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SABEEL BRINGS INTOLERANCE TO SEATTLE. NEXT STEP SAN FRANCISCO
 
BY ROBERTA SEID, PHD

Seattle, known for its inclusive liberalism, exposed a darker side on February 19 and 20 when the prestigious St. Mark’s Cathedral hosted an anti-Israel, anti-Jewish conference organized by Sabeel, the Jerusalem-based Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center led by Palestinian Anglican Rev. Naim Ateek. Sabeel events are more disturbing than most anti-Israel conclaves. Reverting to dark eras of Jewish-Christian relations, they go beyond demonizing Zionists and Israel by attacking Judaism itself, all with the eager approval of their mainline Christian and “social justice” audiences.

This was Sabeel’s 30th conference in the U.S. and Canada, and it followed Sabeel’s usual pattern. The roster included veterans of the anti-Israel lecture circuit, from Alison Weir of the organization If Americans Knew, who has claimed that the IDF shoots Palestinian children in the back, to Cindy and Craig Corrie, who became activists after their daughter was accidentally killed while demonstrating against IDF anti-terrorism operations in Gaza. As always, the roster also included Israeli and Jewish anti-Israel activists. Sabeel is planning a similar conference in San Francisco and other cities.

In Sabeel’s biased worldview, terrorism does not exist or is minimized and sometimes even justified. Sabeel gave a special award to Palestinian Seattle resident Amin Odeh, who had been imprisoned by Israel for the “innocent” act of stone throwing. Portrayals of Palestinians and their society are utterly divorced from reality. The divisions in Palestinian society, the violence of Hamas, and the systemic incitement to hate Jews and Israel completely disappear. Palestinians are portrayed as an undifferentiated mass of innocent victims of Zionism’s and Israel’s evil motivations.

Rev. Ateek said he learned how “wrong and unjust” Zionism was when his family was “driven out” of their home in 1948. He neglected to present context by mentioning the war launched against Israel by five neighboring states. The presenter who gave Odeh his award effusively remarked that Odeh showed “resilience” because “something in Palestinian culture teaches people to hang on to their humanity.” Such idealizing erases the reality of Hamas, suicide bombers, and the terrorists launching thousands of rockets at men, women, and children in southern Israel from Gaza.

Rev. Ateek also claimed that Christians, with their religion of love, compassion, mercy, and justice, should find the path to peace. But throughout the conference, there was only lip service to “mercy” and “love” and nothing about how Palestinians could moderate, develop understanding for Jews, or coexist with Israel. Justice was the overriding theme, and justice is harsh, not forgiving. The conference’s title encapsulated this theme: “What does justice require of U.S.?” “U.S.” had an intentional double meaning, referring to both the attendees and the United States government. The goal of the conference was to figure out how the activists could persuade (pressure) the U.S. to end its support of Israel.
All of Israel’s actions were demonized. Professor Steve Niva of Evergreen State College claimed that Israel was carrying on a “silent war” in Jerusalem to get rid of Palestinians and take over the city. He never acknowledged that Jerusalem’s Palestinian population has been growing, not declining, or that Jews have legitimate claims to the city. He equated Israel with South Africa’s apartheid government and with France’s occupation of Algeria.

Jeff Halper, the American-Israeli activist, ridiculed Israel's claim that it does not have a peace partner. He also stooped to using a conspiracy theory, charging that Israel is building archeological tunnels under Silwan not to make and preserve archeological discoveries but to create instability so that when the next earthquake comes, Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock will collapse. Other speakers reconfirmed the worst charges against Israel, from endorsing the biased UN Goldstone Report to claiming that Israel is stealing Palestinian water and practices apartheid. They called for a strenuous BDS campaign—boycott, sanctions, and divestment from Israel.

More disturbing were the attacks on Judaism. Rev. Ateek, known for his use of medieval anti-Semitic imagery, such as suggesting that the Palestinians are like Christ, while the Israelis act like the new Romans, used the book of Jonah to reiterate his constant critique of Judaism: It is too particularistic and too tribal a concept of God. He pointed out that in Jonah, we see the reach for a universal G-d that eventually culminates in Jesus’ teachings, but Jews don’t accept this "higher" theology. 

But Sabeel featured one Jew who did accept this theology. Every Sabeel conference finds a Jew to reassure the audience that condemning Israel is not anti-Semitic and to exhort the Christian faithful that they must save the Israelis and Jews from themselves and from corrupting Judaism. They glide over the 2,000 years that Christians have been trying to convert Jews. They ignore the fact that if Sabeel followers were not afraid that their anti-Israel obsession smacks of anti-Semitism, they wouldn’t need a Jewish speaker at every conference to assure them that they are not anti-Semitic. At this conference, it was Mark Braverman who reassured the audience.

Braverman, a clinical psychologist with a long Jewish and Zionist pedigree, claimed that Rev. Ateek “saved” him when he was in a spiritual crisis. Braverman announced that the Jews’ great mistake dates back to the first century. They should have followed Jesus and his message of universal love instead of fighting against the Roman Empire. He informed this Christian audience that the Jews’ mistake remains the same. They believe in their “chosenness” and “exceptionalism," and that is why they are justifiably hated and why Israel refuses to make peace. Don’t worry about disrupting Jewish-Christian relationships, he exhorted the audience. Do what is right against Israel and forget interfaith dialogue.

He went further, twisting history and facts, advising the audience to “get over your Christian guilt about anti-Semitism and about the Holocaust.” The Christians have already repented for the Holocaust, he claimed, by letting the Jews have Israel—as though the Christians gave Israel to the Jews and the Jews didn’t build it themselves. Such attitudes reek with the traditional Christian contempt for Judaism that was condemned by Vatican II. But it was alive and well in Seattle where an audience eagerly drank it in and left fortified about the justice of their self-righteous prejudice, hatred, and demonization of Israel

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