Controversy over American Muslim Leadership trip to Jerusalem - updated 7/1/2015

Sheila Musaji

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Controversy over American Muslim groups’ trip to Jerusalem

by Sheila Musaji

A controversy has been playing out within the American Muslim Community.  It is part of the ongoing controversy about Muslim engagement exemplified by last year’s White House Iftar War. At that time, I noted:

... However, the discussion On Facebook and twitter, and on some blogs in response to these articles has become strident and judgmental, and has in some cases descended to name calling and insults.   Names like “house Muslim”, “traitors”,  and other egregious comments are being thrown around with no context.  This is inappropriate and truly surprising coming from some individuals who have themselves been on the receiving end of such baseless slurs in the past, and should know better.   Twitter is limited to 140 characters, not enough to spell out a coherent argument, pro or con.  If those who are angry about the decision of others want to contribute to a reasonable discussion, perhaps they should write a cogent article explaining their reasoning, and post the link on social media.  There are perfectly valid arguments on both sides of this issue.  Name calling doesn’t advance any argument.

That this discussion has become so bitter is very problematic, especially when Muslims have struggled so hard for so many years in order to have their voices heard.  There is a full time Islamophobia industry engaged in a concerted effort to marginalize American Muslim civic participation.  To attack those who are attempting to build bridges, forge relationships, and open channels of communication in such a spiteful manner is destructive for the entire community.   ...

  That statement holds true for the current controversy.  Here is a brief summary of what has happened to date:

It began when a group of American Muslim leaders and activists accepted an invitation from the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) to come to Jerusalem as part of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) to study Judaism.  The group was led by Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University.  As Imam Antepli, one of the founders of MLI, explains://

... I conceived, created and conducted the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) through Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) in Jerusalem. It was my idea and suggestion to create such program. Its creation and completion of its first pilot program inspired this essay. This is an honest and truthful account of what MLI is, how it has developed so far, and what were and are my hopes and expectations for its success.  But I do not claim to speak for all participants, their reasons for attending, or their takeaways.  I can only share my story.

MLI attempts to reverse the negative flow and create a different energy for critical Muslim-American thinkers to establish healthier relationships –  primarily with American Jewish communities – without compromising their loyalties and attachments to the Palestinian cause. It is to initiate a unilateral, sincere Muslim attempt to learn and make sense of Judaism, Jews, Israel and Zionism through the eyes of the people and communities who self-identify this way.  It was critical to engage with a self-identified Zionist Jewish organization because they are the groups American Muslims rarely engage, because we often exist on the opposite political spectrum and in isolated silos. In its essence Nothing more, nothing less.

Let me again be very clear: Engagement is not a total agreement. The program was not intended to and does not develop a Muslim voice in support of Israel or to justify Israeli policies, or to agree with the Zionist vision, which many people throughout the world have strong disagreements with. Furthermore, engagement is not acquiescence. It is not uncritical, wholesale adoption of the other’s political and religious ideologies. It is persistently incremental and patiently hopeful. It seeks opportunity to have a space that can create a more meaningful conversation, debate, pushback and critical discussion that can gently move both communities forward – together.

For years, I have been eagerly looking and shopping for credible voices and institutions respected within both American and Israeli Jewish communities who are interested in telling me their version of the story with no expectation that I would agree with it. I was looking for such Jewish and Israeli individuals and institutions who are not in the business of sheer propaganda (there are way too many of them), who are not looking for quick, cheap answers, who are not interested in recruiting loyalists, who realize this current stalemate and ongoing bloodshed can only result in an apocalyptic ending, who share my pain about the grim conditions of the present and who are as determined – if not more – to invest in every possible positive alternative.  ...  You can read more about the Muslim Leadership Initiative HERE

Rabia Chaudry, one of the participants wrote Jerusalem:// Full Disclosure from Jerusalem.  She explained how and why she accepted the invitation.  After the trip, Rabia wrote a second article What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists which was picked up by Time. 

