Here are some pointers for Christians who want understand why some are boycotting Israel, and also for those who long to do something to help in this bitter and complicated conflict. Even though we long for freedom, peace and dignity for the Palestinian people, we believe that boycotting Israel is not only ineffective, but also the wrong thing to do.
The situation for Palestinians is extremely difficult
Arabs fortunate enough to live within the state of Israel proper have full and equal rights the same as Jewish citizens: they can vote and be elected to parliament, there are Arab doctors, lawyers and judges, and Arabic is one of the official languages of Israel, alongside Hebrew. However, Arabs living in the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza have a much rougher deal. They do not have the full rights and freedoms that the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy, but neither do they have the autonomy and independence that would come with their own sovereign Palestinian state. Palestinians are caught in a nightmarish limbo, under Israeli military rule. Although there are Palestinian leaders, their lives are effectively controlled by Israel, but they do not have any real say in how the country is run, unlike the 1.4 million Arabs who have Israeli citizenship. There are many security checks making travel slow and cumbersome, meaning some have to set off for work in the early hours of the morning, and there are often armed soldiers around reminding them of who is in charge of their lives. It’s not a pleasant way to have to live.
The reasons that we have ended up with this grim situation, and the way to bring lasting change are harder to agree upon, since many of the potential solutions would likely end in the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel. Some believe that a boycott would be an effective way to exert pressure on Israel and bring an end to this crippling limbo for the Palestinians, but the Boycott movement is not all it may seem on the surface.
The Real Aim of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement
The boycott (BDS) movement calls for an end to Israeli rule of Palestinian and other Arab territories since 1967, including dismantling the wall and settlements; an end to racial discrimination towards Arab Israelis; and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. On one hand, it only seems fair to expect this freedom and equality for Palestinians, and the right to go back to their own homes, but if you listen to what the organisers of the movement are really saying, the truth about their real intention comes to light.
Omar Bargouti, one of the founders of the movement, agreed that the ideal result would be “a unitary state, where, by definition, Jews will be a minority.” He said of the two state solution; “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution.”
When they call “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” they are calling for an end of the state of Israel, and a return to the Muslim majority Palestine as if the Jewish people had never been regathered and Israel had never been reestablished. It is seeking to undo what God has done in bringing his people back to the land, and the land itself out from under Muslim control. The BDS movement claims to support a two state solution in public, but in reality, their goals would inevitably end up with a situation in which the Jewish people would not have a majority in either state, even if two states were kept. The Jewish homeland would become history, and the land would revert to being under predominantly Muslim rule.
In their own words:
- Omar Bargouti declared; “I am completely and categorically against binationalism because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land.” Do you see? There is no acceptance of the people of Israel’s long history and connection with the land. BDS is not a solution for both Jewish and Palestinian people – it is a strategy to single Israel out for punishment over every other country, and to turn the world against the Jewish state and get rid of it once and for all.
- “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself…BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state” – Ahmed Moor 
- As’ad AbuKhalil stated that, “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel….That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”
While many supporters of the BDS campaign would not agree with the destruction of Israel, like it or not, this would be the inevitable consequence of reducing Jewish Israelis to a minority.
Christians who want to boycott Israel
The BDS movement is rapidly gaining popularity, even among Christians and churches who want to support the Palestinians and their quest for freedom and justice, and have not considered the other side of the story. Boycotting Israel is put forward as a way of pressuring Israel to change its ways towards the Palestinians and take down the wall, but we believe that joining this movement which seeks to demonise and isolate Israel is not God’s way of bringing change. Certainly, Palestinians have been victims in many ways, but much of Israel’s behaviour that is so widely criticised is necessary to protect Israel’s Jewish and Arab civilians. It is sadly true that these security measures are not always carried out in a God-honouring manner by any means, but to fail to see the danger of letting the guard down completely when so many are in favour of destroying Israel is not accepting the full truth of the situation.
The boycott movement is driven by people who are enemies of Israel and long to see its demise – we believe that it would be wrong to align with those who hate Israel, since God himself loves Israel. We wish to see change, but God also longs for Israel to repent and walk in holiness with him. Instead of siding with Israel’s enemies and their strategy to destroy Israel, we can join God in his love and grief over Israel, and pray with him for his strategy of transformation for the people and the whole area.
What would Jesus do?
