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New Mexico Jewish Federation mounts pressure against Sabeel conference, but it won’t stop me

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Sabeel Join us in Albuquerque

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.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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35 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    September 10, 2012, 10:42 pm

    Thank you for your work. May the Force be Strong With You, Annie!

    • annie
      September 11, 2012, 12:02 am

      i have done nothing w.jones. it’s the people in albuquerque who have been working all year on this conference we should be thanking.

      hey, i forgot to say thank you.


      • American
        September 11, 2012, 9:12 pm

        Annie Robbins says:

        i have done nothing w.jones.”>>>>>>>

        Yes you have, you’re a force.

    • bilal a
      bilal a
      September 11, 2012, 1:23 am

      yes something quite remarkable about A.R. fairness, optimism, smarts, courage. MashAllah.

      • annie
        September 11, 2012, 12:16 pm

        i’m blown away/stunned bilal. too generous of you. insallah.

      • David from California
        David from California
        September 11, 2012, 1:33 pm

        I strongly agree with you Bilal. I wish her continued success and I’m sure she’ll get it because of the righteous cause she’s working for.

  2. David from California
    David from California
    September 10, 2012, 10:52 pm

    This is an excellent piece, Annie. I can’t believe how much the Israeli lobby tries to twist arms to not let the truth be exposed. I guess I would too if I knew the truth would set people free. I really see the tide turning and it’s because of honest, moral, and patriotic people like you and the whole MondoWeiss community who are at the forefront of it all. You will go down on in history as revolutionaries, I’m certain of that.

    Oh and the part about NM being a land of enchantment, you’re absolutely right. I had a discussion with some colleagues just today regarding monsoon season and the thunder show that comes with them.

    • annie
      September 11, 2012, 12:16 am

      david from california, you should come with me to albuquerque. it’s going to be fabulous!

      • David from California
        David from California
        September 11, 2012, 1:40 pm

        I wish I could go, Annie. It’s a bit short notice for me due to work related reasons.

        When I read the list of speakers attending, my jaw dropped. Please do follow up on how this event goes.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    September 10, 2012, 11:12 pm

    RE: “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.” – attributed to Les Field

    SEE: “A Serial Obstructionist”, By Rachel Tabachnick, ZEEK – Forward, 3/15/10

    (EXCERPTS)…Shortly after Vice President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel, Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat were the headliners at Pastor John Hagee’s two-hour Christians United for Israel (CUFI) extravaganza at the Jerusalem Convention Center. . .
    . . . Monday’s CUFI production was based on the concept of “biblical Zionism,” or the belief that God mandates nonnegotiable borders of Israel , and any leader or nation who thwarts this divine plan will be cursed. Before introducing Netanyahu, Hagee stated, “World leaders do not have the authority to tell Israel and the Jewish people what they can and can not do in Jerusalem.” He added, “Israel does not exist because of a decree of the United Nations in 1948. Israel exists because of a covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. . . The settlements are not the problem.”
    In his books and sermons Hagee has promoted a “greater Israel,” that will reclaim all of Israel’s former biblical territory,

    stating “In modern terms, Israel rightfully owns all of present-day Israel, all of Lebanon, half of Syria, two-thirds of Jordan, all of Iraq, and the northern portion of Saudi Arabia.”
    At the Jerusalem CUFI event Hagee described Ahmadinejad as the Hitler of the Middle East who could turn the world upside down in 24 hours, words similar to those he made when lobbying for the attack on Iraq…
    …During a performance by singer Dudu Fisher, the God TV camera panned to the audience and centered on Joel Bell, leader of Worldwide Biblical Zionists. WBZ is currently building a center in Sha’ar Benjamin for “facilitating absorption” of Christian Zionists into the West Bank. It was established after a joint meetingheld in Texas of the Board of Governors of World Likud led by Danny Danon, and World Evangelical Zionists led by Joel Bell. Speakers included ZOA’s Morton Klein. . .


    • ALSO SEE: “Hagee’s Gifts to Pro-Settler Groups” [Ariel (settlement), $500,000], by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 2/12/10 LINK –

    • AND SEE: “Recruiting Brecht to Whitewash Occupation”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 8/26/10
    LINK –

  4. Mondowise
    September 11, 2012, 3:29 am

    “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)?” …. why the question mark, Annie…are you questioning something here? if so, what? has this not been long ago established as fact?

