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Sabeel Meeting Draws Jewish Opposition

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A conference organized by a Christian Palestinian advocacy group scheduled this month in Albuquerque has drawn opposition from Jewish leaders, who successfully urged a local Episcopal church to cancel its sponsorship of the event.

Jewish leaders say Friends of Sabeel is an anti-Semitic organization opposed to the existence of Israel as a Jewish homeland — a charge denied by conference organizers.

“The Sabeel movement is deeply offensive to the mainstream Jewish community because it undermines the right of the Jewish state to exist,” said Sam Sokolove, executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.

Janice Hart, a conference organizer, said the actions of Sokolove and others are an attempt to undermine the conference by pressuring church leaders to withdraw their support.

Jewish leaders “are expressing their viewpoint, and we want to express ours without this kind of harassment,” Hart said.

Friends of Sabeel calls for the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and says Palestinians should be allowed to form a sovereign state, according to the group’s website. Sabeel also calls for divestment in Israel, the website says.

Sokolove said he and others met with the New Mexico Council of Churches earlier this year and convinced the ecumenical group to withdraw its support for the conference. They have also tried unsuccessfully to convince a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Richard Alona, to withdraw his support, Sokolove said. Alona could not be reached for comment.

Friends of Sabeel North America is the U.S. and Canadian chapter of Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based group formed by Palestinian Christians. The group has scheduled an international conference Sept. 28-29 at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque.

Organizers last year contracted with Cathedral Church of St. John to hold the conference at the Episcopal church in Albuquerque. But St. John leaders decided in February to cancel the contract and refund a $1,000 payment after meeting with Rabbi Arthur Flicker, who leads Congregation B’nai Israel of Albuquerque.

The Rev. Mark Goodman, dean of the Cathedral of St. John, said he and other church leaders decided to cancel after the brief meeting with Flicker.

“He was very calm, very cool, no heated rhetoric,” Goodman said. Afterward, St. John leaders decided they “felt increasingly uncomfortable with what they perceived to be a very one-sided approach of Sabeel,” Goodman said.

Flicker said this week that, during the meeting, he urged St. John leaders to read an online document, Kairos Palestine, which he said contains “hateful language” about Israel.

Kairos Palestine, written by a group of Christian leaders in Jerusalem in 2009, calls on Christians worldwide to support Palestinians, who have faced “clear apartheid” under military occupation by Israel.

Hart said Friends of Sabeel agrees with the Kairos Palestine document, though the group did not help draft it.

“We believe that Israel can’t sustain the occupation” of West Bank and Gaza, Hart said. “Israel would be safer and much more viable without the occupation. We like to say that we’re saving Israel.”

For more information about Friends of Sabeel and the conference, visit www.fosna.org and link to “Albuquerque, NM conference.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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