National SJP Conference 2017 Closing Plenary #2 Featuring Hatem Bazian, Sana Saeed, Zoha Khalili. Sunday October 29th
Sana Saeed: Okay, cool. So my name is Sana Saeed. I am a producer/host at AJ Plus, how many of you know what AJ Plus is?
Sana Saeed: Um, so uh, I, I’m a producer there. Um, I’ve been part of Palestinian solidarity organizing for almost ten years now. Um, back when I was a student, uh, it’s a little different when you’re a journalist, obviously, um, but part of the reason why I also became a journalist, and part of that, that motivation was also just, is, was Pale-, the question of Palestine itself and, and solidarity with Palestinians.
Um, and I will be talking a little bit about faith washing. Um, which if you took the workshop with me yesterday, then you know exactly what the talk is going to look like somewhat. Um. But I’ll be talking about what faith washing is, um, how to look out for it, and kind of what it’s been doing internally within the Muslim community, and how that’s actually undermining BDS efforts, and uh, Pales-, Palestinian solidarity organizing on campuses especially.
Sana Saeed: That was great, and it actually ties in perfectly with, um, what I’m going to be discussing, which is also another effort to undermine BDS, um, support for BDS in the Muslim community, but also, uh, across campuses as well. Um, how many of you guys have heard the term faith washing before?
Just by a show of hands.
Okay. Not that many. Well, relatively. Um. So.
I’ll start with kind of where the term comes from, um, and I’ll go into what it means, how it’s been used as a, as a tactic, um, so far, um, how to recognize it, and then also maybe how to fight it.
Um, and we can come back to that also in the questions. So, in 2014, um, and, and this, this tactic doesn’t start in 2014, it’s just when we were able to kind of give it a name and a way to recognize it as well.
In 2014, um, someone sent me a video of uh, a well known figure in the Muslim-American community, um, speaking at a mosque in, uh, I believe it was in Virginia. And she was mentioning how she had just come back from a trip, uh, uh, from Israel. And I was like, this is weird. Like, I don’t remember the last time I was at a mosque where anyone was talking about, well, I just got back from Israel, and here’s what that was like. But I was half-asleep, and I was like, alright, I’ll take care of this later, or check it out later, whatever.
A few days later, I came across a blog post, or sorry, not a blog post. A few days later, there was an article in Time magazine by the same individual, um, which was entitled, uh, what this Muslim-American learned from Zionists. And I was like, uh oh.
Sana Saeed: Hold up, right? And it was the same person, so I was like, hmm, maybe I should have watched that whole video.
Sana Saeed: Um, and it was, but I was like, you know what, writers 99% of the time do not have anything to do with the headline, and I’m not going to be that person who just reads the headline.
Let me read the article, like, maybe it’s not that terrible, as terrible as the headline is. It was worse. Um.
Sana Saeed: And so, in the article, it was, it was basically discussing this uh, this program called the Muslim Leadership Initiative. How many of you guys have heard of MLI?
Okay. So introduced this program called the Muslim Leadership Initiative, which was, um, being sponsored by an organization called the Shalom Hartman Institute, which has its headquarters in New York, and in occupied Jerusalem.
And it was talking about how, I remember a little bit from the article, I remember bits and pieces here and there, but you know, she talks about going to Israel to understand the importance of Israel to Jews, um, the centrality of Zionism, and, in Judaism, um, and also there was, you know, the one thing that always kind of, the one line that she wrote in there which always stuck out to me was, I finally, I, I, I understood why Israelis were afraid of Palestinians.
I was like, whoa. What is this? Like, what is this? And I noticed there was very little, kind of, I mean, a lot of you guys probably know about, how, like, Muslim Facebook and Muslim Twitter kind of like, go crazy? This was kind of like one of the first big moments of division on like, Muslim social media and in the community. Um. But, you know, I noticed that there wasn’t that much kind of, brouhaha happening, like, there wasn’t that much conversation.
Um, and this was around the time that Israel was also beginning its 2014 assault on, on Gaza, right?
So I was like, this is so, this is insensitive beyond, I mean, insensitive is the nicest thing I can say about it. Um. But it was interesting for me that I didn’t see too much chatter about it, except on very particular Palestinian circles on social media, who were like, what is this, what is happening?
Um, so, I started asking around. I started reaching out to friends of mine, um, who knew this particular individual. I’m like, who else do, I mean, do you know about this trip, like, who else went on this trip? I, I can’t find any names, it’s kinda weird, I, I went to the website, I don’t see any names, I don’t see much mention of this particular program at, during my cursory search. And I was given some names, I did some research, I basically spent a few days going deep into, uh, the Shalom Hartman Institute, uh, the links, some of the funding [00:46:30] involved, um, and the, and I actually was able to interview not only, um, one of the attendees, um, but also interviewed, um, the imam who was at the forefront of organizing the trip.
And his name was, he’s chaplain at, I don’t think he’s chaplain anymore, I think he has a different position now, at Duke University. He’s the head of the religious life, or head of the [inaudible] department, I can’t recall at the moment. But his name, uh, Imam, uh, Abdullah Antepli.
And I spoke to him as well, and I, you know, I brought up my concern, I’m like, don’t you think, like, going to this organization, like, you know you’re, you’re, you’re, you, this organization positions the Muslim Leadership Initiative as a means of helping Muslim leaders to better understand the centrality of Israel to Jews. And I’m like, don’t you think it’s A, problematic that we have Muslims going to Israel, uh, through, on the dime of this Israeli organization, crossing the BDS picket line, on top of that we are conflating Zionism with Judaism, as well, like, without any kind of sense of nuance, or any kind of hesitation.