Saturday, July 29, 2006

First Statement of the METF to the ICPJ Steering Committee

To see a leaflet concerning the dispute between the METF and the ICPJ Steering Committee click here (PDF). The leaflet has not been approved by the METF as a body.

STATEMENT OF THE MIDDLE EAST TASK FORCE
TO THE INTERFAITH COUNCIL FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE STEERING COMMITTEE


I. The Executive Committee's Proposal

Approved by the Middle East Task Force at its regular meeting on April 4, 2006.

The Middle East Task Force (METF) is in receipt of the Executive Committee's (EC) proposal, "Addressing Middle East Task Force," presented to the Steering Committee (SC) at its March meeting. Let us speak frankly, if you dissolve or restructure the METF without our consent then it will be nothing less than a naked exercise of power on your part and a blatant violation of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice's (ICPJ) purported core values of "justice" and "not using power to dominate."

Simple fairness requires that the METF be afforded a list of the specific allegations and evidence against us and that we be afforded a reasonable opportunity to answer those charges before the SC votes to dissolve or change the METF. You have the authority to do what you like to METF—we don't deny that—but please don't fool yourselves into thinking that you are acting rightly when you deny us the opportunity to know specifically what it is we have allegedly done wrong, to face our accusers, and to answer their claims.

It is easy to treat one's favored friends justly but the true test of a commitment to justice is how you treat those who have fallen out of your favor. In what follows we propose to address some of the issues in the EC proposal but no one should think our response here today constitutes any definitive answer on our part. The charges against us are so vague and unsubstantiated that we cannot formulate a comprehensive response to them.

The EC proposal refers to "a year-long process of seeking common ground." We would welcome such a "process;" however, from our perspective nothing resembling that has taken place, so far. There were a couple of METF meetings in late spring 2005 that some SC members attended and there were other brief informal discussions but nothing that could be fairly characterized as a year-long process. Some members of METF have attended many SC meetings but they have done so as individuals and not METF delegates. Some METF members also participated in the Clear Structure and Process Sub-Committee meetings last summer but this was never an METF activity and, as of this writing, the SC has not yet implemented the recommendations of that working group.

The EC proposal further notes, "we have seen many veteran members of the Task Force leave". This is true but the toll has included not only those favored by the EC but also as many, if not more, folks who are, apparently, ill-favored by the EC. In any event, everyone who has quit has left of their own accord and never at the behest of the METF—they are welcome to return when they like. In fact, at our March meeting, there was common agreement that members who have quit in the last year would be invited to join in proposed special group facilitation meetings. However, those meetings were postponed in light of the EC's proposal to eliminate the METF.

The EC proposal also notes, "we have seen … the Task Force refuse to affirm a commitment to nonviolence". Again, this is true but the refusal came because the resolution in question was deliberately designed not to address a problem of violence or its advocacy in the METF but as a divisive measure on the part of its sponsor. We thought it unwise to encourage individual members to press their own personal "litmus tests" on the rest of the group. Furthermore, the resolution's sponsor declined to engage in substantive discussion concerning his proposal and willfully absented himself from the last meeting at which it appeared on the agenda. For the foregoing reasons, we decided not to vote on the resolution. In any case, we state here our commitment to the core values of the ICPJ, which include nonviolence.

Lastly, the EC proposal complains of "numerous hurtful personal attacks on the email list." While there may be some truth to this claim we dispute whether the so-called attacks have been "numerous" and we believe that many of them have been aimed—poorly or not—at criticizing ideas/actions and were not intended to deliberately or personally hurt anyone. This issue was discussed at one of our meetings last fall and former METF Chair Betsy Barlow opined then: "I don't believe that our committee members really want to hurt others … " We agree but if we are assured that the SC is not already committed to exiling us from ICPJ then we will revisit the issue and try "to set up a [list moderation] procedure that the group is happy with," to quote Betsy Barlow once more. In any event, since the EC has not been specific in this matter we cannot respond in more detail but we welcome the opportunity to address any particular examples that the EC would care to present.

At this point, we would like to briefly discuss two of the options mentioned in the EC's proposal. First, it is beneath contempt for the EC to suggest that there is anything "friendly" about the "Spin-Off" option. Friends don't force friends to do things they don't want to do—at least not when those being compelled are in full possession of their mental faculties—and honest people don't spin a naked exercise of power against an unwilling party as a "friendly" act. By our lights, the vulgar pretense of the EC on this point makes a mockery of several of the ICPJ's purported core values and we hope that the other members of the SC—no matter what is decided—will have the simple decency and integrity to refuse to engage in blatant shams of this sort.

