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BDS IN THE PEWS: European, US, and Canadian Government Funding Behind Anti-Israel Activism
by NGO Monitor Tuesday, Jul. 03, 2012 at 6:02 AM
BDS IN THE PEWS: European, US, and Canadian Government Funding Behind Anti-Israel Activism in Mainline Churches NGO Monitor July 02, 2012
Since the 2001 NGO Forum at the UN’s Durban Conference, boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) aimed at Israel have developed as a key issue in mainline Christian denominations in the United States, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere.
A number of European governments, plus the United States and Canada provide funds for these church-based efforts to delegitimize Israel. These tax-payer funds are disbursed as grants to church-based humanitarian NGOs, which then transfer these funds to highly politicized pro-Palestinian NGOs, including Christian groups that promote BDS, the one-state solution and, in many cases, antisemitic supercessionist, or replacement, theologies within mainline churches worldwide.
The most recent initiatives in 2012 include:
In May, the United Methodist Church (U.S.) voted down an anti-Israel divestment resolution, but passed a resolution calling for selective boycotts of settlement products.
In July and August, anti-Israel resolutions supporting divestment and/or boycotts are to be debated and voted upon at the national policy gatherings of the Presbyterian Church-USA and the United Church of Canada.
The Episcopal Church (U.S.) in July will deliberate on a resolution that, according to an email action alert with the subject line “The Episcopalians Need Our Support Too!” circulated by Anna Baltzer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, “is similar to the ground work that the Methodists and Presbyterians were laying several years ago as part of their long-term campaign” for divestment and boycotts.
The Church of England at its General Synod in July will deliberate and vote on whether to recognize the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and a Palestinian “right of return”.
‘BDS’ Briefly Defined
The BDS campaign has its origins in the NGO Forum of the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban where some 1,500 NGOs united to adopt a political war plan against Israel.
In July 2005, a number of Palestinian groups issued the Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel. BDS seeks to totally isolate Israel via boycotts of Israeli academic, cultural, consumer, and sports institutions, divestment from companies doing business with Israel, and sanctions in the areas of military, economic, and diplomatic cooperation agreements between Israel and other states.
BDS strategists view the churches as a key target for promoting the BDS agenda: “religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles... Divestment campaigns that target companies such as Caterpillar have been initiated in a number of major Christian churches. Not only will successful divestment campaigns financially weaken the Occupation, but will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.”
(More information on BDS is found at the end of this report.)
Government Funding Entangled in Church BDS Efforts
NGOs that promote BDS and their governmental patrons:
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Sabeel, located in Jerusalem, was founded in 1989 and is led by Anglican Canon Naim Ateek. Sabeel is a major actor in the effort to convince Christian churches to support divestment and boycotts against Israel. Promoting its “Palestinian Liberatin Theology”, Sabeel plays a central theological role for pro-Palestinian activists in the mainline churches.
Sabeel seeks to build a critical mass of influential church leaders who will amplify its message that Israel is solely culpable for the origin and continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict.
Sabeel works with pro-Palestinian activists within different denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network, the Episcopal Church’s Palestine Israel Network, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Kairos Response, American Friends Service Committee, World Council of Churches, and many others.
Through its international “Friends of Sabeel” network Sabeel hosts numerous church-based conferences in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia each year where it promotes its agenda to large audiences of Christians.
Additionally, “Sabeel sponsors an International Conference which attracts intellectual, spiritual and civic leaders from around the world.”
Sabeel also brings delegations of Christians to “Palestine-Israel” on highly politicized “Witness Visit” tours “to experience the reality of life in today's Holy Land.” Further, Sabeel’s annual “International Young Adult Conference” brings “young Christians aged (18-35) from around the world to create an alternative pilgrimage experience that emphasizes active engagement with both the people and the land.”
An example of how Sabeel co-opts churches is seen in the March 2010 conference held at the First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, Calif, headlined “A Time for Truth, A Time for Action.” According to eyewitnesses at the conference:
The 500 participants were guided through lectures and workshops designed to motivate them into active participation in BDS.
The “Time for Action” segment was led by Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement. He painted Israel as a “racist” and “apartheid” state founded on a “colonialist” ideology committing “slow genocide” against the Palestinians and thus requiring full BDS. He was warmly received by the audience. (Barghouti is signatory to the One-State Declaration. In 2003 he wrote, “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution.”)
Over twenty other speakers and workshop leaders repeated these themes, blaming Israel alone for the conflict.
Jeff Halper, director of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (an Israel based advocacy NGO funded, in part by European governments), was also a key note speaker, urging that the “discussion” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be reframed into a human rights conversation. He further said that the framing should be within the categories of traditional references to “colonial imperialism and apartheid politics.” Halper is a frequent speaker at Sabeel conferences – he is slated to speak at one in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September on the topic “From Two States to Apartheid to Warehousing: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Conference speakers attacked the Jewish religion, with Naim Ateek and Mark Braverman repeatedly referring to Judaism as “tribal,” “isolationist,” “exceptionalist” and to contemporary Jews as “paranoid” and suffering from “psychological issues.”
Not a single participant, including the Christian clergy present, raised any objections to these theological attacks.
Through Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), Sabeel often participates in denominational policymaking conferences. For example, at the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly, FOSNA’s executive director, Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner, is listed as leading a workshop for the Israel Palestine Mission Network side-events.
Ideologically, Sabeel supports “one-state,” meaning no independent Jewish state. Its “Vision for Peace” states: “The ideal and best solution has always been to envisage ultimately a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel… One state for two nations and three religions.” (emphasis added)
Sabeel promotes Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT), which includes Christian replacement theology, as a means to refute Jewish religious and historical claims to the land of Israel. At its core, PLT is Palestinian nationalist ideology encased in a theological covering.
Sabeel uses antisemitic deicide imagery against Israel and consistently disparages Judaism as “tribal,” “primitive,” and “exclusionary,” in contrast to Christianity’s “universalism” and “inclusiveness,” fitting the definition of supersessionism. Some examples:
“In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge [G]olgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull...” (emphasis added)
“The tragedy of many Zionists today is that they have locked themselves into the nationalist concept of God. They are trapped in it and they will be freed only if they discard their primitive image of God for a more universal one…” (Naim Ateek, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Orbis Books, 1989)
Christianity came to take Judaism… pull it out of its tribal framework and make it universal… (Jesus) was saying this: we need to transform our religion. He was speaking truth to power. It’s for everyone and it’s not about a place, it’s not about a land anymore. This is where Judaism was supposed to go. But, instead, what has happened is this sense of isolationism, this sense of election and exclusivism has incubated for 2,000 years and we see the result today in the State of Israel.” (Mark Braverman, member, Friends of Sabeel North America’s Advisory Board, speaking at the Sabeel Conference: “A Time for Truth; A Time for Action,” San Anselmo, California, March 5-6, 2010, verbatim transcript)