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UUs and Palestinian Human Rights (re Tree of Life Synagogue; Sen. Cory Booker)
Steven Sellers Lapham By Steven Sellers Lapham

Dear Reader, 

I believe that we Unitarian Universalists are a missing link in the chain of compassion that can pull the ship with a manifest of fearful American Jews safely to shore, the shore of respecting the human rights of everyone, everywhere. The passengers on this ship (surveys show) tend toward the elderly; the young want a different future. Our link is uniquely placed due to our UU Principles, the demographics of our congregations, our history in upholding human rights, and our participation in interfaith coalitions all over this nation and internationally. 

The UUA has taken some actions over the years to address this conflict: The UUA Socially Responsible Investing Committee adopted a human rights investment screen in 2016 focusing on conflict zones. As a result, the UUA divested from HP Inc., Motorola Solutions, and Caterpillar Inc. A 2002 Action of Immediate Witness affirmed "Freedom from occupation and equal rights for all, including the right to exist in peace and security," as well as "Opposition to Israeli settlements, land confiscation, house demolitions, and other violations of international law" ... which continue unabated. 

UUJME (UUs for Justice in the Middle East) is, in my opinion, working mightily to facilitate this conversation within our faith community, and with our Jewish neighbors, through discussions, showing of documentary films, and other educational and civic efforts. It is a difficult conversation, now, as America begins to shed its blinders on what our role has been in enabling violence in the Middle East, especially in Palestine/Israel.

With blinders gone, many new pathways of nonviolent conflict resolution will open up. Peacemakers living and working on the ground now in Palestine/Israel are already on the task -- we just never hear about them. My concerns today are summarized in the "Open Letter to Sentaor Cory Booker," below. You may also wish to refer to "Ten U.S. Churches Now Sanction Israel—To Some Degree, and with Caveats," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2019, pp. 51-53; which is a free PDF at   

Peace in Times of Resistance,  -- Steve Steven Sellers Lapham, Gaithersburg, MD  USA   

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                          Part I. Mowing the Lawn

The Honorable Cory Booker

U.S. Senator from New Jersey, United States Senate, Washington, DC  20510


November 1, 2018

Dear Senator Booker,


When I was 18, during a week vacationing in Europe, Mom and Dad made sure our family spent one day at the Dachau Concentration Camp Mem­o­rial Site. This was where Dr. Joseph Mengele ran his “medical experi­ments” on Jewish and other minority peoples. My sisters and I were, of course, horrified by what we saw and read that summer day in 1974.

     Perhaps Dr. Lowell W. Lapham, professor of neuropathology, wanted to educate us kids about medical ethics. Dad served stateside as a young U.S. Army doctor as World War II drew to a close. Mom, Miriam Sellers Lapham, was an artist, writer, and pianist. As an adult, she chose to sign up as a (blond-haired) member of the Cherokee Nation. Perhaps she wanted to educate us kids about the consequences of racism.

     Our visit to the Dachau death camp underscored, in my mind and heart, the responsibility that my English and social studies teachers had given us back in the 70s: watch for the warning signs of racism and genocide in your own lifetime. Your duty is to resist with non­violence. That’s also the message of Gerda Weissman Klein, who I’ve heard twice, speaking to large audiences, as she recounts surviving a Nazi death march in winter. All but My Name is her autobiography.


    I offer two quotes from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM):


“What did Americans know? What more could have been done?” -- is the title of an exhibit at USHMM.


“Genocide is the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a nation, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” -- states the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at USHMM.


Have we learned anything from history, 1930-45, about the causes of a genocide? If so, then we might join my neighbors, who are members of Jewish Voice for Peace, in asking questions such as: What do Americans know today about Israel’s siege of Gaza, Palestine, home to 2 million human beings?

Today, in the view of Israel’s national leaders, Palestinians don’t count as human beings, or even as animals. They are the desiccated grass underfoot. Here are some of the footsteps that we can easily track (although mainstream American media would prefer that we not look at all, that we not even glance at what we are underwriting with billions of our U.S. tax dollars).