Second, we regret that the EC is unable or unwilling to see that METF members are "willing to act in good faith and seek common ground" with the SC. We have acted in good faith all along and we affirm our willingness to continue to do so and also to seek common ground. We are also willing "to sit at the table together" with anyone who shares, as we do, the ICPJ's core values. Thus, we feel that mediation or some form of structured dialogue is the option that the SC should pursue concerning the METF at this time. We remain hopeful of the good faith of the SC, on this point.

In short, we urge you to reject the vague and unsubstantiated complaints made against us by the EC. We appeal to you to give us a fair opportunity to know and to reply to any specific complaints against the METF or its individual members before you take any decision to abolish or alter the METF. We support entering into a formal mediation or other structured dialogue with you in order to air our differences and seek common ground.

II. Concerning Verbal Violence

Approved by the Middle East Task Force at its regular meeting on April 4, 2006.

Lately, it has become popular for some ICPJ leaders to characterize strong or, sometimes, rude speech as violence although it seems to us that this standard is seldom applied to those who enjoy the favor of the SC. Some of us have seen real violence and its effects in Palestine and elsewhere. Frankly, it is insulting to the victims and witnesses of real physical violence to characterize harsh words as violence.

While we do not pretend to be prophets, we take note of the words of Abraham J. Heschel in The Prophets:
The prophet is intent on intensifying responsibility, is impatient of excuse, contemptuous of pretense and self-pity. His [sic] tone [is] rarely sweet or caressing ... his words are often slashing, even horrid—designed to shock rather than edify.

The mouth of the prophets is "a sharp sword." He is a "polished arrow" taken out of the quiver of God (Isa. 49:2).
Is Heschel wrong? Will the propagators of the charge of verbal violence now also condemn the biblical prophets? Certainly, the utterances of the prophets use violent imagery and even sometimes incite to violence but are they a form of violence? We say no and more importantly we ourselves have not used violent imagery nor incited to violence.

As Joan V. Bondurant, in Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict, notes: "Violence is the willful application of force in such a way that it is intentionally injurious to the person or group against whom it is applied." If the alleged perpetrators of verbal violence had force or the credible threat of force on their side then there would be no need for strong or rude language but they have no force behind them; likewise, there has been no intent to injure and, in fact, no harm has resulted. We are not so arrogant to think that we have nothing to learn about nonviolence, courtesy, or effective communication but we deny that any of our members have been violent, as the accusers would have you believe.

III. Towards Finding Common Ground

Approved by the Middle East Task Force at its special meeting on April 11, 2006.

We offer these concluding thoughts as an opening—as opposed to final—statement toward finding common ground. We believe that the crux of the dispute between the SC and the METF lies in the apparent fact that a significant segment of the leadership of the ICPJ are adherents of what Jewish theologian Marc Ellis calls "Constantinian Judaism" and/or they want to work in coalition with Constantinian Jewish institutions and individuals.

In Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes, Ellis describes Constantinian Judaism as: "militarized Judaism and Jewish life … where Jewish energies, creativity, wealth and political power in Israel and the U.S. are placed in service to the [Israeli] state." He further notes that in it, "certain forms of Judaism and Jewish life are deemed 'authentic' … while those Jews who resist serving the state and power are 'inauthentic' and persecuted by elements of the Jewish establishment." Locally, the "inauthentic" Jews include several who belong to the METF but these exiles from mainstream Judaism, apparently, are not the Jews that some leaders of ICPJ desire to work with.

Today, virtually every branch of Judaism is Constantinian and supports the Jewish state. For example, the Union for Reform Judaism has retreated from its historical commitment to non-nationalistic Judaism and now declares in its Constitution that being "supportive of the State of Israel" is one of its "four major goals." Ann Arbor's Conservative Rabbi, Robert Dobrusin, told his congregation in a sermon delivered on the most important day of the Jewish liturgical calendar that "the two most vital places of myth" in Judaism are "the State of Israel and the synagogue." He then described the "State of Israel" as "not only a haven … but a place of inspiration for all of us" and declared that "As Israel faces difficult times, it is essential that we rally behind her to insure her survival as a Jewish state."

Some Constantinian Jews dream of Jewish supremacy extending from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen. 15:18) but all support Jewish supremacy in the 78% of Mandate Palestine that was violently seized from Palestinians in 1948. However, some Constantinian Jews have concluded that in order to maintain a grip on the territory occupied in 1948 Israel will have to relinquish direct control over much of the territory occupied in 1967, i.e. the West Bank and Gaza. However, most of these 'anti-Occupation' Constantinian Jews support continued direct Israeli control of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Locally, 'anti-Occupation' Constantinian Jews populate the ranks of 'peace' organizations such as Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and the Union of Progressive Zionists.