After this, social media was filled with accusations, and insults, and a number of individuals published articles expressing their concerns about this trip, and especially about the fact that it was sponsored by the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Sana Saeed published An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation,  Abdullah Al-Arian and Hafsa Kanjwal published The perils of American Muslim politics in which they expressed their objections to the groups’ decision to accept the invitation.  Richard Silverstein published Pro-Israel Think Tanks ‘Proselytize’ Among Muslim-American, Christian Leaders.  Zareena Grewal published Zionism, BDS, and American Muslim Leadership.  The Daily Sabah published an editorial Gülenist academic’s close ties with Zionist institute draws ire among American Muslims, pro-Palestinian activists.  Daniel Tutt published BDS sparked by TIM: debates and dialogue

The primary purpose of Daniel Tutt’s article was to ascertain whether or not it was appropriate for The Islamic Monthly (TIM) to have published the articles by Sana Saeed and Imam Antepli.  However, this article includes interviews and background that are very pertinent in the wider discussion that has developed.  Daniel Tutt interviewed Sana Saeed, Imam Antepli, Rabbi Hartman of SHI, Yossi Klein Halevi, and five MLI participants.  Tutt’s section on “Interviews with Muslim MLI Participants” adds a great deal of important context.

One paragraph in Tutt’s article stood out for me, and I have emphasized what I consider to be a key piece of information to consider at least in the discussion as to whether or not participating in this trip could offer any opportunities or benefits to the American Muslim/Arab/Palestinian communities:

... I was curious to know whether the Russell Berrie Foundation played a role in the SHI or in the MLI program because the Berrie Foundation was listed as a funder of different Islamophobic efforts in the report, “Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network”. Hartman said that there was zero involvement from the Berrie Foundation in the MLI program even though Angelica Berrie sits on the board of the SHI. I also discovered that a presentation was given on the findings of the “Fear, Inc.” report during the MLI program by one of the Muslim participants and members of the SHI staff were present for this presentation. ...

Rabia Chaudry responded to some of these objections in Ten things about the Hartman Program.  Imam Abdullah Antepli also responded to some of these objections in After Abraham, Before Peace – Navigating the Divides.  These are the only two participants that I have seen any responses from.

The Muslim Leadership Initiative is very secretive about its participants, and only a few of last years, and one of this years have come out and identified themselves in public.  Those that have been identified in these articles are:  Wajahat Ali, Haroon Moghul, Omer Bajwa, Rabia Chaudry, Imam Abdullah Antepli, Dr. Homayra Ziad, Tahera Ahmad, Tayyiba Taylor, Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, and Imam Adeel Zeb in 2014.  Amanda D. Quraishi, Mohammed Hameeduddin,  Khurram Wahid in 2015.

Omid Safi published From Ibrahim to Khalil:  Healing through the flames, American Islam and Palestine/Israel, and Waleed Ahmed published The Political Calculus of Engaging with Zionists.  Both of these articles were attempts to heal the rift that has developed in the community, to provide context, and to encourage discussion of the issues, not attacks on the motivation of the participants.

In August prior to ISNA, a PETITION was posted by the MSA of USF requesting a discussion at ISNA about these trips to Israel among other issues.  The petition had 432 supporters.

Rather than adding my own comments to this controversy, I will only say that anyone who is interested in this issue should carefully read all of the articles provided with an open mind, and then come to your own conclusions.  And, I would hope that even those who disagree would do so in a civil manner.

UPDATES 1/4 to 1/6/2015

Another trip is ongoing right now, and is again very controversial within the American Muslim, American Arab,  and American Palestinian communities.  We have just published an article by one of the participants in this year’s trip, Amanda D. Quraishi Jerusalem Bound giving her reasons for making this journey.

And, on the other side of the discussion, Sana Saeed has published And the faithwashing continues: Second cohort of Muslim leadership initiative participants leave for Israel.

Ali Abunimah has just published Islamophobia bankroller behind organizer of Israel junket for US “Muslim leaders”.

This an important and well researched expose of the forces behind the Shalom Hartman Institute and their “Muslim Leadership Initiative” trips to Israel:

... Internal Revenue Service filings show that the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute has received generous funding from the Russell Berrie Foundation in recent years.  This foundation was named in the 2011 Center for American Progress report “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” as one of the top seven donors to anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States.  The Shalom Hartman Institute has received funding from other extremely Islamophobic donors as well.  ...