    part of holding izrael accountable is keeping the language consistent. for example, the words “settlers” and “settlements” are misleading. both words must reflect the criminality inherent in them. “settlements” should always consistently be preceded by “illegal” because they are illegal. international law is law, period. and “settlers” should always consistently be replaced with “criminals” or “squatters” or “illegal immigrants” or “land thieves”or just “illegals”. if everyone makes a conscious effort to use the correct language to call a spade a spade each and every time, there is no way to silence us. the pro-izraelis can scream all they want, cancel events, get in our faces, throw hysterical tantrums…but they cannot stop the truth, nor the growing awareness of this truth which is reinforced by and reflected in the correct language. insisting on this correct language hammers in the truth, it bombards people when heard repeatedly, non-stop…and very soon an immediate association between “settlers”/”settlements” and criminality takes hold with a firm grip that’s not easily forgotten.

    too often i don’t encounter this correct language in either writing or speaking, rather i’m once again exposed to the commonly used words of “settlers”and “settlements”. such wording tolerates izraeli crimes. it lets izrael off the hook and ignores reality…as if it’s so long-standing that the criminality of any or all of it no longer matters due to apathetic complacency. incorrect wording downplays the magnitude, severity, frequency and relentless defiance of law while simultaneously, it weakens the crimes committed, even normalizes them…and it also weakens the battle for exhausted Palestinians. izrael fabricates enough lies and fake excuses, we should definitely not make milk and cookies out of the daily crimes they’re really doing.

    we should always reference the multitude of violations against international law as a backdrop to izraeli crimes to keep them in the spotlight.

    • Bumblebye
      September 11, 2012, 9:52 am

      The word ‘settlement’, with or without ‘illegal’ in front, does not convey the exclusionary nature of them to non-Israelis, non-zionists. They assume that anyone with the means can buy or rent a home there, are unaware that they are often not only exclusively Jewish but can be for various sub-sets of the Jewish-Israeli community, such as national Orthodox, or Hareidi, or other. The ignorant around us simply do not understand that an Israeli-Palestinian from either Muslim or Christian background is excluded, let alone the Occupied Unpeople to whom the land belongs! Perhaps ‘illegal shtetlments’ would be a more accurate term.

      • Mondowise
        September 11, 2012, 11:17 pm

        yes, very true and an important issue…but as you know, even if they weren’t exclusively jewish, they’d still be illegal, so that’s what i’m addressing.

    • Mooser
      September 11, 2012, 12:13 pm

      “effort to use the correct language to call a spade a spade each and every time”

      Although the locution “call a spade a spade” derives from a card game (bridge, I’m pretty sure, but I promised my Mother I would never gamble, so I’m not sure) some people interpret it as a pejorative. You might want to drop it. I have, if that’s any encouragement.

      • Mondowise
        September 11, 2012, 11:20 pm

        sorry Mooser, i didn’t realize that phrase had or originated with pejorative meaning (i don’t gamble either), and i’ve never used the phrase with that intent. i could have easily said call a leaf a leaf…just call it what it is.

      • MHughes976
        September 12, 2012, 1:28 pm

        I think that the black colour of spades in bridge is indeed the origin of ‘spade’ as an insulting term for someone black but that the phrase ‘call a spade a spade’ goes back at least to the second century, when Plutarch ascribed it to Philip of Macedon, who claimed that he and his people were very direct and did not use fancy terminology. (Sayings of Kings, 178 approx.) I’d be sorry in a way if a phrase which people have enjoyed in original and in translation for so long and which has no racist meaning (unless you count flattery of Macedonians; but they don’t get flattered very often) had to be abandoned because of a neologism based on a card game which I play every fortnight with some very nice people who may be the English equivalents of Mooser’s mother.

    • annie
      September 11, 2012, 12:55 pm

      mw, part of holding izrael accountable is keeping the language consistent

      so that’s why you spelled israel like that 6 times in your post.

      anyway, coincidentally..right before i first read your comment last night i noticed that question mark and wondered what i was thinking. so i opened the draft to edit and and then i reread it and…stopped. i know it doesn’t fit quite right with the beginning of the sentence but none the less often when i write it just come out as i might speak it, which doesn’t always translate too well in writing (and phil frequently cleans up my grammar btw).

      sooo. the question mark is for …(exaggerated):

      and those who object to this growth are portrayed as bigoted????

      it is actually a question for the accuser. i hope that clears that up. sorry that you found it wanting. had you heard my inner voice (dramatic!) it might have resonated differently for you.

      • Mondowise
        September 11, 2012, 11:32 pm

        ahhhh, ok…got it! thank ya much! the ???? immediately gave it away, it makes sense now. haha, i can hear exactly the mood your inner voice had…but it’s not too dramatic, more like spot on! :-)

        btw, the ‘z’ in israel is my way of referring to zionism…it’s become routine habit. same for not using any caps since it’s faster and more convenient typing comments, short messages, etc. without them.

