An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation

By Sana Saeed

July 1, 2014

 

Interfaith work has the potential to create and sustain profound relationships across religions. 

But what happens when interfaith work becomes a trojan horse?

In this piece I explore the Muslim Leadership Initiative, a program which sends American Muslims leaders to Israel to study Judaism and Zionism and is funded by the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Zionist and anti-BDS organization.  I’ve broken down the narrative into five parts – the actual critique and deconstruction of the institute and program are towards the later part of the article.

 

The TIME article reduces the occupation to the displacement of “dialogue” and “both sides” (unsure if Chaudry means Palestinians and Israelis or Muslims and Jews) being unwilling to speak outside ”their own bubbles”. Muslims, it essentially argues, misunderstand Zionism and thus misunderstand Jews and Israel. Therefore, to have healthy and holistic interfaith dialogue back in the United States, American Muslims must understand what Zionism means to Jews and what Israel means to Jews. At the  midway point of her piece, Chaudry even explains how  it was only after she finally met Palestinians, during her trip, that she understood that the “fear many Israeli Jews have [of ending the occupation] is not a figment of [their] imagination” as “the pressure cooker cannot hold indefinitely.”

Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation

It is hard to ignore the obvious; it is hard to ignore that despite whatever good intentions and explanations there were and will be, a group of Muslim American leaders – many in the very public eye and with a great deal of social authority – went to Jerusalem through a program, albeit organized by an Imam, funded and supported by an institution that is unabashedly Zionist. That a group of Muslim American leaders traveled to Israel to learn about what ‘Zionism means to Jews’ to better understand Jewish connection to Israel and thus bridges, interfaith, dialogue and other such nouns.

And yet nothing about this is, unfortunately, surprising.

One of the most common tactics of Zionist lobby groups and organizations has been sanitizing the occupation and apartheid and displacing the actual cause and reason for the conflict. Zionist groups have courted Black college students and Latino leaders (with pushback), for instance, in an attempt to, as independent journalist Rania Khalek describes it, “neutralize the brown electorate.” She explains how in an attempt to thwart identification or solidarity Latino, Asian and Black Americans may have with the Palestinian struggle there is a necessity to, quoting former US Ambassador to the European Union Stuart Eizenstat, show how the conflict ”..“is not a civil rights issue. It’s rather a very different conflict in which violence is being used and Israel’s right to be a state is questioned.”

The Need to Reject The Zionist Narrative

There are more questions than answers.

One of the first things that struck me about the program, after I learned that it was associated and funded by the Shalom Hartman Institute, was that there actually isn’t any reason for Muslim American leaders to travel to Israel to study Judaism for the sake of interfaith. Was there really a dearth of resources in the United States? Or are Rabbinical studies only possible in Israel? Just as Qur’anic studies would only be possible in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, India, Jordan? Morocco has one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world; why not go there, where interfaith between Muslims and Jews isn’t obstructed by apartheid walls and laws? Not only would it not cross the BDS line but it would also shift the focus from Ashkenazi-centric Jewish narratives to Sephardic.

Palestine is central to the hearts of Muslims all around the world, but that does not mean we try to re-write the narrative of the occupation on our own terms. There is a real need for interfaith understanding and work between Jews and Muslims and if Israel is a part of that work, then so be it. But we must not, in the process, allow ourselves, our communities and our leaders to be on the wrong sides of history and justice by normalizing and accepting what was and remains unjust.

Right now is a critical moment for our communities to have an actual conversation – not a shouting match. There are concerted efforts to drive wedges between members of communities that may and do stand up against Zionism and the oppression of Palestinians. I earnestly hope we do not allow those efforts to succeed and I encourage others to write responses and engage on this topic. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists

During a visit to an institute in Israel, I gained a new perspective on a belief that I once saw as toxic.

June 24, 2014

How probable is it to get ardent Zionists and pro-Palestinians to not just talk to one another, but love and respect one another? Not likely. That’s why the Shalom Hartman Institute launched a controversial but groundbreaking program to bring American Muslim thought and civic leaders to Jerusalem for a year-long fellowship. For many, the program was a hard sell given sensitivities and loyalties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I hesitated joining because Hartman is an unapologetically Zionist institution and, like all the participants, I have been committed to the Palestinian cause throughout my life. Other than posing an ethical dilemma, it also required putting our credibility with the Muslim community on the line and opening dialogue with Zionists, a thought once an anathema to our sensibilities.