Although the information about the Berrie Foundation funding had been published back in August by Daniel Tutt, this article by Ali Abunimah caught fire on social media.  Both articles are worth reading for anyone who is interested in looking at all the facts.  (See also: CAP releases report “Fear Inc., the Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” by Sheila Musaji)

Ali Abunimah closes with:

...  It would stretch credulity to believe that the Russell Berrie Foundation or the Koret Foundation aim to promote interreligious dialogue and harmony with one hand, while funding the Israeli army, the colonization of Palestinian land and anti-Muslim incitement with the other.  But that’s precisely what Muslim Leadership Initiative participants would have to believe to avoid the obvious conclusion that they are being used – wittingly or unwittingly – to advance Israel’s supremacist agenda and to undermine the Palestinians’ liberation struggle.

Daniel Tutt has published The Saturation of Islamophobia Activism discussing various strategies of countering Islamophobia.  This article includes the following passage:

... It was the Gaza war of July 2014 that opened the crisis of the integration strategy and with it came some of the harshest internal criticism American Muslim institutions have faced in some time. From Tariq Ramadan’s boycotting of ISNA, Reviving the Islamic Spirit and other groups, to the large boycott of the annual White House and State Department iftar dinners, to the harsh critique of the Shalom Hartman Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). MLI sent over a dozen young American Muslim thought leaders to Israel to learn Judaism and build bridges with progressive Zionists. In full disclosure, I interviewed many of the participants as part of my role as ombudsman for The Islamic Monthly. Many of the Muslim participants said their motivation to attend the program was to combat Islamophobia. They felt that the program would give them access to key Jewish thought leaders and the possibility of changing their hearts and minds about Muslims.

From my interviews with the Jewish participants, they told me that this strategy worked, and they shared several stories of how they had opened their minds about Muslims. But did this approach contribute to shifting their interlocutor’s policy position, or is such a shift not part of what it means to dialogue and change one’s views? Each of the Jewish leaders at Shalom Hartman expressed strong support for Israel’s actions during the Gaza war, even going on to write opinion pieces in strong support of the military action. To the credit of the American Muslims who participated in MLI, their strategy did result in several high profile public actions that helped to repair Jewish and Muslim relations on a big scale. Without getting into the details of these actions, it is fair to say that the basis of their trip revealed the inherent limitations of the integrationist approach to Islamophobia activism. ...

Co-opting the Palestinian cause?

I have some questions that I hope can be answered.  SHI is primarily concerned with anti-BDS and with promoting a positive view of the State of Israel, and is not an interfaith organization - why should this include an MLI program? 

According to the SHI website:

The goal of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), launched in summer 2013, is to enable emerging religious and intellectual leaders—including university chaplains, journalists, acedemics, and cultural figures—to understand the meaning of Israel in Judaism and in contemporary Jewish life.

This program is unprecedented. Unlike typical interfaith initiatives, MLI is not a just another interfaith dialogue. Rather, the program invites Muslims to experience how Jews understand Judaism, Israel, and themselves. We believe that helping emerging North American Muslim leaders to develop a deeper understanding of Judaism, the Jewish people, and Israel has the power to change attitudes in the North American Muslim community and in Muslim-Jewish discourse in communities and on campuses across North America.

Drawing on the Institute’s mission to transform the way Jewish and non-Jewish communities understand Judaism and Israel, MLI aims to empower participants to lead their communities in forging new relationships with the Jewish community in North America and then throughout the world - through an understanding of how Jews relate to religion, nationality, and Israel. Through an immersive learning experience, MLI introduces young Muslim leaders to the essential ideas of Jewish peoplehood, the relationship between religion and national identity, the meaning for Jews of the land of Israel, and related issues of ethics, faith, and practice. ...

Imam Khalid Latif wrote a Facebook post that included this passage:

“I know many of the people going on this trip and know them to be good people, but am not sure I understand the value of a project such as this. After it has been made clear what the funding mechanisms are of this trip in addition to the implications of actually going, I don’t personally see the benefit. It would be great if those who are going could offer some clarity as, from the outside looking in, it doesn’t really seem to make sense.

...I comment here because I personally benefited from voices that helped me to understand better things that I just didn’t know. I am all for dialogue and discussion, but have seen that faithwashing is a real thing and how my own involvement in certain places under the banner of interfaith can be tokenized and in turn lead to no real benefit at all or actual detriment.

I don’t think it’s fair to be dismissive of people’s criticisms, even those who don’t voice them in ways that seem helpful. To say someone is only upset because they are Palestinian is problematic, given the realities of this conflict and the loss that has been suffered. We’re only months away from a devastating siege that took the lives of 2,200 people in Gaza, including more than 500 children and lives have been lost since and many before then. There is validity in people’s emotions and I think it has to be considered strongly in the decisions that are made.