      • annie
        September 12, 2012, 1:03 am

        cool, thanks for making the effort to respond. i’m not a cap person either although i make exceptions, especially when i am copy pasting. ‘uncapping’ for consistency is really a waste of time and effort.

  5. MRW
    September 11, 2012, 3:59 am

    Annie get your gun. Boy, when you decide to ride and mount up, you’ve got a flank of flags beside you. Timing’s perfect, Little A. Maybe you could voice-record your reports from Albuquerque.

    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.

    Yeah. I’m hearing and seeing that.

  6. eGuard
    September 11, 2012, 5:25 am

    I have read the column by Gail D. Goodman in The New Mexico Jewish Link (page 5 in the pdf). She describes a lecture by Dr. Les Field, who will speak at the sabeel conference. The first four print columns (out of five) are Goodman reporting Field’s lecture: a clear description of the the occupation.

    Then in the last part Goodman loses connection with the topic, and started ranting deligitimization, thinly veiled anti-Semitism, unabashed deligitimization, comfortable anti-Semitism, blatant bias, decontextualization of the peace process, fervent ideology of the destruction of the State of Israel. None of these conclusive words are tied to the lecture by any reasoning or logic. They appear out of the blue.

    The good thing is, for all Jewish Link readers in NM Goodman gave a fine introduction of occupation & apartheid. The unintended absense of framing by Goodman only becomes appearant when, in the end, without introduction Pavlov’s drooling dog enters the picture.

  7. Taxi
    September 11, 2012, 11:31 am

    How comforting for the suffering Palestinians to know that decent Americans are tirelessly working against the grain and against a barrage of vile smears, to help bring regular peace-loving Americans the truth about the occupation and especially the truth about Palestinian ethnic cleansing from the holy land.

    I thank the organizers of Sabeel, and their supporters, from the bottom of my heart, for their awesome courage and commitment.

    We are witnessing how grass-root, self-organized groups, small as they may be (for now), can withstand and move thorny mountains with bare hands for the sake of humanity and justice.

    It is always expected yet always sickening how American zionists hound and stalk the messengers of truth. But it nowadays seems that with every diabolical attack, the messengers gain more exposure and their message spreads farther out.

    Yes, the zionist gauntlet has been compromised for good by the persistent efforts of the Sabeels of America. Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Strength to strength to all the Sabeels of America! I am so proud of you dearest people.

    And what a great line-up of speakers they’ve organized for their super-truthy weekend! I love it! I wish I could be there. Look forward to annie’s excellent reporting.

    I also hope that the jewish federation of new mexico get totally freaked out and cause a massive drama on site – in the hope that it would hit the main stream media, or at least go viral bonkers.

    The more people know that Palestinians are supported by decent god-loving Americans, the easier for Joe and Jane to think for themselves about the suffering Palestinians – the easier to question and bypass the media’s zionist narrative.

  8. Rusty Pipes
    Rusty Pipes
    September 11, 2012, 11:39 am

    Israel continues to delegitimize itself. New Mexico’s Jewish Federation would rather shoot the messengers, Sabeel and its speakers, than confront inconvenient truths. Thanks for bringing us the message about what looks to be a terrific line-up for the conference in Albuquerque, Annie! I look forward to hearing your report of the conference highlights.

  9. Pamela Olson
    Pamela Olson
    September 11, 2012, 12:32 pm

    See you in Albuquerque, Annie!

  10. joecatron
    September 11, 2012, 1:17 pm

    Thanks, Annie! I hope Palestine activists will soon consider naming and shaming respected public figures, like Bishop Michael L. Vono of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, who feign “neutrality” on apartheid, thereby supporting it. A lot of us are predisposed to being the “nice” ones. I understand the motivation, but the other side’s strategy seems to score more points.

    • annie
      September 11, 2012, 1:21 pm

      Bishop Michael L. Vono of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, who feign “neutrality” on apartheid

      joe, do tell! got link?

      see you there pam!

      • joecatron
        September 11, 2012, 2:46 pm

        Nothing beyond what you’ve written here, actually. But if I understand small-e episcopal church governance at all, the buck for the big-E Episcopal Cathedral of Albuquerque stops with him.

        (It’s much easier to figure out than presbyterian church governance: There’s a guy – or, much more rarely, a gal – often with a funny hat, who’s ultimately responsible for nearly all day-to-day decision-making. That’s why many more of us got confused trying to follow the PCUSA conference, as opposed to the UMC’s.)

