Broad Coalition of UUs speak on behalf of Solidarity with Palestinians at UUA General Assembly

At the Saturday, June 22, 2024, General Session of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly, delegates engaged in discussion of the Action of Immediate Witness: Solidarity with Palestinians, which was admitted to the Final Agenda by a vote of 84.8%. Delegates will cast their votes today in support or opposition to the AIW being passed by the General Assembly.

Below are some of the statements offered in support of the AIW by delegates. Not all delegates were able to speak at the pro microphone due to the bylaw’s time constraints on discussion, so we share all of those here who wished to have their statements heard and read by Unitarian Universalists.

AIW Co-Sponsor Lena K. Gardner

I’m Lena K. Gardner, she/her, Executive Director of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism.

I support this AIW because the liberation of Black Americans and the liberation of Palestinians has always been connected. The connections are both ideological and real. The officer that killed George Floyd trained with the Israeli police, the Ferguson police department trained with the Israeli police. The governments of both our countries do not recognize our humanity as Black or Palestinian people. Just like we know our people deserve a chance at life, so too do the Palestinians, the Congolese, the Ethiopians, the Sudanese and all those struggling for survival under the racialized Capitalism of the US empire.

I fully reject the notion that it is antisemitic to demand that the humanity of Palestinians be seen and respected. Because Israel is not Judaism. Judaism is so much bigger and cannot be encompassed in a single violent nation state. Speaking up for life and freedom in solidarity with oppressed peoples across the globe should be a cornerstone of our faith as Unitarian Universalists.

So in the tradition Black religious faiths, who have always spoken into existence those truths which have not yet come to be, we declare now, as ever, that Black Lives Matter and from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.

AIW Co-Sponsor, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi’s Statement

Our Unitarian Universalist faith, rooted in radical love and justice, calls us to uphold a world where liberation is real for all. We recognize that all life is sacred, both Israeli and Palestinian.

We must lament the brutal killing of Israeli children and adults; the indiscriminate bombing and killing of Palestinian children, adults, and elders in refugee camps; the destruction of schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods, the devastation of cultures; the oppression and suffering of those living as refugees under occupation; we must lament the dismissal of international law as a naive suggestion; and the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia, even in progressive spaces. Countless lives depend on us speaking out.

This belief compels us to support the AIW: Solidarity With Palestinians, which upholds a world where liberation and safety are real for all. It reaffirms our dedication to the safety of Jewish people while recognizing the rights of Palestinians. It decries the violence of October 7 and Israel’s brutal response, the urgent need to address the long-standing occupation and repression in Gaza

The AIW urges us to end unconditional military aid to Israel, support Palestinian self-determination, demand an immediate ceasefire, enable humanitarian aid for Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and prisoners, and end genocide worldwide. By supporting this AIW, we uphold our Unitarian Universalist values and rise in solidarity with Palestinians for a just peace and liberation for all.

My fellow Delegates, I call on you to rise in unwavering moral courage and vote YES.

DRUUMM SWANA Caucus Statement

I am Rev. Mitra Rahnema, current Interim Minister in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and editor of the book Centering: Navigating Race, Power, and Authenticity in Ministry. I speak here on behalf of the Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) Caucus of Southwest Asian & North African descent: known as SWANA. Most of the people in our group do not have the credentials to speak in this forum.

The DRUUMM SWANA Caucus supports this Action of Immediate Witness, and we implore our faith community to adopt it in solidarity with our lives. 

For decades, Palestinian hearts have been put on a back-burner, resulting in what is a long-term moral injury. We’ve witnessed the comfort of some, privileged over our dignity. We have watched ancestral lands be decimated by a government-funded by our own tax dollars. When we turn to our Unitarian Universalist faith for support and comfort we are told we are causing turmoil. And, we are asked to apologize first for the violence of others – before we are allowed to speak. (An ultimate act of racism.)

Palestine is at the heart of SWANA lives. It is a place of resilience that affirms our existence. Therefore, we ask for your vote to support of this AIW, as one small move towards creating a new narrative.  One that says imperialism is NOT part of our languages of love and liberation.  One that REFUSES to stay SILENT in the face of genocide.  One that says that human potential is worth feeding, literally, and that all people deserve a world that affirms their dignity.

