In his October 20th column, Chicago Tribune public editor Don Wycliff weighed in on the debate surrounding the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian Christian organization which during Autumn 2005 is touring North America to spread its message. Wycliff praised the organization, saying it does “classy work” and implying that criticisms aimed at the organization – including charges that the group “spouts anti-Semitic rhetoric” – are baseless.
Sabeel’s self-described mission is to “connect the true meaning of Christian faith with the daily lives of all those who suffer under occupation.” While the group’s founder, Palestinian Anglican cleric Naim Ateek, appears to have convinced some people that the group promotes peace, tolerance and justice, a closer look at his public statements suggests that Sabeel’s true mission is to revile Israel, promote divestment from the country, and encourage the dissolution of the Jewish state.
The Coalition for Responsible Peace in the Middle East, ADL, NGO-Monitor and others have pointed out that Sabeel spreads misinformation about Israel and whitewashes the persecution of Christians by some Muslims in the Middle East. Perhaps most serious is the charge that Sabeel rekindles the classic anti-Semitic “teaching of contempt” dogma which has been formally repudiated by most of the Christian world.
According to Dexter Van Zile, a member of the United Church of Christ:
Ateek’s ‘theology’ embraces the old anti-Jewish teachings that every responsible church – Protestant and Catholic – has officially renounced fifty years ago. …
Not only does Ateek deny Israel’s right to exist, he traffics in anti-Judaic imagery that has been taboo since the Holocaust. …
In his 2001 Easter Message, Ateek wrote the ‘Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily’ and likened the occupation to the stone blocking Christ’s tomb. In a February 2001 sermon, Ateek compared Israeli officials to Herod (the baby killer). The implication is undeniable: Israel is a baby- and Christ-killing nation that stands in the way of humanity’s salvation.
Given the role this imagery has played in promoting violence against Jews, and its use in reference to the Jewish state is inexcusable.
Van Zile also notes that Ateek’s disapproval goes beyond only Israel, focusing additionally on Jews in general. In a 2001 sermon, Ateek said that “Our Old Testament mentions the dictum ‘love your neighbor as yourself. Unfortunately, in classical Judaism it has been narrowly defined as being limited to loving one’s own fellow Jew.”
In a series of Sabeel conferences across the US and Canada, Ateek’s messages are bolstered by other serial-distorters and proponents of the one-state solution, including Michael Tarazi, Jeff Halper, and others.
Is this the type of organization that merits praise from a prominent newspaper’s public editor?