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Is it a Dialogue when the speakers are Pro-Israel?: GVSU forum not an opportunity for learning on the Israeli/Palestine issue

August 31, 2016

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The Hauenstein Center and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at GVSU are co-hosting a forum on September 8 entitled Can We Find Common Ground Between Israel and Palestine?

The speakers invited are Abdullah Antepli and Donniel Hartman. Antepli teaches at Duke University, is an Imam and is co-director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative. Hartman is President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and an Orthodox rabbi. While it is beneficial at some level to have a dialogue on critical topics such as Israel and Palestine, these two speakers are likely to both present Israel in a favorable light.

The Hartman Institute is a recipient of funding from the Russell Bernie Foundation, which is listed as one of the top anti-Muslim hate groups in the US, according to the study by the 2011 study from the Center for American Progress entitled, Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in AmericaScreen Shot 2016-08-30 at 10.26.38 AM

In addition, the Hartman Institute is on the list of centers of learning in Israel that are being boycotted in the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign (BDS), because of their relationship with the Israeli military, according to an article by Ali Abunimah, founder of the blog, The Electronic Intifada. 

During the last major Israeli military assault on Gaza in July of 2014, Donniel Hartman called the Israeli military campaign, known as Operation Protective Edge, a “just war.” In fact, Hartman wrote a whole article in defense of the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, where he lauds the Israeli military are refers to Palestinians as nothing more than terrorists. 

Then there is the question of where Hartman stands on the BDS Campaign. Hartman has written, “BDS is repulsive to me and alien to my Jewish consciousness.” In an article he wrote in December of last year, Hartman denounces BDS and frames it as another form of anti-Semitism. In another piece written in response to the growing BDS campaign, Hartman refers to the BDS campaign as the “new danger” for Israel on campuses across the work and particularly in North America.

Entering into this dialogue with Hartman is Abdullah Antepli. Antepli major contribution in the area of interfaith dialogue has been his involvement with the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). That organization’s website says, the program specifically targets “emerging North American Muslim leaders to develop a deeper understanding of Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel” in order to “change attitudes in the North American Muslim community and in Muslim-Jewish discourse in communities and on campuses across North America.” So how is it that the MLI wants to change participant’s perspective?

The Muslim Leadership Initiative has increasingly come under fire from the BDS campaign, especially since the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014. One analogy that was written by a mentor of Antepli, Omid Safi, states:

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“Imagine an MLI-type program that was designed to address racial tensions and understanding of police violence in the United States,” it said. “MLI is akin to going to Ferguson, but not meeting with Michael Brown’s family, and instead devoting oneself to ‘engaging’ the supporters of Officer Darren Wilson.”

The overt support of the Muslim Leadership Initiative for Israel has led several chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine to call for a boycott of any campus that brings MLI participants, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

The Hauenstein Center and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute either did not do their homework on these two speakers, they are either denying the positions of these two speakers or they are complicit in hosting a forum that is clearly biased in favor of Israel.

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