Through the fellowship I learned that Zionism means something very different for Jews. The Jewish people’s longing of thousands of years for a homeland, a return from exile, a sanctuary from being a hated minority in the diaspora, an opportunity to establish Jewish values and honor God, a Biblical promise, a chance for redemption. As someone with years of interfaith experience I should have known all this, but I didn’t. For this, I blame both the exhaustive use (and some Israelis say abuse) of the Holocaust narrative from Zionists to win over Western populations, and also because in the U.S., interfaith work means talking about everything except Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It shows the deep flaws in current interfaith models when the most burning issue remains unspoken.

They are also an affirmation that there is still hope for dialogue and relationships that can actually make a difference. Until now, both parties have been speaking inside their own bubbles, safe in dialogue with people that agree with them. The walls have been built so high that breaching them to reach out to the other side is tantamount to treason. Hartman and the participants both took huge risks in being part of this program with hopes to forge a new way forward. This fellowship proves that building relationships between people who fundamentally disagree can uncover empathy and mutual recognition that despite differences, everyone deserves dignity, security, prosperity and self-determination.

Dress like a jihadist: Isis and terror-related merchandise flogged online and in Indonesian stores

June 24, 2014

As Isis whips up a tsunami of violence, barrelling through Iraq capturing towns and borders on a daily basis in its quest to create an Islamic state, a few entrepreneurial businessmen are capitalising on the exposure by selling a range of “terror”-related merchandise. All publicity is good publicity, particularly in the sale of jihadist apparel, with baseball T-shirts, caps and hoodies being flogged online emblazoned with “ISIS” or supporting the insurgent cause.

A number of Facebook groups marketing the Islamic goods have since been taken offline, including pages such as the “Koas Islamic State of Iraq and Sham” or “Muzalzil production.” The t-shirts, stamped with the al-Qa’ida splinter group’s name and bordered by automatic weapons, have been available for at least a few months and originate from Indonesian vendors. Islamic clothing has also, however, been seen in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

One Facebook account that’s still live, Rezji Militant, has pictures of a store that it says is in Pabelan, central Java, and proudly displays items it sells including an “Always Fight Against Jews Zionism” poster, camouflage vests, and militant dolls-come piggy banks. Another website, Zirah Moslem, has computer game-style images of men with scarves wrapped around their faces illustrated on t-shirts with the words “Muslim Brotherhood,” Fight For Freedom Till Last Drop of Blood,” or “Mujahideen Around the World.” Zirah Moslem has almost 5,000 friends on Facebook and shows off merchandise supporting Hamas, the Taliban and the Free Syrian Army.

 

TAGS: Radicalization, Security and Counterterrorism, Soldiers and Military Conflict, Public opinion and Islam in the media, and Issues in Politics and Immigration and Integration

5 years later, Fla.-Va. terrorism case in limbo

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — For five years, a federal judge upset with the prosecution of a Florida professor once accused of being a leading terrorist has simply refused to rule on his case. It’s left the government unable to deport him, unable to prosecute him, and flummoxed on how to move forward.

In April 2009, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told lawyers she would rule “soon” on whether to dismiss criminal contempt charges filed in Virginia against former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, a longtime prominent Palestinian activist, who refused to testify in a separate terror-related investigation.

The ruling hasn’t come, and nothing has happened in the case. The delay is unusual for Alexandria’s federal courthouse, known in legal circles as the Rocket Docket for its swift disposition of cases. Legal experts say they can’t think of a similar case elsewhere that has languished for so long.

On the surface at least, Al-Arian — who has declined to invoke his speedy trial rights — benefits from his silence and the standoff. If the Virginia case were dropped, Al-Arian, 56, born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugees before coming to the U.S. in 1975, would be deported under the terms of a Florida plea.

Al-Arian’s critics said he was a leader of one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world — the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — and that he used his position as a computer science professor as a base to quietly raise money for attacks. His supporters saw a man who was trapped by anti-Muslim hysteria, unfairly snared in a vague, amorphous web of guilt-by-association when his real goal was to help his native people in the Palestinian territories.

In 2003, federal prosecutors in Florida filed an indictment alleging Al-Arian was a leader of the terrorist group and complicit in the murder of innocent civilians. A jury acquitted him on numerous counts, and was hung on others. A mistrial was declared.

Pete White, a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia who is now a defense attorney, said it is rare for a criminal case to sit this long under these circumstances, especially in the Rocket Docket. There are no official statistics that document the rarity of a criminal case sitting in limbo for such a long time, but White and others said they could not think of a similar case, especially one that grew out of a terror-related investigation.