Thank you.

Stephen Finner’s Statement

I identify as an ethnic Jew.

My faith, freely chosen for 50 years, is Universalism .

The religion of Judaism charges us all with Tikkun Olam, healing the world.

The last 76 years of Israel stealing land from Palestinians and murdering them with arms supplied by American manufacturers supported by additional funds from our government is the opposite of healing the world.

This AIW is a statement of the commitment of our faith to heal the world. I will vote for it

Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson’s Statement

I’m the Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson, my pronouns are she/they. I serve the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale in Illinois.  I’m an older white woman, with dark red hair wearing brown glasses, a white shirt and black jacket and keffiyeh scarf. In the background there are lots of books. I speak as a former board member of UURISE.

My faith calls us to rise up against injustice and for collective liberation. Over many years I have witnessed the devastation experienced by the Palestinian people, including the effect on Palestinian and Muslim friends and colleagues in the San Diego community where I lived and have been in solidarity for over 18 years.

The horrific and traumatic event on October 7 has affected Jewish friends, creating profound layers of trauma.

And I have watched the disproportionate death-dealing genocidal onslaught of the Israeli government with the consent and complicity of the US government, along with the  devastation and apartheid conditions for decades.

I am answering the brave call of young Palestinians and Jewish friends in my community. A dear friend and San Diego Imam was pepper-sprayed while supporting the student encampment.  I attended the memorial service and vigil for 6 year old Wadea  al-Fayoume who was stabbed to death as the killer shouted “all Muslims must die.”

There is so much trauma.

And I say enough. Now is the time.

Now is the time for us as Unitarian Universalists to follow the moral imperative to rise up for liberation for all

Now is the time for us to act on behalf of our Palestinian siblings.

I support this AIW and ask you to join me. No one is free, unless all are free.

Rebecca Donley’s Statement

Rebecca Donley (she/they) First Universalist, Minneapolis, MN (I’m a white femme person with orange red shoulder length hair with micro bangs and purple cat-eye glasses, wearing a blue t-tshirt and grey sweater).

I am proud to support this AIW as someone who has been organizing locally with interfaith groups for Palestinian rights. This winter one of my racial justice accountability buddies, who is Jewish, encouraged me to lean into a more vocal support of Palestine. I became involved in our Minnesota branch of Christians for a Free Palestine, a group of Christian and Christian heritage folks working to push against Christian Nationalism particularly in the harmful ways that Christian Nationalists have created dangerous narratives about Palestinian and Israeli people. In this work I met another UU of Jewish heritage who stopped attending UU churches because of our silence about the occupation and genocide of Palestinian people. Her words inspired me to find other local UUs and work to organize a Twin Cities chapter of UUJME. Connecting with UUs with Palestinian family members and hearing how they felt worried about asking for support and care broke my heart. Please support this AIW and its long time coming commitment to solidarity with all who have felt unheard and unheld because of the silence in our communities.

Rev. Annie Gonzalez’s Statement

Hi, I’m Rev. Annie Gonzalez, a white woman in my late 30s with dark brown hair past my shoulders and bangs. I use she/her pronouns.

The most important factor motivating this AIW is the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza, enabled and funded by our own country. And I am not sure this AIW will actually impact their material reality, but if it can move more UUs to do more organizing that does impact the material reality then it will certainly have been worth it.

But there is another good reason to support this AIW. Some people have expressed concerns about balance in the AIW. But the truth is our social context is already horribly unbalanced. Personally, I have far more Jewish friends and loved ones than Muslim or Arab friends. I have taken in Israeli propaganda through my U.S. government and media. I have been fed anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate and fear especially since Sept 11th happened when I was 15. I, like most white Americans and most UUs, am unconsciously biased toward Israeli Jews and against Palestinian Arabs. I see that bias play out repeatedly in UU spaces in who we have relationships with and whose pain we center or put first. Resisting that bias is a spiritual practice and I do it out of love. Because I love my Arab and Muslim friends. I love the Palestinian woman who was my dorm mother at my international boarding school. I will keep humanizing Palestinians and centering their experience every chance I get. Please join me in this spiritual practice by voting yes on this AIW.

