Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friends of Sabeel are no friends of mine...

Cinnamon Stillwell reports for Campus Watch on the Sabeel conference at Berkeley: Academic Activism on Display in Berkeley: Bazian, Zunes, and "Friends of Sabeel"

UC Berkeley Near Eastern studies lecturer Hatem Bazian and University of San Francisco (USF) politics and international studies professor Stephen Zunes are among the speakers at a Friends of Sabeel – North America regional conference taking place on August 24-45 at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

Friends of Sabeel – North America is a branch of Sabeel International, which claims to be "an international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land." The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center may be based in Jerusalem, but there is nothing peaceful about the organization's propagandistic and one-sided approach to the Mideast conflict.

Sabeel's ultimate goal, as stated at its website, is a "bi-national state" in which Israel no longer exists as such. To this end, the group seeks to enlist the aid of Western Christians and others in the "interfaith community" in isolating Israel through boycotts and, ultimately, by ending U.S. support for, as they put it, its "illegal military occupation."

Tireless champions of any "cause" that implicates Israel and the United States in alleged wrongdoing, Bazian and Zunes should fit in perfectly at the Sabeel conference, which is titled, ironically, "Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: Voices We Need To Hear."

Zunes, who specializes in blaming U.S. foreign policy for Islamic terrorism under the rubric of USF's "Peace and Justice Studies Program," is giving a workshop at the conference titled, "The Roots of U.S. Policy Towards Israel/Palestine." Given that Zunes, in an article published on Sept, 12, 2001, essentially blamed the United States for the 9/11 atrocities (the U.S. should "re-evaluate policies that lead to such anger and resentment," he wrote), it's unlikely that his workshop will provide anything but the usual apologetics.

Bazian, a Palestinian native, is best known for his fiery rhetoric, including his notorious call for an "intifada in this country" at a 2004 anti-war protest in San Francisco. More of an activist than an academic, Bazian does little to nothing at UC Berkeley to conceal his highly politicized agenda. The fact that he will be giving a workshop at the Sabeel conference titled, "Free Speech and Organizing for Palestine in Academia" is ominous indeed. No doubt "free speech" refers to the belief, popular in the field of Middle East studies, that criticism equals censorship and, therefore, must be resisted at all costs. As for "organizing for Palestine in academia," the implications are clear enough.

One might hope educating, not "organizing," would be a professor's guiding principle. In fact, according to the American Association of University Professors' 1915 declaration of principles (the standard to which Campus Watch holds Middle East studies specialists), "The university teacher… should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of a fair and judicial mind."

Evidently, neither Bazian nor Zunes fit this description, and their involvement with the Sabeel conference demonstrates just how far academia has strayed from its roots.

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