The American Friends Service Committee is the foremost Quaker organization charged with the Quaker mission to the world. Here is its statement of the Quaker values, which, it says, inform everything it does:
AFSC values are grounded in Quaker experience and universal truths that are upheld by many faiths and that honor the light of the divine in each person.
We cherish the belief that there is that of God in each person, leading us to respect the worth, dignity, and equality of all.We regard no person as our enemy. While we often oppose specific actions and abuses of power, we seek to call forth the goodness and truth in each individual. We strive for integrity, simplicity, and practicality in our expressions and actions.We assert the transforming power of love and active nonviolence, as a challenge to injustice and violence and as a force for reconciliation.We work in partnership with people in communities around the world, respecting their wisdom about how to change their circumstances and offering our own insights with humility.We trust the power of the Spirit to guide the individual and collective search for truth and practical action.We accept our understandings of truth as incomplete and have faith that new perceptions of truth will continue to be revealed.
So far so good. If a bit abstract and perhaps lacking in specifics, surely these are high-minded ideals.
But there are also specifics in the AFSC. When it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Arab elites, it endorses the latter without equivocation. This issue takes up much, if not most, of AFSC’s world-wide activities. Most telling of all is AFSC’s endorsement of the Boycott-Israel movement (BDS); together with BDS, AFSC endorses a Palestinian “right of return.” This latter phrase is generally understood as code for the destruction of the Jewish state. There is no recognition anywhere in the AFSC’s literature of any legitimacy whatever in Israeli views. Nor is there criticism anywhere in AFSC’s material of violence, hatred, or incitement to violence on the part of Arab elites. As for the Jews of Israel, as far as AFSC is concerned, there does not seem to be “light of the divine in each person.” Nor does the Jewish community of Israel seem to have “wisdom” that would be worthy of AFSC “respect.”
Well, you may say, according to AFSC’s “inner light,” it is the Jews (or, as they would put it euphemistically, the Israelis) who bear all of the blame for the plight of Palestinian Arabs, and so, by God, it is the Jews, I mean Israelis, who deserve all the blame. (Who is to blame for the plight of Syrian Arabs ? Never mind, this is not a topic that engages the AFSC). Well, this inner light (a key Quaker concept) seems more than a little at variance with AFSC professions of an even-handed, loving, concerned, very humane and very enlightened universalism.
As readers of my blogs know, I have long been interested in Laogai, the Gulag of China. Currently there seem to be 3.5 million people imprisoned in Chinese forced labor camps, many for political reasons. Many other political prisoners are in Chinese jails. Some five thousand Chinese are executed annually by their government, many for political reasons. In the United States, it is the Laogai Foundation, under the leadership of Harry Wu, to which we owe much of what is known. The US State Department, charged with annual reports on human rights violations throughout the world, paints a similarly bleak picture.
In terms of sheer magnitude of repression, the human rights situation in China should surely rank high on the list of concerns of would-be humanitarians. One would think so. But insofar as the AFSC is concerned, there is no human rights problem in China at all, at least none worth mentioning in public.
As I searched AFSC materials, I repeatedly found the name of Joseph Gerson in connection with the AFSC’s interests in China. A functionary of AFSC since 1976, he is currently the Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program for the AFSC in New England. AFSC insistently refers to him as “Dr. Gerson.” In effect, he received a Ph.D. from the shadowy Union Institute and College in 1995. In any case, his interests seem propagandistic rather than scholarly; according to his official biography, “he focuses on challenging U.S. foreign, military and domestic doctrines designed to reinforce global hegemony and to replace them with commitments to common security.” In 2008 and 2009, he organized reciprocal visits between the “US peace movement” and the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, an agency of the Chinese government.
When I spoke with him on the phone on March 12, he mentioned to me that our conversation is “between one Jew and another.” (As far as I can determine from sources on the internet, his religious affiliation has been liberal Christian, at least for some decades.) He told me that when he was in China in 2008 or 2009, he insisted that he talk with human rights activists there. When I asked him why there has not been any public criticism by the AFSC concerning human rights in China, he said that AFSC believes in quiet diplomacy. When I pointed out that AFSC is anything but quiet about Israel, he explained that Hannah Arendt had been critical of Israel, as has been a former Israeli official whom he had known. That was the extent of his explanation for his own vociferous opposition to Israel. I asked him repeatedly to explain what I perceive to be AFSC hypocrisy: “quiet diplomacy” concerning China, harsh enmity toward Israel. So far he has been mum, but, who knows, perhaps I will still hear from him, in which case I will promptly report his explanation.
UPDATE, December 8, 2013: