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The Sabeel Center: A Driving Force of Divestment


The recent effort by various mainline Protestant denominations to adopt a policy of divestment against companies doing business with Israel has been pushed from behind the scenes by a radicalized Jerusalem-based Palestinian Christian group.

The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, founded in 1990 to "search for ways to strengthen the faith of Palestinian Christians in Palestine and Israel and to share the life and witness of the Christian community with visitors abroad," had long played a behind the scenes role in encouraging churches to adopt divestment as a means to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinians.

Since June 2004, leaders of the mainline Protestant denominations have routinely welcomed Sabeel leaders as guests at conventions and national meetings, and the influence of Sabeel in advocating for divestment is indisputable, however out of sync their rhetoric is with the people in the pews.


More recently the Sabeel Center has become a driving force behind the churches' anti-Israel divestment tactics, both through its own activities and through the release of a document that provides a blueprint for churches to engage in divestment campaigns.  In the document, "A Call for Morally Responsible Investment: A Nonviolent Response to the Occupation" (April 2005), the Sabeel Center offers Protestant leadership a handbook on the justification and implementation of a divestment from Israel plan.  This highly nuanced document is theological sophistry, rewriting history through careful and willful ignoring and distorting of facts, and tacking on quotations from scripture to gild politics with religious language.


The document artfully claims morality and responsibility for its irresponsible and amoral accusations against the State of Israel.  Moreover, the document ignores the good-faith efforts Israel has made at peace, and fails to recognize the terrorism and violence perpetrated by Palestinians aimed at destroying the State of Israel.  Any document that would advocate the use of an economic bludgeon against the State of Israel or those doing business with her is neither responsible, nor is it moral.


A One-Sided Formulation for Pressuring Israel


The Sabeel Center document on "Morally Responsible Investment," makes a series of inaccurate or one-sided statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which are fundamentally misinformed or based on a biased and skewed reading of history.  These include:


  • The document claims, "For many years the Palestinians rejected the establishment of the state of Israel because it was founded on the denial and violation of Palestinian rights." (Page 4). 

The Palestinians and the Arab world unconditionally rejected the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan which would have established two states: a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, because they refused to agree to the creation of any Jewish state in the region.  The creation of a Palestinian state under the auspices of the United Nations in 1947/1948 following the expiration of the British Mandate would have been the greatest affirmation of Palestinian rights.  Unfortunately for the Palestinian people, their leaders chose to negate the Jewish right to a sovereign nation instead of agreeing to an internationally recognized Palestinian state. Had the Arabs accepted the plan in 1947 there would have been an Arab state alongside the Jewish State of Israel, and the heartache and bloodshed that has characterized the Arab-Israeli conflict could have been avoided.


  • The document claims that Israel violates international law.

Israel's administration of the territories in 1967 replaced Jordan's control of the West Bank and Egypt's of the Gaza Strip. Egypt and Jordan gained control of these areas during the 1948 War with the newly - established Israel, which according to the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, were to be part of the independent Arab state to be established alongside an independent Jewish state (a plan rejected by Arab nations and Palestinian leadership). Neither Jordan nor Egypt had legal sovereignty over these areas.  Israel maintains that these areas can thus not be considered "occupied territories" under international law, since Israel did not "occupy" them from another sovereign nation, but are "disputed territories" over which there are competing claims, and whose future must be determined through negotiations. Since 1967, Israeli governments have maintained a willingness to withdraw from areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a peace agreement with the Arabs.


  • The document analogizes Israel with South African apartheid.

In no way can the treatment of Arabs by the State of Israel be compared to the treatment of the Blacks of South Africa under apartheid. There is no Israeli ideology, policy or plan to segregate, persecute or mistreat the Arab population.


Apartheid was a uniquely repressive system, through which South Africa's white minority enforced its domination over the black and other non-white racial groups who made up more than 90 percent of the population. Apartheid – which means "separate development" in the Afrikaans language – was enabled through a host of laws which banned blacks from "white areas," prevented blacks and whites from marrying or even having sexual relations with each other, and regulated the education of black children in accordance with their subservient social position. No such laws exist in Israel, which pledged itself to safeguard the equal rights of all citizens in its Declaration of Independence. Arab citizens of Israel have the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to organize politically, the right to vote and the right to speak and publish freely. Moreover, Israel has declared its acceptance, in principle, of a sovereign Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Whatever your view of
Israel, the Palestinians and the conflict, it is obvious that there can be no comparison to apartheid.   As Benjamin Pogrund, the prominent South African Jewish journalist who was imprisoned by the apartheid regime has written: "Palestinians are not oppressed on racial grounds as Arabs but are, rather, the competitors in a national/religious conflict for land."


  • The document ignores Israeli efforts and desires for a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. 

Israel is fully committed to pursuing negotiated agreements with the Palestinians so that it may finally live in peace and security. Peace has proven difficult only for want of peace partners willing to recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel was able to reach historic peace agreements with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) in which both sides made serious compromises for the sake of normalized relations.  Public opinion polls in Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993 consistently show that the vast majority of Israelis are supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians and support making extremely difficult compromises on territory, settlements, Jerusalem and other contentious matters. Recognizing this great support for peace, every candidate for Prime Minister of Israel since 1993 has pledged to continue the pursuit of peace - albeit with different approaches.

Palestinian violence and terrorism made Israelis grow skeptical of the Palestinian commitment to reconciliation. In the absence of a serious Palestinian negotiating partner, the Israeli government initiated a plan to unilaterally disengage from the Gaza Strip, proof of its willingness to make painful sacrifices even when mutual cooperation is not available.  The death of Yasser Arafat and the rise of a new Palestinian Authority leadership has given the Israeli public renewed optimism that cooperation with the Palestinians is feasible, and the Israeli Government has been coordinating its
Gaza disengagement with the PA.   PA-Israel cooperation has been crucial to the progress of the disengagement from Gaza.

  • The document willfully omits of any mention of the peace process, disengagement or bilateral cooperation.

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