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August 13, 2020 8:38 am

An Antisemitic ‘Peace’ Organization Strikes Again

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

The city of Berkeley and the University of California, Berkeley campus. Photo: Wikipedia commons.

Nobody involved is talking, but it sure looks like American supporters of Sabeel, the antisemitic “peace” organization founded by Anglican Priest Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek in Jerusalem, have forced the ouster of Rabbi Daniel Lehmann from the presidency of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), a consortium of theological schools located in Berkeley, California.

In an August 6, 2020, article that appeared in The Forward and The Jewish News of Northern California, Gabe Stutman chronicled GTU’s hiring of Lehmann in the spring of 2018, the October 2019 ceremony at which he was officially installed as president, and his quiet departure from the job he had held for about a year and a half on February 24, 2020.

The stealth ouster of Lehmann, who had moved from Boston, went unreported until Stutman broke the story.

Lehmann’s exit is a big deal. Before heading west, he was a pillar of the Jewish community in the greater Boston area, serving as the founding headmaster of the Gann Academy, a respected Jewish day school in Waltham, Massachusetts. After that, he served as president of Hebrew College in nearby Newton, and chair of the Board of the Boston Theological Institute (which now calls itself the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium).

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There was big hoopla surrounding his hiring in May 2018, with GTU board chair Susan Cook Hoganson declaring, “Rabbi Daniel Lehmann is unquestionably the right person to lead the Graduate Theological Union in its interreligious engagement of the critical issues of our time.”

The school said essentially the same thing when it announced it was hiring Rev. Dr. Uriah Kim to serve as Lehmann’s replacement. “He is the right president for the GTU — especially at such a time as this,” said Dr. Ray Pickett, President of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, one of the schools that comprises the GTU consortium.

Before Stutman’s article, the only person who said a word about Lehmann’s departure was Alison Weir, the founder of If Americans Knew, who was condemned even by Jewish Voice for Peace for antisemitism. Weir, who had protested GTU’s hiring of Lehmann because of his pro-Israel statements, took some victory laps in her writings about his ouster, but it is unlikely she was much of a factor in his departure. Her hostility toward Israel and Jews is just too vulgar.

More likely culprits behind Lehmann’s ouster are supporters of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem who operate under the banner of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), which in addition to promoting anti-Israel propaganda in ecumenically-minded churches and institutions like GTU, work to mainstream Hatem Bazian, an anti-Zionist scholar at Zaytouna College, a Muslim institution of higher learning located near GTU. Bazian, who has described the US Congress as Israeli-occupied territory, has appeared at several FOSNA events in the United States.

Three FOSNA activists who have been railing against Israel for years were the authors of an “open letter” to GTU about Lehmann’s presidency. His status as a pro-Israel Jew was simply too much for these authors and numerous other FOSNA supporters who signed on to the open letter. The list of signatories of the letter reads like a veritable Who’s Who of FOSNA activists who helped turn mainline churches — and the ecumenical institutions they support — into bastions of anti-Israel BDS activism over the past two decades. Signatories include numerous members of FOSNA’s Clergy and Seminary Action Council, which was founded to promote BDS activism.

Many, if not most, of the FOSNA activists who signed the open letter are retirees from prominent positions in mainline churches, but they were still able to muster the energy for an attack on a prominent Jew who mistakenly thought his support for Israel wouldn’t disqualify him from serving as president of a progressive institution of higher learning dedicated to good interfaith relations.

The sad fact is that when it comes to the ecumenically-minded mainline community, the only people who know how to get anything done are the folks who hate Israel. Anyone left in these churches who is committed to tending to their flocks and passing on their faith to the next generation of believers simply cannot hold a candle to the anti-Israel activists that have hijacked their churches and the ecumenical institutions they support.

The anti-Zionists in the mainline know how to hijack church bureaucracies, punish and marginalize their enemies, and disguise their work as “peacemaking” while everyone else in this community stands back and watches.

Lehmann’s ouster highlights the capitulation to anti-Jewish pressures of supposedly ecumenical, open, civil society institutions.

First, they boycotted Jews living in the West Bank.

Then they boycotted companies that did business with Jews living in the West Bank.

Then they boycotted Israel.

Then they boycotted companies that did business with Israel.

Now they are boycotting American Jews who support Israel.

Eventually — if it hasn’t happened already — they will boycott Jews who haven’t yet renounced their love and support for the Jewish state.

Judging from their actions, that’s exactly the way some people want it.

Dexter Van Zile is the Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA). Van Zile’s work has appeared in a number of publications including The Jerusalem Post and The Boston Globe.

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