It is a great blessing for us today that Yeshua lived under Roman rule, because it allows us to observe how he behaved as a Jewish man born in Israel, a country that at the time was under the control of Rome – a very ungodly regime. How did Yeshua respond to the Roman soldiers? How did he feel about the fact that his country was effectively run by another nation? Did he rage against the system? Did he give the soldiers a piece of his mind? Did he organise a rebellion? No. He interacted with Roman soldiers as individuals. To those who were good people (like the centurion who asked for help for his servant), Yeshua acted with compassion and kindness, no different to how he treated any of his fellow countrymen. To Romans who were being harsh and forcing people to carry heavy burdens for them, Yeshua said we must go twice the distance, implementing the heaping-coals-on-head principle of overcoming evil with good. In either case, the soldiers were treated as individuals according to their behaviour. If the behaviour was bad and oppressive, Yeshua’s modus operandi was to convict them by responding with unpredictable and radical kindness.
Yeshua knew that he was free, and that in actual fact, he was the freer than any of the soldiers who were paid to control the people. He knew that he was rich, and richer than the rulers in their palaces. He knew who he was, where he had come from, and where he was going to, which freed him up to kneel down and wash the feet of his disciples.
Yeshua was not unaware of oppression, sorrow and poverty, but his solutions were interpersonal and otherworldly. As one Palestinian pastor put it, the goal is to walk on another level – a higher level. The Highway of Holiness.
Think about how it affects believers
Similarly, looking at the analogy of the Body of Messiah as a physical body in 1 Corinthians 12, it’s important to remember that there are many thousands of both Jewish and Arab believers in Israel who would be affected if the body decided to cut off the Israeli part of itself by boycotting Israeli academic institutions (which would include Bible colleges) and Israeli businesses. It’s important to think about the fact that a boycott would not only affect Israeli believers and their families but also the many Palestinian workers whose salary comes from Israeli businesses. When we see how badly people often react to Israeli performers and athletes abroad all under the banner of “boycotting” Israel, consider that Israeli believers wishing to study the word of God abroad may also be affected by this hostile movement, as the academic boycott of Israel gathers pace. Of course, we do not accept everything that happens here in Israel, but boycotting is not the way to go.
When we look around the world at all the troublesome countries that there are, is Israel really the one that deserves the finger of accusation more than any other? Every country has its own faults and sins, and there are things that happen in here Israel that we should be ashamed of. However, there are also some great things that Israel can be proud of: many medical breakthroughs are discovered in Israel that benefit people all over the world, Israeli innovations in agriculture, water usage and farming have been a great blessing to some of the poorest countries in Africa, Israel regularly treats Syrians and others who should be considered “enemies” in their hospitals, and when there is an international crisis, Israeli teams are usually among the first on the ground to help. Even if you wanted to boycott Israel, you would have to give up a great deal of the electronic equipment and software that you depend upon, many medicines and medical equipment – a surprising amount of things that you enjoy today that were invented and produced in Israel.
A far more powerful tool to effect change is PRAYER
God has never encouraged boycotting nations, but does ask us to pray for Jerusalem, and to bless God’s people. As we always say here at ONE FOR ISRAEL, the best way to bless Israel is with Yeshua – with salvation! Can you imagine the difference there will be when not only thousands believe in the Messiah, but millions of Israelis want to follow in Yeshua’s footsteps? Equally, as extremely challenging as life is for the thousand or so Arab believers living in Gaza and the West Bank, we can pray for them to have a greater and greater measure of the Spirit of Jesus to have the wisdom, grace and power to live on that higher level.
Did Yeshua did not mind so much about that the fact that Romans were ruling Israel? Not necessarily. But Yeshua knew that all powers and authorities were under God’s control, and that the Roman Empire would soon meet its end. He was intimately connected with the Father who holds all these matters in his hand, and he had access to the throne to discuss it with the One who can overthrow or change the course of any kingdom, any time he chooses.
Join God’s purposes for both Jews and Arabs in the region
Just think: what would it look like if Israel were to step up to her calling and destiny? Are you aware of what God has promised for Israel in times to come? It is a fascinating area of study, and a doorway to understanding more about our God. Dreaming with him as he paints a prophetic future for Israel and our Arab brothers and sisters is an exciting path to go down. As we prayerfully read God’s word, we can see his plans for Israel’s future restoration, and we can hold out the hope of the best that they could become. We can offer a bridge toward that destiny and encourage them to make steps into all that God wants them to be.
A better way than boycotting is prayer and supporting Kingdom outreach among Israelis and Palestinians. Love and prayer are infinitely more powerful than any boycott, any army, or any government. Prayer is encouraged by God and when we ask God to pour out his Spirit on Israel to bring radical change and spiritual fruit, you know he will hear and answer! The BDS movement is driven by hatred of Israel, but the gospel of Yeshua is full of great love and power to radically change situations, both for Jewish and Palestinian people.