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June 26, 2006

The Awad NGO conglomerate's diversified offerings satisfy all your social activism needs, from conflict tourism to replacement theology

When I initially wrote this post about a useful idiot college student, I didn't know that by connecting the dots I would end up describing a sophisticated multi-pronged effort to delegitemize Israel - most aspects of which I was already familiar with, separately - all revolving around a particular Palestinian Christian family. I finally changed the title of this post to reflect this convoluted reality.

This is becoming drearily predictable: One more posturing fool kidnapped by "militants" for PR or hostage purposes, rescued at great risk and expense, making excuses for his captors. And if he had managed to get himself killed, he'd be the next Rachel Corrie before you can say "kumbaya."

Jewschool is afraid this incident will scare off potential recruits:

This bodes poorly for those of us engaged in Jewish-Palestinian encounter projects, hampering our ability to overcome participants’ fears about seeing the conflict first-hand.
Gee, ya think?

One of the commenters calls this "conflict tourism," which apparently is a market niche in itself, although not without controversy:

Although tour leaders do generally maintain connections within the Palestinian communities they visit, participants might cross that “gray line,” says Adler, when they, for example, take photographs of Palestinians going through checkpoints, which, though often new and shocking to tour participants, is a regular occurrence in Palestinian life that may seem disrespectful to photograph.
(New and shocking? Newspapers and advocacy websites have been doing photo spreads of checkpoints for years.)
Melissa Weintraub, who co-founded Encounter Trips to Bethlehem and Hebron for future rabbis and Jewish educators, specifically chose not to bring her large tour groups to a refugee camp “because it felt like we would be treating the camp like a zoo.”
(Weintraub was ordained by JTS Rabbinical School this year.)
Others, however, deny the possibility of of voyeurism in these tours. Rami Kassis, Executive Director of ATG, links these alternative tours to a global trend of “responsible, solidarity tourism.” . . . . “ It is a tricky situation,” Mermelstein explains, “since we encourage people to document their experience in order to share Palestinians’ stories upon return to their home countries. Some of this documentation involves photographing others’ pain and situations of injustice.”
This business has the same agenda as UNRWA: confirming the Palestinians in their victimhood, because if they become productive normal citizens of their own country, UN bureaucrats, grievance merchants, and terrorists are all out of a job.

Does JTS teach its students about Rambam's ladder of tzedakah? By those criteria, the very lowest rung would be allowing refugee camps to fester, which the activists claim to be against. (I don't want to think what Rambam would say about making a display of the refugees' plight; I am at least grateful that a rabbi has qualms about that). But I would be pleasantly surprised if the activists' solution to this squalid situation involved challenging those responsible for maintaining dependency and rehearsing grievances.

If you have more time in the summer and want college credit for demonstrating solidarity with the oppressed, the Palestine Summer Encounter - a permutation of the International Solidarity Movement which is run by the Holy Land Trust - might be for you. [I have no idea if any rabbis or rabbinical students are involved in any of these programs.]

The ISM has long sent American students to the Middle East, where they undergo training by the ISM-ally, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a known terrorist group, and then physically obstruct Israeli forces trying to nab Palestinian terrorists. Front Page Magazine's exposure of the ISM and the much-publicized deaths of two ISM-affiliated students, American Rachel Corrie and Englishman Tom Hurndall, led to dwindling recruitment numbers. Heightened scrutiny of terrorist organizations as well as a recent Israeli crackdown on ISM leaders like Kate Raphael has forced George Rishmawi, a Canadian-Palestinian Communist who co-founded the ISM, to rethink his organization's tactics. Now the radical group has hit upon using international student exchanges in its campaign to aid the cause of Palestinian genocidal terror.

Mindful of the setbacks suffered by his activist troops, Rishmawi has set about remaking the ISM. For starters, he has rechristened the ISM the Palestine Summer Encounter (PSE). PSE has even managed to find a shill at Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank to offer U.S. academic credit in Arabic. That will make the "educational" program of value to Middle East study centers across the U.S., many of which have been turned into de facto lobbying and propaganda bases calling for the dismantling of Israel. Incidently, generous Saudi and PLO grants are funding these programs.

Now it gets more interesting.

The PSE's program will be financed by the Holy Land Trust, a California-based NGO. Already the Holy Land Trust has caused headaches for U.S. counterterrorism officials by funding Palestinian NGOs that refuse to guarantee that the U.S. Agency for International Development funds they receive won't be used to bankroll terrorism. The trust is run by Executive Director Sami Awad, who formerly headed the Palestine Children's Welfare Relief Fund, an outfit that routinely featured photos and praise of suicide bombers on its website.