In contrast to the ICPJ leadership's seeming tacit support, a large majority of the members of the METF—Jewish and non-Jewish—oppose Constantinian Judaism and its project of Jewish supremacy in Palestine. We see Constantinian religion, i.e. "militarized religiosity"—whether Jewish or Christian—as incompatible with the core values of ICPJ.

On this point, we would draw your attention to the words of Uri Davis, an Israeli Jew, in his article "APARTHEID ISRAEL: A Critical Reading of the Draft Permanent Agreement, known as the 'Geneva Accords' ":
During the heyday of the apartheid regime in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church educated its constituents … and their supporters in the West and beyond, that to oppose the political programme of apartheid, to be anti-apartheid, was somehow tantamount to being "anti-Christian", and thus, "pro-Devil", or worse, "pro-Communist".

In a similar way, under the dominance of political Zionist ideology and practice, Zionist and Israeli educational and information establishments educate their constituents … and their supporters in the West and beyond, that to oppose the political programme of Zionism, to be anti-Zionist, is somehow tantamount to being "anti-Jewish", and thus, "anti-Semitic", or worse, "pro-Nazi".
Just as people of good faith opposed Constantinian Christianity in the service of South African apartheid we believe today they must oppose Constantinian Judaism in the service of Israeli Zionism.

In 1993, the Parliament of the World's Religions issued its "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic." The Declaration affirmed, "that a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the [world's] religions, and that these form the basis of a global ethic." It declared, "No person should ever be considered or treated as a second-class citizen, or be exploited in any way whatsoever. ... We must put behind us all forms of domination or abuse. We commit ourselves to a culture of non-violence, respect, justice, and peace."

Mainstream American Judaism is committed to supporting Israel, the Jewish state. Israel is built upon past and ongoing domination, abuse, and violence facilitated by decisive American financial, diplomatic, and military support. The second-class citizenship of non-Jews in Israel, the subjugation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and the continuing exile of millions of Palestinian refugees are fundamental expressions of Constantinian Judaism and Zionism.

Neither faithfulness, justice, nor peace is to be achieved by sacrificing advocacy and justice for Palestinians on the altar of interfaith unity with Constantinian Judaism. On the contrary, interfaith unity in its truest and best sense is premised upon an ethic that prioritizes justice. As the Declaration advises, "Let no one be deceived: There is no survival for humanity without global peace! ... Let no one be deceived: There is no global peace without global justice!"

With this opening statement of our position, we hope that the METF and SC can move forward in a real process of respectful dialogue and seeking common ground.

IV. Addendum

Approved by the Middle East Task Force at its special meeting on April 11, 2006.

On April 4, 2006, we received another statement from the EC, this one was entitled "The Intractable Nature of the conflict between the ICPJ Steering Committee and the Middle East Task Force (METF): Six Reasons Why We Need to Act Now." In partial support of the earlier claim of "a year-long process of seeking common ground" the EC states there: "We have arranged meetings between the leadership of the ICPJ Steering Committee and the Middle East Task Force." We do not know what leaders the EC has in mind. The METF had only one elected officer during most of the period in question and she was not selected as a delegate to the Steering Committee. Going forward, a more representative and forthright process may achieve better results.

In the "Interfaith" section of this new document the EC claims: "A majority of the remaining members of the METF … have no affiliation with any faith community." In fact, at the April 4th meeting, nine of fifteen members indicated that they are "affiliated with a local faith community, i.e. a church, mosque, or synagogue" or other place of worship. In answer to a follow-up question, three of the unaffiliated Jews indicated that support for Israel is a key impediment to their joining a synagogue or temple.

The EC compounds its error by claiming: "The lack of any religious community affiliation means these members see those who are affiliated with religious communities as pro-Zionist when they articulate what will, or will not, work with their particular religious communities." The EC is mistaken in both its premise and its conclusion; we simply do not view things this way. The EC closes this section by claiming the "attitude" it has erroneously attributed to us "has … worked to drive away practicing Jews, Muslims, and Christians." We have already noted the EC's apparent lack of concern for the "inauthentic" Jews in the METF but it is also hard to view the resolute hostility of the EC to the task force as anything other than an affront to the only "practicing" Muslim member of the SC, who is also a long-time member of the METF and its current Chair.

In the "Action" section, the EC claims, "we have seen ICPJ's ability to lead effective actions on Middle East issues disintegrate." Just what is an "effective action" in the EC's opinion? In its entire forty-year history has the ICPJ ever led an "effective action on Middle East issues"? If so, what was it? We note that last summer the METF voted 13-0 to endorse Palestinian civil society's international call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The METF recommended SC approval and an action plan but certain SC members worked to block this and fomented a bitter split within the METF over the issue.

