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CMU logoBy BERNIE BELLAN

Fresh upon the heels of a controversy emanating from the University of Winnipeg’s Global College having sponsored a panel discussion in February which was accused of having an anti-Semitic element, the Canadian Mennonite University is about to play host to yet another forum which will feature a speaker, the Reverend Naim Ateek, who has been at the forefront of the BDS movement .

What is disconcerting about the proximity of these two events is the deep involvement of Mennonite organizations in both of them. The event at the University of Winnipeg was co-sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Church Manitoba Working Group on Palestine and Israel. (There were several other groups involved in that event as well.)

But now, we’ve been alerted to an event planned for Canadian Mennonite University on April 25, from 7:00 – 9:00 pm, again under the sponsorship of those same two Mennonite groups – along with Canadian Mennonite University – and several other groups, including the Canadian Friends of Sabeel.

Here is some information about Friends of Sabeel – North America, taken from the Anti Defamation League website:

Friends of Sabeel – North America

Friends of Sabeel – North America (FOSNA) is the U.S.-based affiliate of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Palestinian Christian organization based in Jerusalem. FOSNA serves as the “voice for Palestinian Christians” against Israel’s policies and has been a driving force behind various Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel, including those initiated by mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

Sabeel, FOSNA’s parent organization, was founded in 1990 by Reverend Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian theologian. Ateek is fiercely critical of Israeli policy and in recent years has begun privately advocating for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite Sabeel’s stated support for a “just peace based on two states.”

Ateek, along with several other Palestinian theologians, coined and developed what they describe as “Pales­tin­ian lib­er­a­tion theology” in the late 1980s. Based on the premise that the Bible’s explicit descriptions of the land of Israel as belonging to the Jewish people must be repudiated and redefined, this theology rein­ter­prets those descriptions in an attempt to bol­ster the legit­i­macy of the Pales­tin­ian posi­tion and dis­avow Zion­ism. Ateek has claimed that the notion that the land of Israel belongs to the Jew­ish peo­ple is “bad the­ol­ogy” and that the estab­lish­ment of Israel is a “relapse to the most prim­i­tive con­cepts of an exclu­sive, tribal God.”

Sabeel’s efforts to demonize Israel and Israelis have also featured charges of deicide against Jews; they have compared Palestinians to a modern-day Jesus and accused Israel of engaging in a “crucifixion” of these Palestinians. In an Easter mes­sage several years ago, Ateek explic­itly said: “Jesus is on the cross again with thou­sands of cru­ci­fied Pales­tini­ans around him…The Israeli gov­ern­ment cru­ci­fix­ion sys­tem is oper­at­ing daily,” a highly offensive expression given centuries of Jewish oppression on the basis of deicide charges. Ateek and his organization have also compared Israel to the Nazis, accusing Israel of committing a “Holocaust” against Palestinians. 

FOSNA similarly condemns what it describes on its Web site as “distortions of the Bible” that lead to violence and racism, a thinly veiled accusation that the Jewish people’s yearning for the land of Israel – as dictated in the Bible, evidenced throughout history and ideologically formalized by the Zionist movement – is a fallacy. The organization’s mission statement, which echoes Sabeel’s agenda, calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, an end to American policies that “support and perpetuate the occupation,” and “active engagement” in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Although Sabeel and FOSNA claim that they explicitly reject Palestinian terrorism, they also seek to lay blame for this phenomenon on Israel, noting on their Web site that the terrorism is “rooted in this oppressive situation of occupation” and “fomented” by repression.

FOSNA participates in the activities of many of the other leading anti-Israel groups in the U.S., including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace; indeed, representatives of FOSNA often attend and speak at these organizations’ events, rallies and conferences. These groups look to FOSNA as the Christian authority on the conflict and invite FOSNA leaders to participate in their events as evidence that Palestinian opposition to Israel is broad-based and not limited to a conflict between Muslims and Jews. In November 2012, for example, Donald Wagner, the National Program Director for FOSNA, spoke on a panel discussion at the American Muslims for Palestine’s fifth annual conference about building interfaith coalitions to oppose Israel. 

While Sabeel claims to promote “a non-violent vision for addressing the conflict between Palestinians and the state of Israel," and to support a two-state solution to the conflict, Ateek regularly describes the two-state solution as “a first step that hopefully will lead to the formation of the one state.”  In July 2012, Ateek and Wagner attended a conference organized by the Birzeit Society in which they led a session titled “Palestine: One State vs. Two State Solution.” In his comments, Ateek criticized the vision of a two-state-solution and reportedly called for a “third intifada.”

 

cheryl pauls copyWe were concerned enough about the recurrent involvement of Mennonite organizations in activities that have a strong anti-Israel element to them to write to the president of Canadian Mennonite University, Cheryl Pauls, and to the executive director of Global College at the University of Winnipeg, Dean Peachey, asking them to reconsider holding events which involve heavy criticisms of Israel, but nary a word on Palestinian responsibility for the problems that exist in that area of the world.

Here is what I wrote to Ms Pauls on April 13:

Hi Cheryl,

My name is Bernie Bellan. I'm the publisher of Winnipeg's Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Post & News.

I note that, once again, CMU is going to play host to an anti-Israel themed event, this time something called "The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict - Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek".

I've been writing in our paper about an event that took place at the University of Winnipeg on Feb. 28, that also had a strong anti-Israel theme, and which was sponsored, in part, by various Mennonite organizations.

I've been well aware of the unrelenting criticism of Israel emanating from various Mennonite groups for many years, but I wonder whether you'd be interested in mounting a discussion of just why that is. I'd like to hear more about what it is that drives so many Mennonites to attack Israel for its crimes, yet give a total pass to Palestinians for theirs. Perhaps the event could be titled: "Just why is it that Mennonites criticize Israel so much, but remain silent about Palestinians?"

Would you be interested in hosting a forum to discuss just that question?

I look forward to your answer.

By the way, I'm ccing this to Dean Peachey of the U of W's Global College. If MCU isn't interested in hosting such an event, perhaps the Global College will.

Regards,

Bernie Bellan

Publisher/Editor,

The Jewish Post & News