Thursday, March 29, 2007

METF: Setting the Record Straight

The following statement with minor changes was read to the audience at the recent annual meeting of Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice:
My name is [redacted], I am a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor and I have been asked by the Middle East Task Force to read the following statement:

Dear Friends,

Last October, the Steering Committee dissolved the ICPJ's Middle East Task Force. Nevertheless, the task force has continued to meet, primarily to pursue mediation with the ICPJ. Over the last many months, the Steering Committee and ICPJ staff have used the ICPJ's website and newsletter to tell their side of the story, we are grateful for the few moments granted to us tonight to tell our side.

In last month's newsletter, ICPJ members were told that the decision to disband the METF came "After two and half years of trying to resolve conflicts." Yet, last March an Executive Committee proposal referred only to "a year-long process of seeking common ground." Where the extra year came from we do not know. However, as we stated in April of last year: "We would welcome such a 'process;' however, from our perspective nothing resembling that has taken place, so far." In that same written statement we said:
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 May 2006, the Steering Committee voted "to suspend the work of our Middle East Task Force while we pursue mediation." No mediation ever occurred and after a couple of preliminary meetings the METF was terminated. With the apparent exception of ICPJ staff member Jason Crosby, all of the attendees of the pre-mediation meetings found them to be positive and productive. Two mediators were selected and a mediation proposal put forward. At a special ICPJ membership meeting held on September 28th a solid majority (17-to-9) of ICPJ members polled by the ICPJ staff favored mediation. However, despite real progress and solid member support mediation was nixed before it ever got started.

Also in last month's newsletter it was asserted that the METF was disbanded because its members "did not share a number of ICPJ's core values including honoring diversity, taking an Interfaith approach to our work, and being committed to non-violence." These claims are all patently false. When they first emerged last year we responded to the SC immediately in writing noting that, for example, at our April 4, 2006 meeting, nine of fifteen members in attendance were "affiliated with a local faith community, i.e. a church, mosque, or synagogue." In answer to a follow-up question, three of the unaffiliated Jews indicated that they would be affiliated with a synagogue or temple if they could find one that was not Zionist.

Also, at that time, the METF was headed by the only Muslim member of the ICPJ Steering Committee--a man who resigned in protest after the METF was suspended. The truth is that before it was disbanded by the Steering Committee, the METF was probably one of the most diverse ICPJ task forces in terms of religion, ethnicity, and gender. Concerning non-violence, in our first response to this charge last year we affirmed, in writing, "our commitment to the core values of the ICPJ, which include nonviolence." The METF has never endorsed or condoned violence and only supported nonviolent efforts for justice and peace. We leave it to you to ponder why some ICPJ leaders continue to traffic in falsehoods.

Finally, we are committed to honoring and working with difference but we part paths with those who would compromise or abandon the ICPJ's core values of justice, advocacy for the oppressed, and honesty out of racism, greed, or cowardice. In his book Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes, Jewish theologian Marc 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." The members of the METF--Jewish and non-Jewish--support justice and peace for all Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others in the Middle East and we, therefore, oppose Constantinian Judaism and its project of Jewish supremacy in Palestine. We see Constantinian religion, i.e. "militarized religiosity" in any form as incompatible with the core values of ICPJ.

This is the crux of the matter, this is why the METF was disbanded and we urge all ICPJ members to take steps to see that the ICPJ becomes faithful to its mission and core values. 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. Neither faithfulness nor justice nor peace is to be achieved by sacrificing advocacy and justice for Palestinians on the altar of interfaith unity with Constantinian Judaism.

We leave you with the words of Elie Wiesel and William Sloane Coffin. First, Elie Wiesel: "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere." This is from his 1986 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In his book Credo William Sloane Coffin wrote: "Hope criticizes what is, hopelessness rationalizes it. Hope resists, hopelessness adapts." Thank you for your attention.

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