. . . . According to the ISM website, "Bethlehem Bible College seeks to train and prepare Christian servant-leaders for the churches and society within an Arab context." As to what is meant by "Arab context," a clue comes from the views of Bethlehem Bible College President Bishara Awad [who happens to be the father of Sami Awad]. Although thousands of Christians have fled the Holy Land in recent decades due to Muslim persecution, Awad blames the Jewish State for their departure. "Israeli persecution is first and foremost to blame for Christian (and Muslim) emigration," he claims.

Indeed, according to Awad, Israel is the greatest force for religious oppression in the Middle East. . . . Asked to comment on Israeli allegations that many Christians leave the Middle East as a result of harassment by Muslims, Awad flatly denies the charge.

(The question of whether Israel or Islam is most responsible for the dwindling population of Christians in the Territories continues to be controversial, recently manifesting itself in the halls of Congress. Even assuming that Israel deserves some blame for their situation, Awad undermines his credibility with the preposterous claim that "Israel is the greatest force for religious oppression in the Middle East.")

Bishara is not only the father of Sami but the brother of Alex and Mubarek Awad. Bishara and Alex said the following upon the death of Yassir Arafat:

Palestinian Christians view Israel, not Arafat, as the problem. Arafat loved and cared for the Palestinian people, says Bishara Awad, president of Bethlehem Bible College. He described Arafat as someone who was "sincere about trying to work for peace and justice for his people, for the liberation of the Palestinian territory."

. . . . Alex Awad, brother of Bishara and pastor of Peace Jerusalem Baptist Church says, "The Christian community particularly will regret the departure of Arafat because he was very, very much at peace and also in solidarity with the Christian community in the Holy Land . . . . He surrounded himself with Christians that he trusted very much. Many of his advisors, many of his councilors also were Christians."

Either the Awads are apologists for the corrupt regime of Arafat and his successors, or they have to say stuff like this to survive. Given their other activities, the former seems more likely.

Mubarek Awad, in addition to his many other activities,

is a featured speaker for the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. Sabeel has spearheaded the drive for mainline churches to divest from Israel and organized conferences across the U.S. to demonize Israel and encourage divestment. Awad spoke at Sabeel conferences in Decatur, Georgia in February 2005, and in Cedar Rapids in October 2005.
More on Sabeel (with numerous links) and its connections to ISM, its championing of divestment initiatives, and its advocacy of replacement theology, which has a long and disgraceful history as a justification for the eradication of Judaism.

(I was going to proceed to comparing the politicized replacement theology of Sabeel with the politicized dispensationalism of the Christian Zionists: in both cases Jewish history and peoplehood are co-opted for theological purposes not our own. But I quickly realized that I was treading in theological waters without a boat, or even a life-vest, of knowledge of the topic, so I will leave that exercise to students of religion.)

It is a cliche that the Palestinians "have had bad leaders" or "have made bad choices," and the Awads are a good example of this. If they unequivocably distanced themselves from terrorism (including Arafat), if they really believed in non-violent resistance, if they were not engaged in actively delegitimizing Israel, their advocacy for their people and their recruitment of volunteers would be praiseworthy. They would be the "Martin Luther Kings" that, the cliche has it, the Palestinians need.

To circle back around to my first link, idealists see oppression and injustice, there is no Martin Luther King in sight, nor (even more needed) a Hernando de Soto. Instead they are presented with a program and rationalizations which demonize Israel and let the Arab bloc and the NGOs off the hook. Israel is just across the street, the others are nebulous entities whose exploitation of the Palestinians is difficult to describe and impossible to fight directly, rule of law and development of a stable middle class are abstract concepts most people can't contribute to actualizing (and which don't seem related to "social justice" but are), writing your Congressman and holding teach-ins are concrete actions accessible to anyone (and seem to create "social justice" but are really peripheral), taking one side causes awkward silences within your desired peer group and taking the other doesn't. Thus are bad leaders enabled and useful idiots recruited.

RELATED: Sabeel must be in the air today. While I was writing this, Solomonia was writing about Catherine Nichols, another Sabeel tentacle. While I ask, "What were they thinking at JTS?" Solomon asks, "What were they thinking at Brandeis?"

Judith | 06/26/06 at 12:14 PM | Categories: - Useful idiots

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Comments

Sabeel: A name to remember

"when they, for example, take photographs of Palestinians going through checkpoints, which, though often new and shocking to tour participants, is a regular occurrence in Palestinian life that may seem disrespectful to photograph."

Or executing a collaborator, or carrying out an honor-killing, or setting up a qassam, or...

Solomon [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 27, 2006 09:47 AM

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