New Mexico Jewish Fed smears Sabeel conference as “anti-Semitism,” bullies churches

Next week, I will be among speakers including Naim Ateek, Nadia Hijab and Miko Peled and hundreds of participants at the Friends of Sabeel – North America conference “Justice: The Path to Peace in Palestine/Israel” in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Friends of Sabeel – North America (FOSNA) is a “Christian ecumenical organization seeking justice and peace in the Holy Land through non-violence and education” and people from all over the United States of many backgrounds and faiths will attend.

However our presence is not welcomed by the Jewish Federation of New Mexico whose director, Sam Sokolove, today smeared FOSNA and boasted of his group’s pressure on local churches to distance themselves from the conference.

Bullying and “anti-Semitism” smears

In an Albuquerque Journal op-ed today titled “FOSNA Philosophy Just Anti-Semitism,” Sokolove alleged:

Sabeel conferences are notorious for featuring speakers who vilify Israel and routinely lift the voices of anti-Zionist Jews as a means to disingenuously suggest that they bring Christians, Jews and Muslims to the table. They continually reject almost all mainstream Jewish voices, including progressive or dovish Zionists.

Sokolove went on to say how his group mobilized against the conference:

When the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Jewish clergy first became aware of the FOSNA conference last summer, we also learned that friends in the interfaith community had been approached to serve as conference sponsors. Given the positive history of interfaith relations between Christians and Jews in Albuquerque, it was our responsibility to offer a mainstream Jewish perspective on this conference.

As a result, it was heartening to garner the support of friends like the New Mexico Conference of Churches and Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John who distanced themselves from FOSNA in demonstration of sensitivity to Jewish community concerns and civic discourse.

A history of bullying and vitriol

Unsurprisingly, Sokolove claimed that, “Characterizing these conversations as ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’ is profoundly incorrect.” However, speaking from experience, Sokolove and the Jewish Federation of New Mexico have a history of bullying tactics and vitriol.

Two years ago, Sokolove, the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Hillel tried to surreptitiously sabotage a lecture I was scheduled to give at the University of New Mexico. As I wrote at the time:

It has come to my attention that the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Hillel at the University of New Mexico are actively trying to censor my lecture at the University of New Mexico next month by writing to departments and professors who may co-sponsor it as they co-sponsor countless other educational events on campus. Below is a copy of a letter that has been sent to departments, signed by Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Sara Koplik, Director of Hillel at the University of New Mexico.

In the letter to departments co-sponsoring my talk, Sokolove claimed that my support for equal rights and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement amounted to “anti-Semitism in its clearest, most noxious form.”

When I made the letter public, the Jewish Federation went into damage control mode.

As part of its smears and vilification, the Jewish Federation likened me to a member of the KKK and published in its journal an ugly caricature likening supporters of human rights for Palestinians to Hitler.

Yet in the end, none of this succeeded in stopping my lecture, which was attended by hundreds of people, and where I publicly demanded an apology for Sokolove’s smears (video).

In the two years since then, the movement for Palestinian rights has gained strength while the smear tactics of Zionist groups have remained the same. But they will be no more successful in stopping us this time.

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Comments

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Well addressed and en passant. I assume that BDS must address both the Israel's( letting it be knowm that Isreael will no longer be the Isreal it is, and the Palestinin people whose suuport you must garner. In labelling the PNA leadership
as clowns in the absence of how they got into this particuar circus, other than an unsubstatinated claim of corruption I dont believe you would have garnered any cuarrent Fatah member to BDS- which is to be regretted.

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First, as Chair of Canadian Friends of Sabeel, I wish you all the best the Albuquerque conference.

There is a bit of a balancing act in exposing Lobby bullying. Here we have found it invariably creates more blowback for them and advances the cause of justice.

Just recently, the United Church of Canada passed a widely publicized boycott resolution in the face of organized bullying from the Lobby directly and indirectly through their cronies in the Senate and the national 'paper of record.' The outcome was an overwhelming "yes" vote of a strength not anticipated (75-80%). I think much of this can be attributed to revulsion at the Lobby publicly and obscenely exposing itself before the delegates through the shallowness of its arguments and overt bullying tactics for the whole country to see.

Bring it on in Albuquerque!

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I served as a rabbi in ABQ for 22 years during which time my congregation hosted Palestinian speakers, promoted Palestinian and progressive Jewish voices, and initiated the Muslim Jewish Peacewalk. during all 22 years there was a campaign to isolate, demonize and dismiss my community and me due to our willingness to confront the Occupation. Federation and Hillel and the local Jewish clergy have intensified their efforts to silence people who are outraged by occupation. Most of them have never been an eye witness of course. They merely parrot views given to thembythe most right wing Israel govt in Israel's history. I am glad to be speaking at the conference with Naim Atek as rabbi emeritus of Congregation Nahalat Shalom which unfortunately no longer takes a stand on issues of human rights violations emanating from Israel. Nonetheless much of my community will be present, and have in fact helped organize the conference.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.