The EC claims: "the weekly vigils outside of Beth Israel Congregation" have "so alienated many other members of ICPJ that they are unwilling to participate in actions with vigil members, whether outside of the Synagogue or under the umbrella of the Middle East Task Force." For the sake of argument alone let us assume this is true. Does the obstinacy and hardheartedness of some members of ICPJ justify forcing METF members into exile? Is this fair, compassionate, or loving? We think not.

The EC speaks of its attempt at "bring[ing] together those committed to Palestinian self-determination and those committed to the wellbeing of Israel who recognize the importance of universal human rights." We submit that no such thing is possible. The end result of true Palestinian self-determination will be an end to Israeli occupation of Palestine and the exile of Palestinians from their homeland. The Israeli state was founded on violent occupation and the forced exile of Palestinians. Universal human rights law and UN declarations—although blocked for decades—are very clear: Israel must treat Palestinian Arab citizens equally but it does not; Israel's occupation is illegal but it has not ended; and Israel must let Palestinian refugees return from exile but it does not. Supporters of Israel are committed to Jewish supremacy in Palestine and the EC is, apparently, committed to sacrificing justice for Palestinians on the altar of a faithless interfaith unity.

The EC claims, "we have been careful not to be identified with any actions or statements which seem to foster anti-Semitism." We oppose anti-Jewish hatred and discrimination. "Advocacy for the oppressed" is one of the ICPJ's core values and whenever Jews are oppressed because they are Jews the ICPJ should be a strong advocate against such oppression. However, we think the EC has shamefully surrendered the ICPJ's intellectual and moral standing to those who make the false equation: anti-Zionism=anti-Semitism. On this point, we turn to another Jewish scholar.

In the first part of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,—"The Not-So-New 'New Anti-Semitism' "—Norman G. Finkelstein describes how deserved criticism of Israel is periodically stymied by an outbreak of "new anti-Semitism" which just so happens to coincide "with renewed international pressures on Israel .…" Finkelstein demonstrates that, "What's currently called the new anti-Semitism actually incorporates three main components: (1) exaggeration and fabrication, (2) mislabeling legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and (3) the unjustified yet predictable spillover from criticism of Israel to Jews generally." Echoing similar remarks from The Holocaust Industry, Finkelstein closes the first part of Beyond Chutzpah with a potent charge that, perhaps, only the son of Holocaust survivors would dare make:
As already noted, Jewish elites in the United States have enjoyed enormous prosperity. … Wrapping themselves in the mantle of The Holocaust, these Jewish elites pretend—and, in their own solipsistic universe, perhaps imagine themselves—to be victims, dismissing any and all criticism as manifestations of "anti-Semitism." And, from this lethal brew of formidable power, chauvinistic arrogance, feigned (or imagined) victimhood, and Holocaust-immunity to criticism has sprung a terrifying recklessness and ruthlessness on the part of American Jewish elites. Alongside Israel, they are the main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today.
The EC also asserts that "many members of the METF believe that … any form of Jewish nationalism is innately evil/oppressive and that working for peace with justice means publicly denouncing 'Zionism' as an inherently racist ideology that it is leading to the genocide of the Palestinian people." Once again, the EC would do better to ask us what we believe rather than put words in our mouths. In fact, we do not all agree that "any form of Jewish nationalism is innately evil/oppressive." Nor do we all agree that Zionism is an "inherently racist ideology." What we do believe is that Zionism as manifested in the real world and most notably in the Jewish state is a racist ideology that has resulted in a Jewish led genocide against the Palestinian people, as genocide is defined in the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.* (Israel and the US are both parties to this Convention although the US has allowed itself numerous "reservations" and "understandings" and Israel enjoys the protection of the US veto on the UN Security Council.) In any event, we would welcome an open discussion/debate on these points with the SC.

Finally, the EC asserts that we "see any real attempt to work with supporters of Israel as a betrayal of the Palestinian people." This is mainly correct but we also see such an attempt as a deep betrayal of, and faithlessness to, ICPJ's core values of justice and peace. Israel's independence was declared the same year that South Africa's Nationalist Party implemented apartheid. People of good faith around the world worked to end the two-state solution that white racists sought to impose unjustly in South Africa. We remain distressed that people of seeming good faith want to ally themselves and the ICPJ with those committed to an Israeli apartheid solution in historic Palestine. Having said that, we are open to the possibility of working on 'anti-Occupation' actions with Zionists in strictly informal coalitions that do not compromise ICPJ's core values.

------------
* Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/genocide.htm; accessed 4/12/06)

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