I’ve already bought my plane ticket to attend Albuquerque’s very first Sabeel Conference at the end of this month. I’ve just been informed the local Jewish Federation has been aggressively lobbying members of Albuquerque’s Interfaith communities again to distance themselves from the conference. This didn’t just start now. It’s been going on for months.
The original venue for the conference was the Episcopal Cathedral of Albuquerque, which had offered to host the event but succumbed to pressure from Rabbi Art Flicker of Congregation B’nai Israel of Albuquerque; and last June the Episcopal Cathedral backed out, reneging on its contract.
The latest target of pressure has been a prominent Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Richard Olona, who has a history of leadership in interfaith relations and is one of the sponsors of the event. Rumor has it he keeps getting phone calls asking him not to participate in the conference but thankfully remains committed to the importance of FOSNA’s mission, their core theological values and will be attending the conference. And he is promoting the conference among the churches in the Archdiocese.
Although Sam Sokolove, the Executive Director of Albuquerque’s Jewish Federation, (the president of Hillel at UNM) pressured the New Mexico Conference of Churches into not endorsing the conference, several representatives members will still be attending.
Sabeel’s conferences are brilliant, and as usual organizers have announced a stellar line-up of speakers for this year’s conference (luminaries!) such as Rev. Naim Ateek, Ali Abunimah, Palestinian analyst Nadia Hijab, Miko Peled, Jeff Halper, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, JVP’s Sidney Levy, Dr. Mark Braverman, Bekah Wolf, Pamela Olson and many many others! Albuquerque’s FOSNA committee have been working tirelessly all year long.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over these last few days in the wake of the Jerusalem vote at the Democratic convention, it’s that what’s happening in Israel/Palestine is of concern to a full spectrum of Americans across ethnic lines. This conflict can no longer be considered any kind of ‘in house’ affair catering to the sensitivities of the Jewish community or for that matter Arab American sensibilities (as C Span’s camera focus implied).
Our country is in a vice grip between rightwing Israeli policy and a pliant Congress beholden to conservative Jewish Americans and Israeli counterparts. Regardless of the wishes of millions of Americans or the intentions of our elected president when he took office– to halt settlement growth while the parties focused on resolution– this grip over the process continues to dominate the agenda and push for yet another war as a diversion. Insinuations of anti-Semitism intended to silence the opposition are no longer tenable. And there’s never been a time more ripe for exposing the truth.
We are faced with a community in denial. A recent report in New Mexico’s Jewish Federation newspaper characterizes as blatantly biased the statements below, made by a Sabeel co-sponsor, Les Field, an anthropology professor at the University of New Mexico. Field spoke about “Israel and Palestine: The Statehood Question” at an event sponsored by the Albuquerque chapter of the United Nations Association:
He said that Jewish outposts, settlements, are not legitimate by inter- national law. None of the settlements are legitimate. Israel has no intention of allowing a Palestinian state of any kind to be built and that the wall does not enclose Israel’s ambitions.
Ya don’t say? Wake up.
That report of Field’s speech was made by Gail D. Goodman. Her column was called “Delegitimizing Israel in Albuquerque.” (PDF). And her conclusion was …you guessed it..anti Semitism!
First, I think that there are many events just like this taking place regularly at UNM and in other venues sympathetic to the deligitimi- zation [sic] of the State of Israel and promoting a thinly veiled anti-Semitism.
Well, sorry, but if exposing the truth amounts to ‘delegitimizing Israel,’ a concerned people’s responsibility is not to cover up what is happening, but to fix it. The continued expulsion of Palestinian people from their homes and land has not abated. We desperately need more lectures from people like Field. This is not the time to be silencing people, it is the time to listen, learn, engage and face the truth. Because our politicians are not going to stand up and demand change until we make them.
Goodman goes on to rally the Jewish community against the Sabeel conference.
Secondly, an event is scheduled for September 28-29, 2012 at the Im- manuel Presbyterian Church, in Albuquerque hosted by Sabeel. According to their website Sabeel is “a grassroots, international, ecumenical peace movement founded by Christian Palestinians in Jerusalem. … Their vision is to create a just peace based on spiritual, moral, and legal principles, including international law.”
Based on what I experienced attending this United Nations Associa- tion’s program, the Jewish community must be a presence at what appears to be an unabashed deligitimization of the State of Israel and a comfortable anti-Semitism.
Friends of Israel, as well as members of the Jewish community, cannot let speakers like Field go unchallenged in his blatant bias and decontextualization of the peace process. Based on this UNM program, I expect the Sabeel conference, billed as “Justice: the Path to Peace in Palestine- Israel” to be two full days rather than a mere two hours of this fervent ideology of the destruction of the State of Israel.
We cannot move past this ideological gridlock so long as continued settlement growth is not understood as illegal (it is) and those who object to this growth are portrayed as bigoted (we aren’t)? Where do Palestinians find a voice in this discourse? Silencing is no longer an option.
I hope Gail D. Goodman comes to the conference. I hope the whole of Albuquerque comes to the conference including the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, representatives of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, members of Episcopal Cathedral of Albuquerque, Rabbi Flicker and Rabbi Rosenfeld, members of the determined interfaith community as well as all the many secular people who desire an end to this conflict.
It’s going to be a fabulous conference otherwise I wouldn’t be flying in from California to attend. If you’ve never been to New Mexico (a place I am passionate about, they do not call it the land of enchantment for nuthin’) this is an excellent opportunity to make your first visit.
Hope to see you at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, which graciously will be hosting the conference September 28 & 29.