1. Erase the word. The first step in our effort to delete a people is to hit the delete key. Erase the oppressed group from the written page, the news, civic discourse, the law, from memory. For example, Israel again affirmed in 2018 its arsenal of apartheid laws, all of which deny Palestinian’s civil and human rights. Trump and Netanyahu often say that the Palestinians are no longer refugees, and furthermore, Palestinians don’t really exist as a people at all. If there is nobody to count, then nobody has been harmed. The land was empty before we emptied it.


2. Concentrate the Population. Second, force people into a small space. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Most of Gaza’s population are registered refugees—people and their offspring, who were forced out of their homes in other parts of Palestine, a forced march for those who survived it in 1948 or 1967, a death march for those who did not. Now Gazans struggle to live in a cage. An open-air prison. A concentration camp.


3. Strangle. Third, lay siege to the fenced-in city. Israel has bombed the infrastructure: water, sewage, electricity, and prevents people and goods from going in or out. Setting sail, fishermen are shot soon after they leave the dock. Trying to get in, two Freedom Flotilla boats, carrying medical supplies from Europe to Gaza, were pirated by Israel in the summer of 2018. “Gaza's drinking water spurs blue baby syndrome. Most deaths in Gaza are now a result of contaminat­ed water, owing to Israel's brutal siege and bombing of infrastructure leads to death and disease.” Can we remember Warsaw, 1941? There are many alarms sounding from the U.N. and human rights monitors, as well as many of our international allies. The closed checkpoints along the armistice lines have become a noose.


4. Experiment. Is there science to be learned? A profit to be made? Go for it. Gaza is Israel’s convenient “proving ground” for battlefield and crowd-control weapons, reports Mondoweiss (Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, editors). Miko Peled, the Jewish-Israeli author of The General’s Son, writes (in MintPress News, 2018), “Gaza is a cruel testing ground for Israel’s weapons-marketing campaign.” The label “combat proven” translates directly into “healthy global sales” of firearms, drones and rockets. Miko lives in D.C. Would you like to meet him?


5. Exterminate. Finally, make the cage a place of human extermination. Gaza is now unlivable. There is death due to disease, mentioned above. There are also rifle shots and bombs. Look through an Israeli sniper’s scope as he tracks and then shoots a Palestinian man, a fellow who appears to be doing nothing at all. The sniper’s comrades cheer in the internet video, which made headlines in Israel, but was ignored by the American media in 2018. Remember, please, the East German snipers at the Berlin Wall, targeting people scrambling toward freedom. Remember, for a moment, what Judaism represents for humankind. Then read about Razan al-Najjar, 21 years old, wearing the vest of a medical nurse, felled by a bullet on June 1, 2018. What is this war doing to Israeli soldiers? Ask Breaking the Silence, who are Israeli Defense Force vets.

     Today, as young people walk toward the fences at the cage’s edge, trying to get out, Israeli snipers shoot them. From March 30 to September 6, 2018, Israeli snipers shot 5,164 Palestinians, killing 179, as shown in the graphic “Humani­tarian Snapshot: Casualties in the Context of Demonstrations and Hostilities in Gaza” by the U.N. Office for the Coordina­tion of Human­itarian Affairs.                              

     In 2014, Israel bombed Gaza civilian targets for 51 days, killing more than 2,000; wounding more than 10,000, including 3,374 children, of whom over 1,000 were left permanently disabled; destroying more than 7,000 homes. This was just one of many Gaza Wars that Israel has inflicted since 2005. Israel’s leaders describe these periodic wars as


Mowing the lawn.


     Israel’s disengagement (removal of Jewish settlers) from Occupied Gaza in 2005 appeared to be a step toward peace, but it was “actually formalde­hyle,” said Ariel Weisglas, chief advisor to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political [peace] process with the Palestinians.” (Haaretz, Oct. 8, 2004).


Question: Are Israel’s actions truly genocide, or “merely” ethnic cleansing? That’s academic; I don’t really care.  Now in the 21st century, this U.S.-funded exercise in atrocity, by whatever name, makes Israel less, not more, safe. It is a policy disaster, which has killed the Two State Solution. The risks that we all face as a result are huge. U.S. support for the Occupation was a main cause of the attacks of 9-11. (Commission Report, Ch. 2.2) Israels’ wars could spark a regional war, and nuclear war. Nuclear winter, 100 years of global darkness, would end human agriculture, as Daniel Ellsberg is warning.

