Boycott the Muslim Leadership Initiative and similar attempts to “Faithwash” Israel’s Regime of Oppression
Occupied Jerusalem, 26 January 2015 -- The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, calls for a boycott of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) of the Shalom Hartman Institute and other such projects that bring international delegations, whether faith-based or otherwise, for visits to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in a manner that is complicit with Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
The MLI is part of a broader spectrum of political tours to the oPt designed to normalize and build acceptance to Israeli policies of oppression against Palestinians. Under the cover of “balance”, such initiatives rationalize Israel’s occupation, racism and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians as just another valid, and even ethical, perspective with complete disregard to precepts of freedom, justice and equality. They are premised on a false and deceptive symmetry between oppressor and oppressed, which is used to justify and prolong Israel’s denial of the full spectrum of Palestinian rights under international law.
Traditionally, such programs have mainly targeted politicians, students and journalists, but they have increasingly been aimed, recently, at constituencies with strong or growing support for Palestinian rights. It is no coincidence that the entities behind such projects are supported by Israel in their fight against the Palestinian-led global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) for Palestinian rights, a movement that Israel regards as a “strategic threat”.
The growth and effectiveness of BDS worldwide in holding Israel accountable has caused panic among supporters of Israeli occupation and apartheid. As former Israel prime minister Ehud Barak recently wrote, “The BDS movement is developing. Its name is derived from the movement that finally brought about the collapse of South Africa, which was economically and militarily stronger than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa together, but could not keep standing because it could not withstand international isolation.” The MLI and similar whitewashing initiatives aim at recovering some of the lost ground to BDS through co-optation, chiefly through tokenizing of Palestinians and going as far as dictating how Palestinians should resist their oppressors.
These tactics are a direct extension to Israel’s colonial logic, which seeks to crush the Palestinian collective agency. The 2005 Palestinian civil society call for BDS came partially in response to such colonial tactics of divide and conquer to redefine in a decisive way the politics of solidarity. BDS has put Palestinians back at leading their struggle for liberation under principles of human rights, respect for international law and in rejection of all forms of racism and bigotry.
The MLI is a textbook example of a seemingly innocent program that reeks of complicity with Israel’s racist regime and of contempt for Palestinian rights. Whilst presenting itself as a “rigorous” academic program, the MLI makes cynical use of religion, or “faithwashing”, to provide cover for Israel’s racial supremacy used as justification for the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
The main premise of MLI is the deliberate blurring of the lines between Judaism, Zionism and the Israeli state. This logic serves to perpetuate the anti-Semitic claim that Jews are synonymous to the state of Israel and bear responsibility for its policies, no matter how oppressive these policies are, and that criticism leveraged against the state of Israel is, therefore, a criticism of all Jews. This conflation, which itself is anti-Semitic, as it reduces all Jews to a monolithic sum, has been used by opponents of Palestinian rights to muzzle legitimate opposition to Israel’s violations of international law and ignore growing dissent among Jews to such representations.
The MLI comes at a time when a strong multi-faith alliance in the United States of broad-based organizations such as American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Friends of Sabeel North America, as well as several influential groups in the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, among others, are working in harmony, in diverse but interconnected struggles from Ferguson to Palestine. This groundbreaking work, under the premise of shared values of equality, justice and human rights, is presenting an alternative to the deeply sectarian and racist establishment discourse on Israel in the US that projects Muslims and Jews as inherently antagonistic to each other. This discourse has served to build up an image of Israel as a garrison state for America’s interests and stoke Islamophobia and anti-Arab feelings.
As detailed in an Electronic Intifada expose, the Shalom Hartman Institute is at the forefront of this nefarious agenda bankrolled by an industry of hate. The Institute maintains close ties with the Israeli military and runs indoctrination programs for soldiers responsible for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinians. The organization espouses an open anti-BDS agenda, participates in several anti-Palestinian initiatives, and individuals at its helm are actively engaged in intimidation and muzzling of American citizens critical of Israel’s policies.
The BNC encourages visits from international delegations to the oPt premised on recognition of the full Palestinian human rights and without contact or cooperation with complicit entities. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (PACBI), a constituent member of the BNC, has devised a comprehensive set of principled and morally consistent guidelines for this purpose. From our experience, principled delegations have provided a valuable contribution to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality
In short, the MLI is a BDS bashing project that seeks Palestinian fig leaves to hide its dishonest agenda. The BNC strongly condemns the MLI and calls all people of conscience to boycott it.