White said the only option prosecutors have to propel the case forward would be to file something called a writ of mandamus against Brinkema — basically asking another judge to order her to take action.

A Candid Conversation Between a RABBI and an IMAM About Issues That Divide Jews and Muslims

New Book With a Foreword from PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON In SONS OF ABRAHAM

Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali pool their collective wisdom and compassion to achieve the unthinkable: They plot a realistic course towards a peaceful, co- existing future for the world’s Jews and Muslims—one that begins with understanding the fundamental similarities between the two faiths, and then cultivating mutual respect and appreciation for the differences.

Featuring a stirring, urgent foreword by President Bill Clinton (plus a nuanced introduction by renowned New York Times journalist Samuel G. Freedman), SONS OF ABRAHAM is the first time two leading religious figures from Judaism and Islam have come together for this crucial dialogue and published the results in book form.

The two authors alternate chapters, beginning with each describing his early years—in doing so exposing the dark roots of the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that many young Muslims and Jews are still being taught today by their teachers and communities. – See more at:

Nominee for California student regent draws rare ire

SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California’s governing board confirmed its first Muslim student member Wednesday, despite some Jewish groups’ claims that she marginalized Jewish students and promoted an anti-Israel agenda.

Regents voted unanimously to ratify UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin’s nomination, with one regent, Richard Blum, abstaining from the vote.

UC Berkeley senior Sadia Saifuddin was picked from a field of 30 applicants to serve on the UC Board of Regents during the 2014-15 academic year. As student regent-designate, the 21-year-old Pakistani American would participate in meetings but wouldn’t be able to cast votes during the school year that begins this fall.

Saifuddin’s critics had urged the regents to reject the nomination, pointing to a student government proposal Saifuddin co-sponsored calling for the university to divest from companies with economic ties to the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The critics said it was evidence she is unqualified to represent all of the UC system’s more than 222,000 students.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a Berkeley-based group that opposes Israeli settlements in the West bank and Gaza, issued a statement Wednesday saying that Saifuddin had been “made the target of yet another intimidation and repression campaign against anyone who dares criticize Israel on campus.”

New book – Islam in the West: Iraqi Shi’i Communities in Transition and Dialogue

430905_cover*Islam in the West: Iraqi Shi’i Communities in Transition and Dialogue*

By Kieran Flynn

Oxford: Peter Lang

259 pp. | ISBN 978-3-0343-0905-9 | £40.00

This book studies the historical, religious and political concerns of the Iraqi Shi‘i community as interpreted by the members of that community who now live in the United Kingdom and Ireland, following the 2003-2010 war and occupation in Iraq. It opens up a creative space to explore dialogue between Islam and the West, looking at issues such as intra-Muslim conflict, Muslim–Christian relations, the changing face of Arab Islam and the experience of Iraq in the crossfire of violence and terrorism – all themes which are currently emerging in preaching and in discussion among Iraqi Shi‘a in exile. The book’s aim is to explore possibilities for dialogue with Iraqi Shi‘i communities who wish, in the midst of political, social and religious transition, to engage with elements of Christian theology such as pastoral and liberation theology.

Contents: Shi‘i Muslim Migration and Settlement in Ireland and the UK – Shi‘i Religious Narratives in History and Ritual Memory – The Narrative of Emancipation Among Shi‘a in Iran – Narrative Shi‘i Opposition and Emancipation in Iraq – Shi‘i Political Empowerment in Iraq – Shi‘i Sermons and Narratives – Catholic Theology in Dialogue with Shi‘i Narratives.

Real Madrid opens sport schools to the children of Gaza

31 January 2013

 

The agreement between Real Madrid Foundation and the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) to open sport schools in Gaza offers “the children some sense of normalcy after the last military offensive on Gaza,” according to this organism.

The project, oriented to 500 children from seven schools in Gaza, “seeks to promote teamwork, gender equality and leadership. Through football, not only they learn the basic skills of the sport but also improve their ability to cope with everyday life, “UNRWA said in a statement.

This past November, when the project was launched “many children in the Gaza Strip were excited and this news made ​​them feel their idols Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Marcelo, Kaka, Benzema and Sergio Ramos a bit closer. ”
In total, and in the future it is expected that 10,000 Palestinian refugee children will participate in the Real Madrid sport schools in Gaza and  in the West Bank.

