Sabeel Conference in Pasedena, California – ‘From Occupation to Liberation: Voices We Need To Hear’, Feb. 15-16, 2008 – hosted by influential Episcopal church with “long-standing ties to Jewish community” sparks protest, letter of complaint by Jewish leaders. (The Forward, Rebecca Spence, Feb. 13, 2008).
PASADENA – A disputed effort to promote Middle East peace has led to peace overtures on a local level between All Saints Church and the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.
The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of the liberal, activist Episcopal church, met with about 100 members of the Conservative temple congregation Monday night to smooth over criticism that he has welcomed what they say is an anti-Israel organization to hold a conference at All Saints this weekend.
Bacon said Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based Christian group, and its founder, Israeli-born Palestinian the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, have been "smeared" by accusations of anti-Israel bias by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America , a pro-Israel group based in Boston that tipped off temple leadership.
Such accusations are "a pure distortion of their message," he said of Sabeel, which includes Jews as well as Christians and Muslims. "I know Naim as a friend and a colleague and I know Sabeel is pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian, for non-violence and justice for all." Bacon said Tuesday. "These are values we all hold dear."
But Rabbi Gilbert Kollin, the Pasadena temple’s rabbi emeritus, said Sabeel blames Israel for all the Mideast’s problems, and he expects the conference to be more of an exercise in "Israel-bashing" than an even-handed look at the problems.
Bacon said he understands temple members’ concerns about the conference, "From Occupation to Liberation, Voices We Need to Hear," sponsored by Southern California-based Friends of Sabeel.
The meeting with the temple members was a "marvelous listening session" for him, Bacon said. "And they complimented me by being quite candid."
That conversation has prompted plans for another interfaith conference on the subject at All Saints, Bacon said, "not so much to restore the balance as to have more voices."
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena temple said Tuesday that Bacon had been "well received" by the congregation.
"There was a good healthy conversation, and he listened to a lot of people expressing a variety of different opinions," Grater said, although not everyone agreed with Bacon’s stance on Sabeel.
The rabbi said he didn’t feel let down by All Saints’ decision to host the conference, which includes such speakers as Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, a physician in Glendale whose family was expelled from Gaza, and Marcy Winograd, co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, a group that holds vigils calling for an end for what the conference literature calls "the Israeli siege of Gaza."
"I would have felt better if we’d talked about it beforehand, but I don’t confer with (All Saints) when I do things," Grater said. "To be fair, I think (Bacon) is trying to create a positive out of a negative."
Grater said he’d like to have seen a more balanced set of opinions than Sabeel’s at the conference, acknowledging "the pain and suffering on both sides."
Darrel Meyers, a retired Presbyterian minister and a member of the national board of Friends of Sabeel, said the group is "responding to the call of the World Council of Churches in June, calling for the end of the occupation" by Israel of former Palestinian territories in Gaza.
"We care for Palestinians as well as Jews," Meyers said. "We are supportive of anybody trying to work for a just peace built on human rights."
Meyers said Sabeel is non-violent, "not extremist … and reconciliation-oriented."
But Dexter Van Zile, CAMERA’s Christian media analyst called Sabeel "ferociously one-sided."
Attek, he said, "presents himself as a moderate and speaks in soft tones" but reserves "withering criticism" for the Jewish state "while criticism of Hamas and Hezbollah is almost non-existent."
Bacon said people of good will must continue to talk frankly about all such issues if there is to be any resolution of the long, troubled history of Israeli/Palestinian relations.
"We must never get to the point of not talking about peace any more," he said. "It’s the essence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the central mandate of all three religions. And that means you never give up hope, and you never give up conversation."
Conference registration starts at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave. The Web site is www.fosna.org.
(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4482