It’s tough to learn a lesson from someone you can’t agree with, whose goals will never be encapsulated in the standard Peace and Two State mantra that traditional liberals, (sort of including yours truly), hold close to their heart, when looking at Israel/Palestine. But I read a piece today by Ali Abuminah, Co-Founder of The Electric Intifada entitled; “Video: Jerusalem resident assaulted by Israeli-backed US “Muslim leaders”  that not only brings into question the Muslim Leadership Initiative undertaken by the Shalom Hartman Institute, as a vehicle of ‘Faithwashing,’ but along with it just about everything I’ve done to promote interfaith dialogue since I began back in March of 2000 by bringing the Israeli Consul General and the Deputy Director of the PLO together at my synagogue for a panel discussion on prospects for peace.

It is possible to lose my own argument just by allowing Abuminah and others that are referenced in his article to define the term and then apply it to interfaith communication. Faithwashing is a new term to me and will be defined here through a link to an article from last July written by Sana Saeed in The Islamic Monthly titled; “An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing, Apartheid and Occupation” , that originally called into question the MLI:

“Faithwashing is about changing the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or, rather, Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine) from a mid-20th century Euro-American settler-colonialist project (that brought anti-semitism to the Muslim world) to a non-existent centuries long enmity between Jews and Muslims.”

The short answer is talking to each other about each other rather that promoting understanding is against the rules of BDS that stipulate that such talk instead promotes the Zionist State of Israel and its occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, (my words). I don’t believe it. Although I have no doubt that dialogue can be utilized toward the achievement of those ends.

Now I began reading all the links including an article by Rabia Chaudry in Time Magazine about her experience as a member of the Muslim Leadership Initiative: “What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists;” and an essential response to the Saeed article by Imam Abdullah Antepli, who designed the program with his friend at the Shalom Hartman Institute; Yossi Klein Halevi; “After Abraham, Before Peace – Navigating the Divides”, as well as a link to the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel; “On BDS Bashers and their Search for Fig Leaves”, which further enunciates the fundamental requirement not to transgress the philosophy of anti-normalization underpinning the BDS campaign.

There is more including a new article by Ms. Saeed; “And the Faithwashing Continues;”. But the crux of the issue requires me to talk a bit about justice in the Palestinian vernacular. It is clear that a segment of the Palestinian population believes that Israeli Independence equals the Nakba/Catastrophe and that the loss of over 400 villages and the forced dispersion of some 750,000 Palestinians represents an injustice that can only be rectified through a ‘Right of Return’ which is expressly identified in the original mission of the 2005 BDS Campaign as one of its three essential goals. The realization of this right would clearly terminate the State of Israel as an independent state and with it the idea of Two States and Peace.

That creates a problem for lots of people; Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans and countless others who have and continue to work for a peace that will bring a tangible independent state to the Palestinian people. After some twenty years of unsuccessful negotiations and the lack of negotiations, and warfare and terror and intifadas and checkpoints and house demolitions and scarcity, and settlements and resistance and a growing international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions there are more than a few who believe that peace and two states is no longer possible. But I am not one. I believe that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis live separate lives that have been made more separate as a result of the violence and according to the anti-normalization order of the BDS campaign. I believe that even as the leaders, (maybe a new Israeli leader), need to negotiate with support not only from a United States mediator, but from the European Union, from the Arab League, from Russia, China and other UN member countries that all are seriously interested in resolving this unholy conflict. The people, Israelis and Palestinians need to meet, to talk, to listen, to learn from each other and to begin a long term process of reconciliation on the ground that starts with a single respectful conversation. There is no doubt that Yossi Klein Halevi and many others need to speak for themselves about the goals of the Muslim Leadership Initiative, (and many other dialogue programs), about the realities of Faithwashing and about the extraordinary efforts of so many Israelis and Palestinians to continue to reach across the boundaries and build bridges.

It’s easy for me to quote Rabbi Nachman, but it’s more important here to quote the Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”


About the Author
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in Philadelphia that brings the faiths together to learn about and from each other and to build a new constituency for Middle East Peace.