The Middle East: Policy Choices for the New Administration

The video of the Middle East Policy Council’s 70th Capitol Hill Conference is now available for on-demand streaming.

Speakers:  

Paul Pillar

Former National Intelligence Officer,
National Intelligence Council; Professor, Georgetown University

Scott McConnell

Founding Editor, The American Conservative

 

Jocelyne Cesari

Co-director, SAIS Global Politics and Religion Initiative; Research Associate, Harvard University

Nathaniel Kern

President, Foreign Reports

 


Moderator:

Thomas R. Mattair

Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council

 

PRESS RECAP

The Middle East: Policy Choices for the New Administration
Post-debate conference highlighted the domestic constraints to foreign policymaking

WASHINGTON, October 17, 2012 — The morning after the 2nd presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, analysts convened for the Middle East Policy Council’s 70th Capitol Hill Conference. The conference addressed policy challenges in the Middle East awaiting the winner of the November election. The event speakers and a summary of their comments are below; for members of the press seeking a full transcript from the event, please e-mail mepc.press@gmail.com. Visit our website for full video from the event.

Thomas Mattair, Executive Director of the Middle East Policy Council, moderated the event. Four distinguished panelists joined him: Scott McConnell (Founding Editor, The American Conservative), Jocelyne Cesari (Co-director, SAIS Global Politics & Religion Initiative), Nathaniel Kern (President, Foreign Reports) and Paul Pillar (Former National Intelligence Officer, National Intelligence Council).

While addressing different topics, each speaker stressed the role of domestic politics — both here in the United States and the Middle East — to influence policymaking on a variety of fronts. Amidst the hyper-partisan climate in the United States at the moment, our speakers were in general agreement about the challenges the two U.S. candidates would ultimately face.

Scott McConnell observed that the powerful Israel lobby is exhibiting “cracks” and that the Democratic Party and mainline churches are tempering their support for Israel. He thinks that a two-state solution will no longer be feasible and the new administration will be challenged to maintain a “special relationship” with Israel while Palestinian interests are not met.

Jocelyne Cesari explained the nuanced political realms in nations transformed by the Arab Awakening and encouraged the next U.S. administration to appreciate the role of Islam in these emerging governments, discard the assumption that democracy is synonymous with secularism, and communicate with domestic societies to change their image of the United States.

Nathaniel Kern described the progress made in the U.S.–Saudi strategic dialogue since 2005 on issues including counter-terrorism, Saudi student visas and oil production but cautioned that the continued stability of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia could be complicated by a lack of progress on issues like the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and on Iran and Syria.

Paul Pillar conceded there is little the United States can do to shape events in Syria, while advocating a more flexible negotiating posture with Iran that will offer sanctions relief for Iranian cooperation. He thinks that President Obama will be more inclined to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis than Governor Romney.

An edited video by speaker, including a full transcript from the event will be posted in a few days at www.mepc.org and then published in the next issue of the journal Middle East Policy.

Contacts:
For interviews or other content associated with this event, please contact Rebecca Leslie– (202) 296 6767 – Rleslie@mepc.org

 

Pamela Geller Faces Off With CNN’s Erin Burnett Over Anti-Islam ‘Savages’ Ad

Pamela Geller has been running a controversial ad in New York subway stations that compares Muslim extremists to “savages.” She won a court order to keep the ads up after complaints that it was too offensive. Geller sat down with Erin Burnett on CNN today to defend the ads. Burnett argued that just because someone has a right to something does not mean they should say it, and Geller told Burnett that her opinion is “emboldening Islamic terrorism and emboldening extremism.”

Geller said she wanted to put up the ad to rebut the anti-Israel ads she sees in the subway all the time. She argued that the First Amendment gives her the right to put up something that people find offensive. She said, “I’m running them because I can.” Burnett told Geller her ad sounds like a “narrative of hate.” Geller rebutted her by pointing to terrorist attacks and referring to them as “savagery.”

Burnett asked Geller why she would want to denigrate an entire faith with her ad. Geller countered that she did not, but did dispute the idea that there is anything in the Qu’ran about peace. Geller also pointed out that people are not being killed all over the world for Christianity and Judaism. When Burnett tried to call Geller out for using the word “savages,” Geller said that Burnett was misinterpreting what she said.

Burnett closed the interview by highlighting statements from the Anti-Defamation League that condemn Geller’s ad. Geller brushed aside the criticism, saying that no one who loves the Jewish community actually “takes them seriously.”