A Quaker Education — Against Israel
Unwittingly, the Friends’ Central School, a well-regarded Quaker establishment in Pennsylvania, has once again come under fire for its ties to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
The school operates in accordance with the Quaker philosophy. Its self-described goal is to promote “simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. Underlying all facets of School life is the belief that ‘there is that of God in everyone.’ Meeting for Worship is central, providing time for connections among members of the community and between individuals and their spiritual sources. Peaceful resolution of conflicts, seeking truth and collaboration are key aspects of a Friends’ Central education.”
Because the Quakers have cultivated their image as peaceful and benign, few suspect — much less know — that one of their central missions is BDS.
The Quaker experience in the Middle East has been unique. The group provided relief to Palestinian refugees in 1949-1950, but withdrew after the United Nations took over. It also spearheaded religious diplomatic efforts over the fate of Jerusalem, which was besieged and divided during the war of 1948. Though unsuccessful, their efforts were characterized by scrupulous evenhandedness and appeals to the religious sensibilities of Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Yet today, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is one of the leading organizations supporting BDS on campus and groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Sa’ed Atshan, an assistant professor of peace and conflict studies at Swarthmore College — a well-known advocate for BDS and active with SJP, whose parent organization, American Muslims for Palestine, has ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood — is a poster child for Quaker education. An alumnus of the Quaker school in Ramallah, he represents the Quaker echo chamber where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned.
Atshan was scheduled to appear at Friends’ Central, but his talk was canceled when Jewish parents expected his presentation would be biased and one-sided. In response, predictably, students protested. Some expressed their “disappointment and dismay,” while others walked out of the school.
Jewish students and parents will, of course, bear the blame for the cancellation. But they were stuck in an awful situation: Either shut up and accept a biased speaker, or protest and take the heat. This is one of the basic tricks of the BDS movement.
In turn, this incident will undoubtedly spark a conversation about free speech and academic freedom. But the bigger concern is that pro-BDS individuals — who use hate and racist speech — continue to use and abuse academic freedom.
Historically, the AFSC has adopted a hypocritical form of pacifism. It claims to oppose violence, but in practice, it constantly apologizes for terrorists. The group claims to want peace for both sides, but inevitably advocates only for the Palestinians, often in extremist terms. And the AFSC has moved closer and closer to a retrograde, supersessionist theology that has been the basis of Christian antisemitism for centuries.
The AFSC’s relationship to Israel is tragic; a once-noble organization has not only embraced an ignoble cause, but has betrayed its own founding principles in the process.
Many Jewish parents send their children to Quaker schools seeking to instill values that they believe are analogous to those represented by Judaism. But Jewish parents should be encouraged to do more research about the Quaker approach, and then decide whether Jewish values and Quaker values — as they exist today — are the same.
A version of this article was originally published by the Jewish Exponent.