As the Sept. 15 Albuquerque Journal article detailed, Friends of Sabeel in North America will be holding a “Justice & Peace in Palestine and Israel” conference in Albuquerque later this month. What the article failed to convey, however, is that while Sabeel hides behind a language of peace and reconciliation, FOSNA – listed by the Anti-Defamation League as one of “The Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in America” – actively promotes a rejection of Israel as a Jewish state.
An integral part of the global anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, Sabeel promotes the idea that Zionism is based on a false reading of the Bible and that it stands for injustice and in opposition to God.
In addition, Sabeel often compares the Palestinians to the crucified Jesus, and Israel to his murderers, alluding to the ugly deicide charge against all the Jewish people. Examples include referring to Israeli actions with deicide language such as “The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily” or “Israel has placed a large boulder, similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. This boulder has shut in the Palestinians.”
Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, has called such Sabeel statements “recycled anti-Judaism that depicts Israel as a country of Christ killers.”
Sabeel conferences are notorious for featuring speakers who vilify Israel and routinely lift the voices of anti-Zionist Jews as a means to disingenuously suggest that they bring Christians, Jews and Muslims to the table. They continually reject almost all mainstream Jewish voices, including progressive or dovish Zionists.
When the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Jewish clergy first became aware of the FOSNA conference last summer, we also learned that friends in the interfaith community had been approached to serve as conference sponsors. Given the positive history of interfaith relations between Christians and Jews in Albuquerque, it was our responsibility to offer a mainstream Jewish perspective on this conference.
As a result, it was heartening to garner the support of friends like the New Mexico Conference of Churches and Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John who distanced themselves from FOSNA in demonstration of sensitivity to Jewish community concerns and civic discourse.
Characterizing these conversations as “bullying” and “harassment” is profoundly incorrect, but an expected part of the BDS campaign. We are confident that other church representatives who have lent their endorsement to the Sabeel conference will come to recognize the one-sided, inflammatory and destructive nature of the movement.
To be sure, the Jewish community of New Mexico is in no way monolithic, and many of us often vocally criticize the policies of Israel’s government. However, the overwhelming majority of Jews in New Mexico and around the globe recognize Israel as a miraculous return of our homeland after a 3,500-year exile, and a vibrant, if young and imperfect, democracy for people of all religions within a region surrounded by intolerance and brutal dictatorships that conspicuously escape Sabeel and BDS scorn.
The conflict in the Middle East is about finding a peaceful path to establish two states for two peoples, not about preventing a group from exercising its right to self-determination.
There are appropriate and meaningful forums for interfaith discussion on all issues pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that engender dialogue and increased understanding. Sadly, Sabeel’s commitment is not to promoting this goodwill, but instead to spreading vicious propaganda to assault Israel’s legitimacy.