Meagan Henry’s Statement

Hello, my name is Meagan Henry, she/her pronouns. I am a 52 year old white woman with shoulder length black and silver hair and eyeglasses. I am wearing a black and white clergy top made in South Africa and brought to the U.S. by Rev. Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu.

In my position as a parish minister, I have witnessed the negative effects on those who are accused of anti-Semitism when they speak up for Palestinians. This is creating a climate of fear and is in direct opposition to our values as Unitarian Universalists.

This is especially devastating for young people in our faith who are being told not to speak about the genocide they see unfolding on their phones every day. 

We teach that every person’s life is valuable and worthy, regardless of their race or religion or what country they are born into, and now, in my experience, many are being told they can’t speak up in their own UU communities when they see thousands of innocent civilians being massacred. When they see entire Palestinian blood lines exterminated by bombs funded by our tax dollars.

I grew up UU. I raised my daughter as a UU. Now I have an Arab son-in-law and a half Arab granddaughter, and I would love for them to feel accepted in our uu spaces, but I fear that if we are unable to face our anti-Arab and anti-Muslim biases, they will not feel welcome in UU spaces. 

May we have the courage and may we be grounded enough in our beliefs and values to take up what is arguably the moral issue of our time. 

I hope you will join me in voting yes to Solidarity with Palestinians.

Thank you. 

Rachel Rott’s Statement

My name is Rachel Rott, she/they pronouns, I’m a delegate from Palomar UU Fellowship in Vista, CA. I’m a middle-aged white woman with very short greyish blonde hair. I’m wearing blue-framed glasses, a white t-shirt, and a Palestinian keffiyah. 

In the summer of 2014, my family hosted two Palestinian teens as part of the Hands of Peace program, which brought together Jewish Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. American teenagers for a summer of dialogue and relationship building. 

Israel had invaded Gaza again in those weeks, and I asked if there were any students from Gaza attending the program. Leen said to me, “Nobody leaves Gaza.” 

From those two precious girls, I learned about how the IDF kicks West Bank families out of their homes at will, sometimes temporarily and sometimes forever. How Palestinian citizens of Israel are not safe from targeting. 

I learned about power from Leen and Hadeel: the power imbalance between a sophisticated military and a stateless, occupied people. The power imbalance between a world that has been taught to believe that a whole people is evil and less than, and that their safety and existence is a fair trade for the illusion of security gained by eradicating them. And the power of a people to still nurture resilience, joy, and beauty. 

My hope is for our faith to live into the promise of collective liberation–where we can name a genocide when we see it, and say that until Palestinians are free, none of us are free.

Susan Nye’s Statement

I am Susan Nye (she/her), member of First Parish UU Cambridge MA for 40 years.   I am an older white woman. If you are thinking that this AIW is antisemitic I urge you to consider this. If the current government of Israel deserves serious criticism for its policies and practices, I do not believe this means that the proposers and sponsors of this AIW hate Jews for being Jews. I believe it is OK to criticize any government, including my own. If I criticize the government of Iran or Saudi Arabia I don’t think that makes me  islamophobic.  Neither do I believe that criticizing the current government of India means I hate all Hindus. I trust UU’s to discern and appreciate this difference.

Pamela McInnes’s Statement

I am Pamela McInnes, she/her, I live on Dakota Lands, and I attend Unity Church Unitarian in Saint Paul MN;  I have attended UU churches since I was 4 years old. I have been exploring the plight of the Jewish and Palestinian people in Israel/Palestine for more than 13 years and visited Israel and Palestine to speak with area residents on a human rights delegation in 2011.

I am proud to support this AIW. American taxpayers have supported the Israeli state militarily since its inception with relatively miniscule support provided to the Palestinian population.  It is time for Justice and Equity for all people living in Israel Palestine.  It is time for opening our hearts to the cultures of love and compassion of the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian peoples.  It is time to open our ears to uncensored media about the events in the area.  I don’t know how the peoples of this land will come to peace, but I do feel that valuing the lives and human rights of Jews over those of Palestinians hasn’t led to peace.  We need a new path that includes acknowledging eqully the suffering, rights and dreams of these two ancient peoples so they can live together in peace, follow their dreams in peace, raise their children in peace, and care for the land together in peace.

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