    • annie
      September 11, 2012, 1:39 pm

      hey joe, another thing now that you mention it. re niceness. not sure if you’ve run into this as a contributor here but the standards for the front page (including subject lines) are a tad more stringent than the comment section.

      so, in my research for this article some of the allegations i heard were

      “bullying techniques”
      “significant harassment”
      “bullying tactics”
      “unreasonable bullying”

      since of course we were not there, had no proof, and in the interest of…site/front page protocol, some toning down went into effect.

      and those expressions were (hopefully) communicated via “aggressively lobbying” and “pressure”.

      just saying.

      • joecatron
        September 11, 2012, 3:01 pm

        I haven’t really thought about it, although the editors do tone me down a bit from time to time, which is probably best for all concerned. :-D

        And I completely understand our folk’s natural desire to avoid earning those kinds of epithets for themselves. All the same, it isn’t hard to figure out how a lot of these situations develop (and since we’re talking about Sabeel, I’m thinking specifically of church activism):

        Our side: “We hope you’ll vote to divest, but will still be your friends no matter what!”

        Their side: “If you vote to divest, we will have you tarred and feathered, then drawn and quartered.”

        Timid mainline Christians: “Umm … We think we’ll go with those guys over there.”

      • annie
        September 11, 2012, 3:14 pm

        which is probably best for all concerned. :-D

        oh yeah i can sooo get carried away in both directions and am very fortunate wrt the editorial process here. if the objective is to get broad coverage and keep your integrity intact then it’s best to err on the side of caution.

        yeah, what is it with people who align themselves with the threat masters? just not getting the upside of that decade after decade after decade of human rights violations. at some point one might imagine one becomes complicit in those crimes. anyway..

  11. Susan Johnson
    Susan Johnson
    September 11, 2012, 1:47 pm

    You’re doing a great job and I looking forward to you posts about the conference. Lucky you I wish i was joining you.
    “A Child’s View from Gaza” is currently in New Mexico and scheduled to be exhibited in Albuquerque as part of the Sabeel Conference, September 28 and 29. The children’s drawings depict Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, Gaza prior to OCL or hopes and dreams for Gaza in the future. ACVG’s drawings are quite amazing and powerful.

    • susan schuurman
      susan schuurman
      September 12, 2012, 12:51 am

      susan, yes the drawings ARE amazing and powerful! thanks so much for sending them to us …. it’s been thrilling to see these beautiful and poignant drawings in real life….Iktemal Jabir and Danya Mustafa have done a great job, monitoring the exhibit at the UNM Student Union Building, and speaking with students who pass by and pause and reflect on them. I’m so glad they eventually did make it to albuquerque, thanks to Iktemal taking the lead! she is also accumulating comments and drawings from viewers in a little journal she will be mailing to the Gaza children artists. :)

    • annie
      September 12, 2012, 9:46 am

      i wish you were coming susan j, it would be wonderful to finally meet you. much appreciation for all the work you’ve been doing with the exhibit (all around the world) exposing the children’s art to so many people.

  12. Danaa
    September 11, 2012, 3:57 pm

    From Goodman:
    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.

    Decontextualization: example 1 – adding “illegal” in front of “settlements”; to decontextualize is to fail to understand that the settlements – far from being illegal – are a necessary defense against those who not only dare to stay on their own land, but display open attachment to it! the Chuzpah! the anti-semitism!
    example 2: to speak of human rights without acknowledging that some are more human than others. Or, to allude to “rights” by “humans” implying that palestinian may have the first as members of the second. To decontextualize is to fail to mention that “Rights” for palestinians cannot be separated from their “obligation” to provide full security to Israelis.

    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

    Deconstruction: quest for “peace” = fervent ideology of “destruction”. Implication is that peace is apparently contingent upon the destruction of the great state of Israel. Therefore, some interfaith and rights activists coming together in search of conflict resolution by definition can only be there to plot destruction.

    Conclusion: what the memorable lines of Goodman indicate, much like the bullying and ugly pressure tactics brought to bear on organizers of Sabeel conference and their venues, is that there is desperation in the ranks of the “pro-Israel” promoters. Without palestinian violence to point to they are reduced to pointing to “human rights” and “peace” as the enemy of the “good people” everywhere. Alas, it’d seem that many of these “good people” including not a few “good jewish people” are not listening. Now that’s what decontextualization does to you.

    Go annie – help school the Goodman!

  13. pianoteacher
    September 11, 2012, 6:11 pm

    Amazing how Intimidation is one of the main tools that zionists use. It has been going on for over a century. You would think that the entire world would have noticed by now, and ignore it. But no, the Episcopal Cathedral succombed to it.
    Glad that Catholic priest is made of stronger stuff.

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