   Israel is revisiting the brutality of pogroms and the Holocaust upon the Palestinian people, as Albert Einstein and I.F. Stone feared might happen. Palestinians have now, along with Europe’s Jews, become victims of Hitler, suggests the Presbyterian Church’s curriculum, Zionism Unsettled. Violence begetting violence. Brutality begetting brutality.

     Why are we not listening to people who live in the Middle East who are struggling under the most difficult condi­tions? Faithfully, they cling to nonviolent methods. Issa Amro. Rabbi Arik Ascherman. I’ve met Leila Sansour and Mazin Qumsiyeh. Would you like to meet these people? Let’s fund and report on their efforts, not the musings of Viceroy Kushner. The way forward is not for Americans to decide, but we could assist Israel’s gradual movements in the direction of true democracy (one person, one vote) and accommodation with its neighbors (see the Camp David Accords).

    Senator Booker, you are a major recipient of donations from the American Israel Political Affairs Committee. AIPAC strives to keep Israel, a wealthy nation, as the number one recipient of U.S. foreign aid, $3.8 billion per year, used for building apartheid walls and buying U.S. weapons. AIPAC strives to keep us all looking away from Israel’s crimes against humanity. See the documentary The Occupation of the American Mind. AIPAC strives to squelch the discussion that we need to have today in America. APAIC is killing Jewish values, the living root of the three Abrahamic faiths.

     My parents witnessed genocide happening in their time, as we are now, in our time. Let us turn to the real work of Tikkun Olam, to healing the world.

     AIPAC is not an ally as we strive for a gradual, just reconciliation in the Middle East. I believe, instead, that AIPAC is the greatest threat today to Israel’s survival as a nation. Will you, Senator Booker, state that you will refuse to receive money from AIPAC and those who support it?


Sincerely, Steven Sellers Lapham

Gaithersburg, Maryland, 20879   USA


StevenSellersLapham [at]

The opinions expressed above, and any errors therein, are strictly my own. I volunteer for . . . 

    Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East

    Voices from the Holy Land Film Series

    Freedom 2 Boycott in Maryland


Free online videos, “Gaza in Context,” 20-min.,;

“Gaza: A Gaping Wound,” 14-min.,;  

Anna Baltzer’s 11-min. TEDx Talk, “The Danger of Neutrality,” at;

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organi­zation, posts many short videos documenting oppression in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the Occupied Territories.

“The time has come to end the Jewish community’s support for the occupation,”  

Steven S. Lapham, “Ten U.S. Churches Now Sanction Israel—To Some Degree, and with Caveats,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 38, no. 2, March/April 2019.


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              Part II. Making Hay from a Horror?


The Honorable Cory Booker, U.S. Senator from New Jersey, United States Senate, Washington, DC  20510 

February 1, 2019

Dear Senator Booker,


“We need to understand that words matter, and that we all need to be mindful of what we’re saying.”


That was your admirable statement after the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Philadelphia, during which eleven people were killed by a neo-Nazi extremist. Then, less than a week later, you announced that, in response to the shooting, you would support the congressional Israel Anti-Boycott Act (IABA), which would punish Americans who support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions Movement.


What an odd whiplash! It aches my neck, and it breaks my heart.


Where to begin?


Were you using a horrific event to quickly score cheap political points? You dishonored the 11 Jewish people killed in that atrocity, while adding confusion, fear, and prejudice to our national dialog. You diverted attention from the source of the violence--white supremacy--to a group that has nothing to do with the massacre, namely Palestinians suffering occupation and expulsion. Thus, you joined (for a passing moment, I hope!)  a long-standing effort to squelch civic discussion and debate, in America, about important U.S. foreign and military policies.


