CAMERA TRIES TO SHUT DOWN SABEEL CONFERENCE IN PASADENA, CA
Almost 15 years ago, on the invitation of my uncle, I went on a Jewish Federation major donor mission to Israel with Stanley Hirsh, an interesting macher who made his fortune in the schmatta (textile) industry and who served as the publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.
We visited the site for a new maternal-child welfare clinic, named, as I recall, after Stanley and his wife Anita, who had donated $1 million dollars for its construction. What was unusual was that the clinic was to primarily serve Arab Israelis, who comprise some 20% of Israel’s population, but who, to put it lightly, get short shrift when it comes to public services or opportunities. The Jewish Federation staffer on the trip told me that he could not raise one additional dollar for the clinic because donors didn’t want their funds to go to non-Jews, but the Hirsch’s were proud of their contribution and pressed forward with the project.
It would make sense to me if Stanley Hirsh, who has since died, was responsible in some way for hiring Rob Eshman, the current editor of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. I certainly don’t agree with Eshman all the time, but I respect him because he’s smart, thoughtful, and most important, independent. The Journal does not simply reprint “those crap Federation press releases,” as one Jewish paper editor once told me. Eshman cares about what happens in the Middle East, but he doesn’t buy the hysteria generated by so many Jewish advocacy groups whose formula for fundraising success is anti-Semitism! anti-Semitism, and more anti-Semitism!
It’s gotta take a lot of chutzpah to do what he did last week. The Palestinian Christian liberation theology group Sabeel is holding one of its conferences in nearby Pasadena February 15-16, and once again, as in Boston, pro-occupation groups are doing everything they can to demonize not just the people of Sabeel, but any church that offers support.
In response, Eshman wrote in an editorial called Butt Out:
I’m always leery when Jewish groups ride in from out of town to try to save us from the bad guys. We have plenty of sharp-eyed Jewish defense groups locally who can tussle on our behalf. It’s just a bit condescending to think we rubes, out in America’s second-largest Jewish city, don’t know how and when to fight. Or whom.
For the past couple of weeks, the Boston-based pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has been riling up rabbis, congregants and any Jew with an e-mail address to pressure the All-Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to cancel the appearance of a prominent Palestinian activist, the Rev. Naim Ateek.
While Eshman is not a fan of Sabeel director Ateek’s use of liberation theology language or his advocacy for divestment, he knows a non-violent advocate when he sees one, and unlike CAMERA, supports the right of a man (who, incidentally supports a two-state solution) to speak.
But Ateek isn’t the only potential casualty of CAMERA ‘s tactics. Its also Jewish-Christian relations in the city:
“CAMERA is trying to paint All Saints as an anti-Semitic organzation that is against the State of Israel,” the Rev. Ed Bacon, leader of All Saints, told me. “That is far from the truth. What we are trying to do is teach people to be sophisticated about how they talk about these issues. I’m not sympathetic with Sabeel to the exclusion of the right of the state of Israel to exist.”
Perhaps it is no surprise that CAMERA, and The David Project found widespread support for their witch-hunt among institutional Jewry in their own backyard in Boston during the last Sabeel conference. (Sabeel organizers had the audacity to use the A word (apartheid- the very same word used with some frequency by the staff of Israel’s Ha’aretz, according to their lead political correspondent.) It is a relief, indeed, if their campaign is dismissed by local Jewish groups in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, I, for one, want to hear what the man has to say. I believe Israel is strong enough to withstand the rhetoric of a 70-year-old cleric dedicated to nonviolent coexistence.
If it’s not, even CAMERA can’t save us.