When it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, that impression is wrong.
Quakers have a long involvement in the Middle East. They established missions and schools in the mid-19th century, found few converts, but provided an invaluable educational service to the local populations.
The American Friends Service Committee was created during World War I as a private, faith-based, non-governmental organization that provided alternatives to military service. Over the decades they faithfully helped refugees in Europe as well as to impoverished communities in the United States. Their reputation was so large that they won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
The next year they were asked by the United Nations to voluntarily provide relief and aid to Palestine Arab refugees, a task that they executed with model efficiency until early 1950.
The AFSC's experience in the Middle East was unique, paralleled only by the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies, which responded to the same U.N. call for the delivery of refugee aid.
The AFSC also spearheaded religious diplomacy about the fate of Jerusalem, which was besieged and divided during the war of 1948. Though the mission was unsuccessful, and Jerusalem would remain divided until 1967, their efforts were characterized by the scrupulous evenhandedness and appeals to the higher religious sensibilities of Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Fast forward six decades and the Quakers have moved on from religious diplomacy and refugee relief and into the business of boycotts against Israel, all in the name of a Palestinian state.
In a recent joint statement the AFSC has urged the Obama administration to do whatever it takes to bring about a Palestinian state saying the Obama administration and Congress should craft any U.S. policy response in ways which uphold the U.S. commitments to international law, self-determination and the continued search for justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
They go further to say: "We urge the Obama administration and Congress to avoid retaliatory measures against the Palestinians that would increase political despondency at this critical juncture, and instead demonstrate U.S. leadership to press for a comprehensive negotiated settlement that offers a path toward lasting peace and security for all.
"The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has worked for more than a century to promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. FCNL and AFSC are national Quaker organizations that are committed to pressing the United States to play a more constructive role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. QUNO represents the global community of Quakers at the United Nations in New York. Our work is rooted in historic Quaker testimonies on peace and equality and longstanding Quaker witness in the region."
But these pacific words have a dark side as well. The AFSC reached out to the radical group Jewish Voice for Peace and endorsed its TIAA-CREF divestment campaign.
On June 11, 2011, AFSC's Board decided to join the JVP campaign, with the board declaring that the decision to join this campaign is "rooted in our Quaker beliefs that we speak with love to 'that of God' in every person, that we 'utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons for any end or under any pretense whatsoever,' and that we testify to this by removing the 'seeds of conflict' -- including economic seeds -- from our own lives."
This decision is a response to ongoing Israeli violations of human rights and international law and is a rejection of any actions that might support these violations. Consistent with AFSC's investment screen, this campaign aims to change Israeli government actions and to end its continued occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
Boycott, divestment and sanctions have become the accepted methodology in Palestinian political warfare against Israel, complementing terror and the armed struggle. It is founded on the spurious equation of Zionism with apartheid, which was endorsed by the 2001 World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.
For the Israel and the United States, Durban was an ambush that revived the notorious 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism to racism.
The accusation doesn't merely state falsely that Israel is a racist state engaged in war crimes and ethnic cleansing but demands that international organizations and NGOs shun and isolate it as a step toward its eventual dissolution.
The true nature of the BDS movement is effectively anti-Semitism. BDS targets Israel, its businesses, academics, cultural activities and even companies want to do business with it -- not the settlements.
This is a direct extension of the Arab boycott and its rejection policies that pre-date the creation of the modern state of Israel in the 1948 when the Arab world opted for war with Israel rather than co-existence.
It does so in the name of human rights and justice, and in the process distorts these concepts to mean the extinction of the Jewish state.
The AFSC should remind itself of its historical and theological roots. Nothing could be further from the Quaker's original vision of religious diplomacy than the abject vilification of Israel, and nothing is less "Quakerly" than the implicit denial of the rights and indeed, the humanity, of Israelis by demanding they be shunned by all.
(Alexander Joffe is a historian and writer in New York. Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Middle East Forum.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)