Boycott Israel’s “Muslim Leadership Initiative,” Palestinian civil society urges

Palestinian campaigners say delegations visiting their country should not do so in “a manner that is complicit with Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”

Muammar Awad APA images

The largest Palestinian civil society coalition has called for a boycott of the Muslim Leadership Initiative and other projects that bring international delegations to Palestine “in a manner that is complicit with Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”

The Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) said in a statement today that the Muslim Leadership Initiative “is part of a broader spectrum of political tours” that are “designed to normalize and build acceptance to Israeli policies of oppression against Palestinians.”

The BNC is the steering group for the Palestinian-led international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel and its intervention is likely to intensify the growing backlash against the Muslim Leadership Initiative.

The BNC statement calls the Muslim Leadership Initiative a “BDS bashing project” and urges “all people of conscience to boycott it.”

Under the cover of “balance,” the BNC says that “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.”

Backed by anti-Muslim bigots

As The Electronic Intifada reported, the Muslim Leadership Initiative, run by Israel’s Shalom Hartman Institute, brings US “Muslim leaders” to Israel to teach them Zionist perspectives in an effort to blunt support for Palestinian rights among North American Muslim communities.

The Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute receives millions of dollars annually from extreme anti-Muslim donors and is a major contractor to the Israeli military. It is heavily involved in Israeli government efforts to undermine the Palestine solidarity movement, especially BDS.

The Israeli-backed junkets, which have been criticized as “faithwashing,” have generated broad opposition and a backlash among North American Muslim organizations and the Palestine solidarity community.

Over recent weeks, hundreds of faith-based and solidarity groups and individuals signed on to a public letter urging people to “eschew any and all participation, facilitation, or any form of legitimization for the Muslim Leadership Initiative of the Shalom Hartman Institute and its representatives or advocates.”

The BNC statement will be seen as a significant boost to that position.

Promoting anti-Semitism

The BNC warns that the Muslim Leadership Initiative’s main tactic 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,” the statement says.

Such a conflation is “anti-Semitic,” the BNC says, but it has been deployed frequently “to muzzle legitimate opposition to Israel’s violations of international law and ignore growing dissent among Jews to such representations.”

Promoting solidarity and interfaith work

While denouncing the Muslim Leadership Initiative and similar efforts, the BNC takes a strong stance in favor of international solidarity and interfaith work.

It notes the joint campaigns “under the premise of shared values of equality, justice and human rights” of a multi-faith alliance in the US including such groups as American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and Friends of Sabeel North America, among others.

Such work, it says, presents “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.”

The BNC also “encourages visits from international delegations” that are “premised on recognition of the full Palestinian human rights and without contact or cooperation with complicit entities.”

Such visits, which included a recent delegation by US Black liberation and anti-racism activists, have “provided a valuable contribution to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” the BNC says.

The BNC points to the guidelines Palestinian campaigners have drawn up for a “principled and morally consistent” approach to organizing such efforts.