I. The Freedom to Boycott

Please recall that the freedom to boycott is a First Amendment right, affirmed in 1968 by the 8-to-0 Supreme Court decision in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware. And in our day, civil rights organizations such as the ACLU, and courts, have deemed the IABA to be an insult to the Constitutional.  Laws and edicts that discourage BDS are still on the books in about 26 states. Supporters of BDS say that their aim is not to destroy Israel, but to save it, as South Africa was ultimately saved from its entrenched apartheid system (and a likely civil war) by the boycotts, divestments, and sanctions imposed by other nations of the world in that era.  

     Whatever one may think of the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) as a strategy aimed at ending Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian lands, there is no ethical argument that would deny Palestinians their right to try to use any nonviolent means they wish to end their cruel and unlawful occupation by Israel.

     I believe the BDS Movement is Israel’s best hope for survival in this century (and for all of humanity, our survival), and I support it with my volunteer hours and my dollars.  I am on neither the Israeli or Palestinian “side.” I am on the side of human rights for all who live in the region now today. I believe that every Israeli child will be safe when every Palestinian child is safe.


II. “Anti-Zionism isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism”

The assertion above was the title of New York Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg’s column of December 7, 2018. Equating loyalty to the state of Israel (and whatever its current policies may be) with Jewish values (and love and respect for Jewish people) is a dangerous error. It is, in fact, anti-Jewish, as such a conceit plays into the myth of a monolithic, world-wide “Jewish opinion.” Many of the most vocal critics of Israel’s far-right-wing, militarist policies today are in fact Jewish, as can be seen by visiting the webpages of American groups such Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now, as well as Israeli civic organizations such as B’tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and the veterans’ group Breaking the Silence (to name a few).     “America’s Jews are Watching Israel in Horror,” reports Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, describing a 2018 survey by the American Jewish Committee. Most Jewish Americans do not, in fact, support Israel's settlements and Jerusalem evictions, and are troubled by the Trump-Netanyahu axis. In short, there is not one monolithic "world-wide Jewish opinion," one that supports Israel's occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian lands and neighborhoods, or any other opinion. Such a belief is, in fact, a symptom of anti-Semitism. 


III. Muslims Show Us the Way

Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the Women's March in DC, January 19, 2019, was asked by the founder of that march to step down because of her Palestinian rights activism. She did not, and the women marched.  Sarsour, a Palestinian American, and a supporter of the BDS Movement, was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in 2017. (I’m a UU.) MPower Change, a Muslim organization that Sarsour co-founded, helped raise more than $230,000 to cover the funeral expenses for victims of the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh.

Let us recall a more deadly, but very similar, massacre. On the morning of February, 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein entered the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Palestinian West Bank town of Hebron (also called al-Khalil). Armed with an assault rifle and 140 rounds of ammunition, he murdered 29 people and injured more than 100 others. Goldstein was a Zionist extremist and an active member of the anti-Arab Kach party. Serving as a physician with the Israeli army (IDF) and later in a civilian capacity, Goldstein refused to treat Arabs, even Arab soldiers serving in the IDF. He was a racist.


IV. Tikkun Olam

The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue should unite us all, not divide us. Yet many Israeli media avoided calling the Tree of Life a “synagogue,” as they would deny that term to Reform Jewish congregations. There is much healing that needs to happen in Israel. In America. A prayer: May we be part of that healing.

The aspiration tikkun olam, to heal the world, is a central teaching of Hebrew scripture. Rather than allowing the atrocity in Pittsburgh to divide us, let us use these moments to reaffirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person; to strive for a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; and to reaffirm our joy in the diverse character of our American society, which does not, in its laws today, privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another, and that respects the separation of state from all organized religion.

After the atrocity, Americans should come together and condemn sources of violence in our society today, such as easy access to automatic weapons, racism, white supremacy, and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, which has engendered an atmosphere of increasing fear and hatred of “the other,” as well as a sense of victimhood and revenge. 

Some of your colleagues in the U.S. Congress have voiced their support for the BDS Movement: Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

It is time for leaders to take risks. If not now, when? What are we here for?


Sincerely, Steven Sellers Lapham

Gaithersburg, Maryland, 20879   USA


StevenSellersLapham [at]


The opinions expressed above, and any errors therein, are strictly my own. I volunteer for . . . 

     Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East

    Voices from the Holy Land Film Series

    Freedom 2 Boycott in Maryland


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