... Organized evil will always triumph over disorganized righteousness. This is truth, whether we choose to accept it or not. We can have good intentions all we want. If we have no plan, we will continue to be mistreated, our civil rights will be non-existent, and we will find ourselves sitting at dinners where we are verbally slapped in the face by the hosts and will have no real recourse other than to fight with each other afterwards on social media. Congrats—you won the war on Twitter. How about we sit down and figure out collectively how to win the war that is being waged against us in the real world?

Unlike most minority groups living in the United States, the Muslim community has no federation or established systems of networks of any kind. On a local, state, or national level, there is virtually no communication or strategy being employed whatsoever. Moving aside from building coalitions external to the broader Muslim community, the development of intra-community coalitions is necessary. I wouldn’t undermine one’s resolve to “be at the table” with other groups. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of us sitting at the table with each other and it very much so is starting to.

We are divided in every possible way that we can be. Racial, ethnic, cultural, gender-based, socioeconomic, and political divides are just the tip of the iceberg in the very little it takes for us to justify not sitting at the table with those who differ with us in perspective or to be dismissive and de-legitimize each others leadership. A Muslim can be a woman and be a leader. A Muslim can be black and be a leader. A Muslim can have an accent and be a leader. If you think otherwise, you are foolish and need to be silent. ... “

I agree, and I also know many of the participants and believe that their intentions were good.  However, after looking at all the evidence, interacting with some of the participants, and thinking about the possible opportunities or benefits of these trips, and the possible costs, I am left with more questions than answers.

Why were only Muslims included as participants?  Why were no American Palestinians or Arabs (Muslim or Christian) included?  Why were none of the participants active in Palestinian organizations or causes?  If most of those who went on this trip did so because they believed they could counter Islamophobia, or improve American Muslim/American Jewish relationships - then wouldn’t that be better done right here in the U.S.?  Why so much secrecy? 

The information that we have is very contradictory and confusing.  Conflating Zionism and Judaism is problematic.  Presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a strictly religious issue (Muslim, Christian, and/or Jewish) is problematic.  Equating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism is problematic.  Co-opting the Palestinian struggle against occupation in the service of countering Islamophobia in the U.S. is problematic.  Currently, most of the participants have chosen to remain anonymous and silent, and that is problematic.

What the secrecy, confusion, and lack of a clear purpose has cost at this point is a very visible rift between activists in the American Muslim/American Arab/American Palestinian communities, and deep rifts between members within each of those communities.  Some of the interactions on social media (e.g. Facebook & Twitter) have been truly shocking.  People who share many common issues and causes are so emotional and angry over this issue of the SHI-MLI trips that they may have poisoned the possibility of working together amicably in the future.  We really can’t afford to allow ourselves to be further divided.  At this point it seems that the cost of this program to our American Muslim/Palestinian/Arab communities greatly outweigh any possible benefits.

UPDATE 1/14/2015

A few days ago, The Electronic Intifada published an article Video:// Jerusalem resident assaulted by Israeli-backed US “Muslim leaders” with two videos of an incident that took place at Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem.  A Palestinian activist known as Zalameh @BDS4Justice approached the MLI cohort with his camera running and asked to speak to one of the women.  There was an altercation, and whether that was an assault, or simply an attempt by one of the male members of the group to stop him from filming the women is hotly disputed

The Muslim ARC issued a statement which included this appeal:  ...For those MLI participants who have already gone or returned from Palestine: we call on you to engage with Palestinian Muslims in a respectful, genuine, and gracious manner, with awareness that you are in a position of privilege having gone to another’s occupied homeland using money that sustains that occupation. We call on you to acknowledge and apologize for the pain and hurt you have caused with your actions, whether these actions were taken with full knowledge, and irrespective of your ‘good intentions.’ A broken toe is a broken toe, and there is no question of it being your shoe. ...

Boycott MLI published a statement American Muslim Religious Leaders Say No to MLI, Reiterate the Quranic call to Justice and Peace.

A group of individuals and organizations published a petition Say No to Faithwashing: Boycott Muslim Leadership Initiative.  This petition opened with: We as organizations and individuals committed to Palestinian self-determination call on the Muslim community in North America to eschew any and all participation, facilitation, or any form of legitimization for the Muslim Leadership Initiative of the Shalom Hartman Institute and its representatives or advocates.

