Category Archives: Religion

More on the attacks on Sabeel’s Boston conference

Check out Richard Silverstein’s in-depth analysis of CAMERA’s High Tech Lynching of Palestinian Christian Group Sabeel.

Sabeel is a Palestinian liberation theology organization that supports a two-state solution and nonviolent resistance to the occupation. They’ve had conferences across the United States, sponsored and supported by various Christian denominations, which have usually gone off without a hitch.

But their most recent conference in Boston, which featured Nobel prize winner Archbishop Tutu and an open discussion of the concept of apartheid, caused particular ire among many in the pro-occupation and institutional Jewish community. Sabeel and Tutu confronted an intense campaign to vilify Sabeel as an anti-Semitic, hate organization.
Liberation theology, which emerged as a powerful voice of conscience in Latin America in the 60′s, by definition, uses Christian imagery and stories about Jesus to understand and fight contemporary injustices. Some of the images used by Sabeel, although entirely consistent with the liberation theology approach, understandably make some of us Jews uncomfortable, precisely because of the Church’s history of virulent anti-Semitism. But to take Jewish discomfort and turn that into vilification of Sabeel as an anti-Semitic group is simply beyond reason. It’s downright immoral. (Silverstein’s piece carefully dissects the arguments made in Boston by pro-occupation groups.)
See also our post on Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s experience with pressure from some Boston-based pro-occupation organizations.

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MazelWatch: Good news in synagogues everywhere!

While we often report bad news about the shutting down of debate, we want to take a moment today to acknowledge the dialogue, honesty and open-minded inquiry that is happening in synagogues from coast to coast. As the political discourse becomes more polarized and shrill, these rabbis and congregations are choosing humanity over dehumanization; coexistence over fighting; open debate and searching over silencing. For that, we say mazel tov. And thank you.

Mazels go to:

  • Rabbi Reuben Landman of Congregation Har TzeonAgudath Achim,a conservative shul in Maryland that is hosting Egyptian writer and political thinker Tarek Heggy on “The Future of Jewish/Muslim Relations in the Middle East.” It’s a very rare occasion when a conservative-traditional synagogue hosts an Arab speaker–Rabbi Landman should be applauded.
  • Congregation Emanu-El (Reform), Netivot Shalom (Conservative), and Congregation Shir Hadash (Reform), all in California, are welcoming Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights director Rabbi Arik Ascherman as a speaker this coming week. There was a time when Rabbi Ascherman, the head of one of Israel’s most respected human rights organizations, found it difficult to get invited to synagogues here in the US. That is changing, and this speaking tour shows that.
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, from Philadelphia’s Shalom Center, who, as we reported, resisted pressure to boycott the Old South Church in Boston after the Sabeel conference, and further, publicly acknowledged the work of the church’s pastor, Rev. Nancy Taylor, on behalf of Jews.
  • Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of JewsonFirst who co-authored, with Rev. George Regas and Imam Shakeel Syed, this very important op-ed on “Islamophobia promotion week”.
  • And most amazing of all, Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David Judea in Los Angeles who wrote in the LA Jewish Journal An Orthodox rabbi’s plea: consider a divided Jerusalem. Though I wish he had used the more accurate and less deliberately provocative phrase, a “shared Jerusalem,” Rabbi Kanefsky has shown an extraordinary measure of personal courage and character–he has said what many others think, but are afraid to say.

We hope, for all our sakes, to see more and more moments like these.

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Disturbing back-story on Sabeel, Old South Church in Boston, and institutional pressure from some Jewish leaders

Here is a lengthy email from The Shalom Center’s Rabbi Arthur Waskow about how he became a last-minute replacement for Dennis Ross as a speaker at Old South Church in Boston. The church rented space to Palestinian liberation theology organization Sabeel for their conference this weekend which featured Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As Waskow writes:

The church, which had had warm relationships with the official Jewish structures of Boston, realized that Sabeel’s and Tutu’s presence might be a problem for those Jewish organizational structures. So it planned a series of speakers under its own sponsorship, separate from the Sabeel conference, representing a range of religious views, and asked advice from the official Jewish structures about speakers for a series of their own, including one who might speak right after the Sabeel conference to “balance’ the Sabeel presentations. Two Jews acceptable to these Jewish officials were suggested, were invited, and agreed to speak.

According to Rabbi Waskow, former Clinton aide Dennis Ross agreed to speak on the Sunday after the Sabeel conference.

But then something went awry. The Jewish officialdom decided to demand that the church require Sabeel to include in its conference a speaker who would present views very different from Sabeel’s and Tutu’s, far more favorable to Israeli interests and policies as defined by the Israeli government and the Jewish officialdom.

Old South, appropriately, said they could not do this. So Ross and another rabbi withdrew, presumably under pressure. And then a protest against the church and Sabeel was called for Friday. And the church invited Waskow as a last minute replacement for Sunday.

Read Waskow’s entire email here:

Unveiling the “Mystery”:
My Speech at Old South Church in Boston

Dear Friends,

I promised after Sunday to explain what was going on in my “emergency” invitation to and my decision to speak at Old South Church in Boston. Today is Monday: here is the explanation.

Last week I got several calls, one from a Massachusetts rabbi and then from the pastor (Rev Nancy Taylor) of Old South Church, which is one of the great churches of Boston: UCC, United Church of Christ, descendant of the Congregationalist churches that founded the Massachusetts Bay colony. Old South was where the Boston Tea Party was planned. Now it is a strong, big, wealthy, and widely respected congregation with a young, vigorous head pastor. (More about her and the church later.)

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