Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), which is J-Street’s partner in sponsoring the visit of a US Congressional delegation to Israel, is a US-based political advocacy organization. Like many other such NGOs, CMEP’s rhetoric and its activities are not always consistent, and some of its constituent groups are centrally involved in the political war against Israel.
A number of CMEP partners take an active role in promoting BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign – as part of the 2001 Durban NGO agenda which calls for the total international isolation of Israel. For example, Friends of Sabeel North America (www.fosna.org) is a fundraising and publicity branch of the Palestinian NGO Sabeel. This organization, headed by Naim Ateek, is a leader of the church divestment campaign, and in his speaking tours around North America, Ateek employs antisemitic themes and imagery in sermons promoting his “Palestinian Liberation Theology.” In promoting this agenda, his rhetoric includes references to “the Israeli government crucifixion system”.
CMEP’s website also features the “KAIROS Palestine Document”, which was written by a group of Palestinian Christians, including Ateek. KAIROS Palestine calls for action designed to create “a system of economic sanctions and boycott [and divestment] to be applied against Israel,” echoing Sabeel’s efforts. CMEP also quotes Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, referring to the document as “a word of hope in a time of pessimism that could lead to despair.”
This adoption of the Palestinian narrative of victimization, perhaps a reflection of the close ties to Sabeel and other Palestinian groups, was also evident in a January 21, 2005 full-page New York Times ad sponsored by CMEP. The text read, in part, “With each news report of Palestinian suffering…popular support in Arab and Muslim countries for terrorism grows and the threat of attacks directed at the United States increases.”
A number of CMEP’s board members also reflect the goal of demonization, under the façade of promoting peace. For example, Helena Cobban, a fierce anti-Israel ideologue and member Human Rights Watch’s Middle East board, sits on CMEP’s Leadership Council.
Thus, while much of the media coverage of this delegation has focused on the involvement of J-Street angle, this is only half of the story. CMEP is an equal partner, and deserves equal scrutiny.