And the Faithwashing Continues: Second Cohort of Muslim Leadership Initiative Participants Leave for Israel



Everyone begins their new year in different ways. Many run to sign up for gym memberships they’ll forget about in about three weeks and others who think it’s finally time to kick the chemical addiction of nicotine.

And then there are those who like to begin the new year by throwing their communities under a proverbial bus. Yep! It’s that time of the year when the Muslim Leadership Initiative’s first cohort for the year leaves (on Saturday) for Israel to continue an apparently new tradition of self-righteously participating in a propaganda trip meant to undermine the dominant anti-Zionist narratives in the Muslim American community–specifically on campuses.

In case you aren’t familiar, last July I published a piece entitled ‘An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation‘. I had posted it at The Islamic Monthly where I was, at the time, a columnist and previously the Senior Online Editor. It was a response to a piece written by Rabia Chaudary and the ensuing defense of the initiative and trip by other participants.

The MLI is a project between Duke Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli and the Shalom Hartmann Institute – an Israeli and Zionist education group based in Jerusalem and New York. The program, the institute, the chaplain and the participants claimed, was meant to educate Muslim academics, interfaith workers, media workers, and thought leaders about Judaism so they can better help their communities understand Jews and thus Israel.


When a Community Dissents

The program is an unabashed attempt to thwart the growing BDS movement across American campuses. Click here to see an excerpt of where I explain how.

The MLI is an explicit attempt to make Zionists or Zionism apologists out of those who held and hold varying semblances of influence and respect in their communities, especially with younger Muslims. Under the guise of ‘interfaith’, the program is testament to what I called ‘faithwashing’ – making the ‘problems’ between Muslims and Jews about religion as opposed to the actual issues: the occupation of Palestine, the system of apartheid, settlements and the gross Israeli and Zionist impunity towards Palestinian life and livelihood. The MLI also, in faithwashing the root of the strain in relations between Muslim and Jews, dangerously promotes the conflation of Zionism with Judaism – a conflation that then is used to any and all criticism of Zionism into de facto anti-Semitism.

But even more disheartening and shameful than willingly participating in normalizing Zionism amongst Muslims and crossing the BDS picket line was the reaction to the criticism. Any and all criticism of the MLI program and its participants’ involvement was conflated with fringe ad hominem attacks. My article, which thoroughly broke down the issues, cited every claim and even took direct quotes and screenshots from the program’s own website and documents, was called a ‘character assassination’ piece; a ‘hack job’, ‘poor and unethical journalism’, ‘full of lies’ amongst other hollow accusations. I’m a big girl and have a hearty laugh that I used to respond to such baseless (and libelous/slanderous) responses.

But sound criticisms by myself, members of the Al Arian family, Professor Jonathan AC Brown, Hafsa Kanjwal, DC-based attorney and activist Fadi Kiblawi, Chicago writer Deanna Othman and countless others were dismissed as ‘trolling’ and engaging in ‘bad adab.’ In fact, any and all dissent and protest to the MLI program and its participants was used to turn the participants – who unabashedly crossed the BDS picket line and participated in a Zionist propaganda program – into some sort of ironic social justice martyrs. Any and all dissent was made into just ‘attacks’ and while participants and supporters of the program called for “dialogue” in a “respectful” manner, they ignored any and every chance at actually engaging in dialogue with members of their communities.

One participant even threatened me privately that I would bear great consequences for what I had written.

Yeah. That actually happened. 

It even led to my own editor at The Islamic Monthly to launch an absolutely wasteful and draining ‘internal investigation’ into my piece to see if I had done my due diligence and, basically, my job (and I had). What the process did, in effect, was make it clear where the publication itself stood on dissent on this particular topic despite it positioning itself as ‘cutting edge’ and wanting ‘dissent and debate’. Suffice it to say, I resigned.

