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"Friends of Sabeel," CAIR, and Middle East Studies Profs. Join Forces

By Cinnamon Stillwell
Campus Watch
February 7, 2008

Friends of Sabeel, the anti-Israel organization that disingenuously bills itself as the savior of Palestinian Christians, has once again reared its ugly head. Friends of Sabeel – North America (FOSNA) will be holding its regional conference, "From Occupation to Liberation: Voices We Need To Hear," in Pasadena, California on February 15-16 and, as usual, those voices include Middle East studies academics.

As Campus Watch noted last year, FOSNA's 2007 regional conference featured the highly politicized UC Berkeley Near Eastern studies lecturer Hatem Bazian and University of San Francisco politics and international studies professor Stephen Zunes. This time around, University of California, Los Angeles history professor Gabriel Piterberg and professor and director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at Chicago's North Park University, the Rev. Donald Wagner, are doing the honors. And neither is remotely balanced in his perspective on the Middle East.

Gabriel Piterberg's hostility towards Israel and its citizens is well-known. Speaking at a Muslim Student Association event in 2000, Piterberg notoriously stated, "You can't have a Palestinian state with its own rights, when you have 150,000 Jewish extremists sitting in the middle."

Piterberg's arsenal includes a never-ending supply of post-colonialist jargon. Fittingly, his keynote speech at the FOSNA Pasadena conference is titled, "Why the Palestine Conflict is a Colonial Situation." Piterberg is heavily invested in pushing this false and outdated narrative, as is FOSNA. Similarly, Piterberg's belief in a "one-state solution" to the Middle East conflict dovetails perfectly with FOSNA's vision of a "bi-national state" in which Israel no longer exists as such.

The Rev. Donald Wagner, a Presbyterian minister and former Christian Zionist, now puts his energy into opposing his previous allies and advancing church-sponsored divestment campaigns aimed at Israel.

As the director of the only Middle East studies center at an American evangelical university, Wagner claims his colleagues' opposition to his politics cost him tenure. In a 2005 interview with Lebanon's Daily Star, he went on to accuse Campus Watch, among others, of being part of a "public campaign…to silence the voices of Christians demanding justice, peace and security for Palestinians alongside Israelis." In reality, Campus Watch takes no position on tenure and has produced no articles critiquing Wagner's work, let alone trying to "silence" anyone.

Wagner is a proponent of the myth that the Palestinian Christian exodus from the region is due to "Israeli occupation," not the clear pattern of documented violence, discrimination, and persecution at the hands of Islamists. As such, he fits in well with FOSNA, which makes this canard a cornerstone of its outreach efforts to Western Christians. In fact, Wagner is on the FOSNA steering committee and his involvement in the upcoming Pasadena conference is just the latest of many.

The FOSNA conference also includes Hussam Ayloush, the Southern California Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). This is not the first time that CAIR, an Islamist organization and unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, has joined forces with Middle East studies academics. Campus Watch pointed out two such occasions involving CAIR and University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole last month.

Apparently, FOSNA, CAIR, and Middle East studies professors are not-so-strange bedfellows. One can only wonder when this web of academia and activism will start attracting the attention it deserves.

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