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March 14, 2013 2

Universities In Michigan To Host Sabeel’s Naim Ateek

A week ago, we reported on our blog that uni­ver­sity and aca­d­e­mic depart­ment spon­sor­ship of anti-Israel pro­grams has risen dra­mat­i­cally in the last few years. In fur­ther evi­dence of this trend, two uni­ver­si­ties in Michi­gan plan to host Naim Ateek, the founder and direc­tor of the Sabeel Ecu­meni­cal Lib­er­a­tion The­ol­ogy Cen­ter in Jerusalem, in the next few days.

On Sat­ur­day, March 16, Ateek is sched­uled to speak on the “Require­ments for a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel” at West­ern Michi­gan Uni­ver­sity. Two aca­d­e­mic depart­ments, the Insti­tute of Gov­ern­ment and Pol­i­tics and the Depart­ment of Polit­i­cal Sci­ence are listed as spon­sors. No stu­dent group appears to be involved in bring­ing Ateek to cam­pus. Two days later, Ateek will speak at Grand Val­ley State Uni­ver­sity, a talk spon­sored by the Mid­dle East Stud­ies and Reli­gious Stud­ies Pro­grams of the uni­ver­sity, as well as sev­eral stu­dent groups.

Sabeel, which has sev­eral chap­ters in the U.S., espouses what it calls “Pales­tin­ian lib­er­a­tion the­ol­ogy.” This “the­ol­ogy” rein­ter­prets the Hebrew Bible in an attempt to bol­ster the legit­i­macy of the Pales­tin­ian posi­tion and dis­avow Zion­ism. In his fre­quent speak­ing appear­ances at Sabeel con­fer­ences and other gath­er­ings, Ateek has said that claims that the land of Israel belongs to the Jew­ish peo­ple is “bad the­ol­ogy.” He asserts that the estab­lish­ment of Israel is a “relapse to the most prim­i­tive con­cepts of an exclu­sive, tribal God.” He also has accused Israel and its sup­port­ers of aban­don­ing God, say­ing that Israel “has no fear” of God and that Israel has instead adopted “secu­rity” as a new God.

On sev­eral occa­sions in the past, Ateek has used Chris­t­ian imagery to demo­nize Israel by com­par­ing modern-day Pales­tini­ans to Jesus and their suf­fer­ing to his cru­ci­fix­ion. He has referred to the Israeli occu­pa­tion as the “orig­i­nal sin” that must cease before Pales­tin­ian vio­lence will end. In a 2001 Easter mes­sage, Ateek explic­itly said: “Jesus is on the cross again with thou­sands of cru­ci­fied Pales­tini­ans around him…The Israeli gov­ern­ment cru­ci­fix­ion sys­tem is oper­at­ing daily.”

More recently, Ateek has employed Holocaust-related lan­guage to con­demn Israel, an oft-used rhetor­i­cal device for the anti-Israel move­ment. In a 2009 arti­cle in Cor­ner­stone, Sabeel’s pub­li­ca­tion, Ateek viciously claimed that the mur­der of Jew­ish chil­dren dur­ing the Holo­caust is “com­pa­ra­ble to what the gov­ern­ment of Israel has done to the peo­ple of Gaza today.” Other arti­cles pub­lished in Cor­ner­stone have sim­i­larly tried to exploit the hor­rors of the Holo­caust by analo­giz­ing it to Israeli pol­icy. In last spring’s edi­tion, for exam­ple, there was a poem that included the fol­low­ing lines:  “But what O Israel/Have you become?/The Nazis made me fear­ful to be a Jew/but you [Israel] have made me ashamed…Time to con­front the dark­ness we have become/With the Holo­caust it is Never Forget/but with Deir Yassin it is Never Mind.”

Sabeel’s Amer­i­can coun­ter­part, Friends of Sabeel-North Amer­ica, orga­nizes sev­eral anti-Israel con­fer­ences a year that fea­ture speak­ers who accuse Israel of racism, oppres­sion, and human rights vio­la­tions. Speak­ers often pro­mote Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions efforts as pun­ish­ment for what they see as Israel’s apartheid-like poli­cies. Some speak­ers at Sabeel con­fer­ences have also described the pro-Israel lobby as exces­sively pow­er­ful and argue that Israeli inter­ests con­trol the U.S. government’s for­eign pol­icy. The group has been the dri­ving force behind Chris­t­ian divest­ment ini­tia­tives against Israel since 2004.

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