The Issue Isn’t About Going to Israel

Many people don’t seem to get the problem presented with MLI isn’t about just ‘going to Israel’. The problem with the Muslim Leadership Initiative is multi-layered:

  • The Muslim Leadership Initiative is a part of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s anti-BDS project called iEngage; its sister-project is the Christian Leadership Initiative. The purpose of iEngage is to revive the Jewish connection to Israel by “creating a new narrative.” Part of this revivalism is also reaching out to other faith groups and having them see Israel’s significance to Jews.
  • The iEngage project is not about interfaith. It’s explicitly about Israel through the veneer of Judaism. IEngage is about saving Zionism and ensuring Israel’s support, as a Jewish state, both at home and abroad.
  • One of IEngage’s faculty is McGill Professor of History, Gil Troy who has been at the forefront of fighting BDS. In 2009, he and Dr. Mitchell Bard presented a position paper at the  Working Group on Delegitimization at the Global Forum against Anti-Semitism (seriously, click that link and read it). Tasked with the responsibility to “respond” to the challenges that would arise from the growing BDS movement, they emphasized that the fight against BDS was an “educational one” and outlined a three-pronged vision for fighting BDS:
    1. Israel Being a Cause to Celebrate
    2. Humanize Israel
    3. Driving a Wedge between Soft Critics and Hard Delegitimizers
  • Zionist groups have courted Black college students and Latino leaders (with pushback), for instance, in an attempt to, as independent journalist Rania Khalek describes it, “neutralize the brown electorate.” What is now being done under the guise of ‘interfaith’ or ‘religious education/dialogue’ (a strategy employed by Zionist groups for years now) is nothing different.
  • Shalom Hartman Institute’s president, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, has been openly anti-BDS and has even mentioned how it should be fought. He writes on the website that BDS is “repulsive” and that it must be defeated through ideas, education  and, essentially, reclaiming Zionism amongst the world Jewry. In an interview with The Islamic Monthly’s ombudsman, the Rabbi explicitly states that SHI is “very Zionist” and that he makes “no apologies” for it and that the MLI program is not interfaith but “educational”. See also: propaganda.
  • By participating in the MLI, Muslim participants are going against the demands made by Palestinian civil society; they are crossing the picket line. And this matters. This matters because if we are claiming to be in solidarity with the Palestinians – many of whom are an integral part of our Muslim communities in this country – then we need to acknowledge what it is that they’re demanding. When we make the decision to cross the picket line, we’ve made the decision to say: we know better.
  • Part of supporting BDS, beyond divestment from corporations and groups that directly exploit the occupation and Palestinians, is not enabling the very institutions that both directly and indirectly support the occupation — including those that support Zionism, the ideology by which the displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is justified.
  • Jews and Muslims don’t have a problem of religious understanding. By emphasizing the need for American Muslims to understand Judaism by understanding the connection of Jews to Israel is, in essence, ridding the conversation of the real political and legal crimes of the State of Israel and replacing it with an irrelevant conversation on religion.
  • Judaism is not Zionism and Zionism is not Judaism. Muslims participating in the MLI program are, by virtue of their involvement, promoting the dangerous narrative the makes Judaism and Zionism one and the same — despite much Jewish protest to the conflation itself. Traveling to Israel to learn about Judaism is normalizing the centrality of the modern state of Israel to Judaism, as a religion, and thus is taking away from the land’s centrality to the past, present and future existence of Palestinians. It’s also taking away the global robust history of Judaism outside of Israel – which was an ethno-nationalist project, not a religious one. The founder of Zionism, Herzl, was an atheist.
  • Zionism is (like any form of ethno-nationalism) a racist ideology and institution that is antithetical to our own Islamic traditions of social justice. Participation in MLI is a normalization of relations not with Jewish people but with Zionists.
  • Not a single Palestinian is involved in the MLI. You cannot claim to want to ‘tell the stories of Palestinians’, to want to understand Judaism and Israel to better articulate arguments for Palestine while you are actively keeping Palestinians out. Participants mentioned that they met faculty at the Shalom Hartman Institute, in Jerusalem, who had never encountered Muslims before. In Jerusalem. Where 40% of residents are Palestinian, majority Muslim.
  • If we are standing against racial injustice in the United States right now and chanting how Black lives matter — then why are we standing for racial injustice abroad?

