The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is the NGO of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. While it seeks to wear a moral mantle it claims from its 1947 Nobel Prize, in recent decades it has eschewed its values of peace and nonviolence and embraced unapologetically the world’s worst dictators and terrorist movements bent on genocide. One of the first pieces I wrote for this website almost three years ago was an examination of the AFSC’s work in North Korea and, previously, I had also co-written a piece with a fellow Quaker school alum looking at the AFSC’s conflation of pacifism with hard-left politics. It might seem strange to preach non-violence and work with a government that both runs concentration camps and summarily executes children, but after having shilled for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as that monstrous group massacred millions of Cambodians, such skewed values shouldn’t surprise.
Of course, most COMMENTARY readers know the AFSC better for its work among Palestinians. Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe have an important article in the Tower magazine this month asking aptly, “When did the Quakers Stop Being Friends?” They note the 2008 gala dinner co-hosted by the AFSC for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never mind Ahmadinejad’s threats to eradicate Israel and his Holocaust denial, and they also examined the AFSC’s recent indoctrination and training summer camps for new generations of boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) activists. But the real value of Romirowsky and Joffe’s work is its extensive examination of the AFSC attitudes toward Zionism and the notion of Jewish attachment toward Israel, and its close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during the height of that group’s terror campaign against Israel and Jews. In one 1977 session, the AFSC instructed Jewish participants at a workshop to “tolerate some anti-Semitic remarks.”
Once a byword for humanitarianism and faith, [the AFSC] has now become, in effect, a brand—one on which the AFSC can trade as it exploits the putative neutrality and pacifism it stands for in order to advance hostility toward Israel and, with its promotion of the “right of return,” an end to Israel itself. In the end, the AFSC’s story reflects the tensions between pacifism and politics, between aid work and political activism, and between neutrality in the Middle East conflict and religious anti-Zionism. It demonstrates that small religious movements are susceptible to hijacking by radicals, and suggests that pacifism may inevitably engender its opposite.
Let us hope that individual Quakers—some of whom are truly aghast at the AFSC’s antics—will recognize the great ills that are being perpetrated in their name and ask some hard questions of those tying Quakerism to racism, xenophobia, and hatred.