged at Netanyahu’s action.

However that may have been the case, Biden’s recent appointee as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, almost immediately upon taking that office, condemned the BDS campaign in absolute, unnuanced terms. She said: “I find the actions and approach the BDS has taken toward Israel unacceptable.”

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield has an impressive resume covering 35 years in various State Department posts. She was Ambassador to Liberia and served at various times in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria and Jamaica. She was Assistant Secretary for African Affairs from 2013 to 2017. Significantly, however, she seems to have had no experience in the Middle East.

There are several reasons for highlighting this troubling statement from the Biden administration’s representative at the U.N., reasons which resonate with us at Pax Christi:

  • The BDS as endorsed by PCI and dozens of church groups are legitimate nonviolent actions taken against an illegal and inhuman policy.
  • This same type of boycott proved totally successful during the many years of struggle against South Africa’s apartheid regime (so similar to the same type in Israel).
  • How is it possible that a key appointee of the Biden Administration could offer a blanket condemnation of nonviolent boycotts when the United States in fact imposes violent sanctions on countries around the world and with far worse consequences? Recall our ongoing economic punishment of Venezuela and North Korea, to name just two, which have further devastated the lives of innocent citizens already suffering immense deprivations.

In addition to these considerations, it needs to be said that enthusiasm for the Biden presidency should not distract us from acknowledging such harmful policies. He is a refreshing relief from the previous four years of horror, but he is not perfect. Faithful citizens who wish the best for his presidency have an obligation and the opportunity to call his policies to accountability when they do harm – as in this case of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands.  

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Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

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