So, congrats MLI participants. Some of you may have good intentions, oblivious to what participating in this program actually means. And then there are others amongst you who may not really care about how you’re hurting your communities by engaging in this project. Nevertheless, bon voyage. May you learn something about occupation, apartheid and the moral gravity of the decision you’ve made.

And don’t fret: the push for constructive and critical dialogue, dissent and protest against the program and participation in it will not stop. It will strengthen.


Jan 2nd, 2015 7:39 pm PST: This was brought to my attention by twitter user Ramah Kudaimi. Yep, still not Zionist propaganda, right guys?

Some quotes:

The goal of Hartman’s Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) “is to empower an elite group of emerging and religious and intellectual leaders—including university chaplains, journalists, academics, and cultural figures—to influence the North American Muslim community in reassessing its preconceived notions of Judaism and Israel.”


My friend’s visit to Israel couldn’t come at a worse—or a better—time. Worse, in that following last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, the well of Muslim-Jewish relations in North America is teeming with toxins: a Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is far from resolution; growing international terrorism committed in the name of Islam; radicalized, disaffected youth, who are a grave concern to Muslim communities as well as to others—the list of problems is large and increasing.

27 thoughts on “And the Faithwashing Continues: Second Cohort of Muslim Leadership Initiative Participants Leave for Israel

  1. This made me so angry. Thank you for writing this and bringing to my attention (and I’m sure to others) something I didn’t know existed. A brave piece for sure.

  2. Pingback: American Muslims eat hummos with Zionists, resolve to end Palestine-Israel conflict | The Daily Vox

  3. Hamza Yusuf must be so upset…he loves any chance to kiss his master’s boots. Remember him cheering on bush’s war?

  4. all i gotta say is i am tired.
    i read your article when it came out on islamic monthly…..wanted to post it to our msa page but i restrained myself. unlike these people i have principles that include not speaking for an entire group of people, especially not without their consent. instead i’ll be writing an open letter to the duke u chaplain, individually. leveraging msa board position n being palestinian for a call out to him that’s really a call to the muslim community that we gotta #staywoke

  5. Pingback: Islamophobia bankroller behind organizer of Israel junket for US “Muslim leaders” | altahrir, news of Islam, Muslims, Arab Spring and special Palestine

  6. I commented this on Amanda Qureshi’s blog post. Let’s see if she publishes it:

    As a Palestinian Muslim, you have no idea (I hope) how deeply your decision betrays me and our cause.
    Never say you stand in solidarity again.
    Never call yourself an ally.
    I hope every second you are there, you remember I am not allowed to be. Don’t you dare- don’t you dare- have fun.

  7. #1) American Muslims are not limited to Palestinian-Muslims (with all due love and respect for our brothers & sisters), and American Muslim interests are not limited to Palestinian-Muslim interests. God above all nations and tribes, right?

    #2) “May you learn something about occupation, apartheid and the moral gravity of the decision you’ve made.” <– if it helps them further understand the moral gravity of the decision, than it was a productive trip, was it not?

    #3) Articles like these, where we are asked to disengage, turn me off completely. Any call that tells me that it is un-wise to engage (White House dinner, MLI or any other initiative) seems *extremely* simplistic and short-sighted.

    Convince me that this dialog will certainly be futile? Prove to me that dis-engaging will produce greater results than engaging. Any effective movement employs a diverse set of methodologies. The further we narrow channels of engagement… well the further we narrow channels of engagement ;)

    "And don’t fret: the push for constructive and critical dialogue, dissent and protest against the program and participation in it will not stop." <– ps, Sana, I follow your work regularly and you are *far* better journalist than one who ends their blog posts with riled-up statements like this. I say this with love =)

  8. Salaam Fatima,

    #1) So that means we partake in blatant injustice? And we participate in programs meant to hurt our own community? That we support and become apologists for racist ideologies? What on earth. Zionism is also anti-Islam; the biggest donors to the US Islamophobia industry are Zionist groups – so if standing on the side of justice isn’t enough for you, maybe that will be.

    #2) No, of course not. Because the cons outweigh the good. I would hope almost 3000 dead Gazans would be sufficient enough for this trip to be, to put it politely, in incredibly bad judgement.

    #3) Who said anything about disengagement? It’s only engagement when we’re feeding the propaganda? That’s absolutely ridiculous and that is short-sighted, dangerous and toxic.It’s not engagement when we’re challenging the status quo? Challenging the normalization of injustice and the tokenization of our community? It’s only engagement when we’re selling our communities short? Ridding ourselves of any principles? For a seat at the table?

    If this is what dialogue and engagement look like to you, then good luck:

  9. Salam,

    As suspect as this looks, and as weird as Rabia Chaudry is and how much you and her don’t get along (can’t blame you for that), have you at least TRIED to reach out to the other participants to let them share their side of the story? If you are fair-minded as you are bright, maybe contact them and see what do they have to say?

    I don’t like these events personally, just as I don’t like imams going to Auschwitz, but we should give our Muslim brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt. This article seems to be more about slandering and framing our Muslim brothers and sisters as traitors than about the actual facts – the participants aren’t making any $, they aren’t giving up Palestinian land, they aren’t opposing BDS. They are going to talk and that’s it.

    If it is as ugly as you make it sound out to be, I trust brothers like Haroon Moghul and Wajahat Ali will back out asap.


  10. You obviously haven’t been following this at all if that’s your perspective, Omer. Even the things you say about MLI are inaccurate.

    Please read my original article in which I do actually lay out all the facts (directly from SHI). Read the Electronic Intifada piece that shows the money trail and IDF connection. And read the statements made by Hatem Bazian, Khalid Latif and Omar Suleman too on this.

    I also suggest, again, you stop hiding behind this fake name that you’ve made into some ‘real’ person who doesn’t exist.

    And please do also lay out exactly where I’ve committed libel — to accuse me of it, especially on false terms, is itself libelous so please, go on.

  11. Too bad you seem to reject any attenmpt to convey knowledge, explain concepts, sensitize issues and otherwise facilitate a possible coexistence process perhaps leading to peace. Are you so fearful for your position that you disavow all raprochement?

  12. Excellent! You have a great deal of support for your effort at keeping the truth of the matter out there.

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  14. Pingback: And the Faithwashing Continues: Second Cohort of Muslim Leadership Initiative Participants Leave for Israel |

  15. Pingback: Say No to Faithwashing: Boycott Muslim Leadership Initiative |

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  17. Jesus Christ revealed Himself 600 years BEFORE Muhammad came. Jesus said He is God and that He came to die on the cross for humanity. Jesus died so that we can live, Jesus saved us, made us children of God and forgave us our sins and delivered us from hell and sinful nature and punishment and established a close personal relationship with God who is now our Father, our Daddy. So why would God then send Muhammad? what for? epecially that Jesus fulfilled the WHOLE will of His Father, especially that God always used only jewish prophets who were in covenant with Him. Muhammad was not a jew and had no covenant with God. so all that shows islam is false, based on a man who raped killed lied, was an adulterer (polygamist), was a pedophile and who denied Jesus and who Jesus said He is.
    i love muslim people and i am telling them the (harsh) truth about ther prophet and religion- not to hurt their feelings but to help them break free from falsehood so that they would be saved and know the true only God who revealed Himelf in Jesus Christ.

  18. Pingback: Congress Doesn’t Applaud Muslim Tolerance - Muslim American

  19. Pingback: Sana Saeed: The Voice that Launched 1000

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