Alex B. Kane wrote Debate over trip to Israel reveals fissures in Muslim American community which provides more background.

Social media again erupted with claims, counter-claims, denunciations,  and arguments.

Today, Amanda D. Quraishi, one of the members of the group published The Context giving her testimony about the incident.  And, her testimony is very different from that published on The Electronic Intifada.

Rabia Chaudry, one of last years group members posted this on Facebook:

Let me give some background to people. People connected to this program have had death threats & threats against their families. A few weeks ago activist in dc named ***) issued a clear threat on twitter saying this is the last warning to people who are part of this program.

And then this dude rolls up in the dark to a bunch of women filming them as they’re praying, and then trying to question them with a camera in their face. Amanda is on this video and looks clearly bewildered and concerned. Then a brother steps up to push the camera away, and this is being spun as an assault on the guy with the camera.

How absolutely disgusting that people are defending this guy as he’s got a camera on these women. I wonder how many people would be ok if some random man is filming their wife or sister or daughter praying and then approaching her and filming her in a public space.

He could simply approached and asked if he could have a conversation and then get their permission before filming. But he was acting dangerously and they had every right to feel threatened and if I was there, I repeat, I would have aimed for his family jewels.

Here, Amanda writes about it:

“There has been a serious accusation against my MLI cohort while I’m here in Jerusalem– one of assault against another Muslim on the grounds of al-Aqsa mosque. A video was captured in which my face is clearly shown, and so I feel that I should give context to this story because the way it has been spun is shockingly irresponsible, dangerous and disturbing to me.”

The Electronic Intifada published a second article “Muslim leader” who assaulted Jerusalem resident identified as former New Jersey mayor.  One particularly interesting item in this article was that the Shalom Hartman Institute appears to have removed from its website the page dedicated to the Muslim Leadership Initiative.  However, I went to the link on the SHI site and found that page still there  Bob Holt published Tension Over Muslim Leadership Initiative Pulls in NJ Politician, and Elizabeth Kratz published Popular Ex-Mayor of Teaneck in Altercation on Temple Mount both defending Hameeduddin.

From these articles we now know the names of three of this years MLI participants: Amanda D. Quraishi, Khurrum Wahid, Mohammed Hameeduddin, Kamal Abu-Shamsieh.

No matter which side of this controversy any individual takes, I would pray that we could find a way to discuss this in a civil manner. 

UPDATE 1/15/2015

In the statement by Rabia Chaudry above you will see that I have removed the name of the person and replaced it with ***.  That is because the individual sent me a number of tweets asking that I remove Rabia’s post, and saying that she would be seeking legal advice.  Actually, Rabia had posted a screen shot of the tweet that she thought was “a clear threat”.  Here is the tweet that Rabia posted:

After this person had sent a number of tweets asking me to remove Rabia’s post, I tweeted back “... are you saying that the Dec. 24th tweet of yours that @rabiasquared posted a screenshot of is not real?”

And, then she tweeted this series:

  - “@SheilaMusaji what u have in ur piece is not the screenshot. its completely separate post & links my name to death threats, completely false
- @SheilaMusaji please remove. 
- @SheilaMusaji and rabia has me blocked so i have no recourse to challenge her ridiculous claims. so you should not include them as true. 
- @SheilaMusaji nothing wrong with my tweet, which is why i never deleted it. cannot say the same of threats posted on twitter by your source. 
- @SheilaMusaji again i ask you remove her post from your blog. i will be researching my legal options in the meantime.”

Anyone can go to my twitter feed and see this long list of tweets.  I don’t know this individual, or have any idea why she would engage in such an attempt at what I consider to be intimidation.  Reading her original tweet it is very difficult not to see that it is very possible that Rabia, or anyone else might reasonably see it as a threat.  Anyone who engages in social media needs to be careful that what they post is as clear as possible, and in the case of twitter when you are limited to 140 characters, that becomes even more important.

I looked this individual up and discovered that she is doing graduate work in conflict resolution.  In this particular case, she seems to be engaged in conflict escalation.  As with everything else I have reported, I ask that each individual look at the facts and make up their own minds about the information presented.

Today, Hadiya Abdelrahman published The Heart of the MLI Trip Controvery: Silencing Palestinians.  An article was posted about a new twitter hashtag #MuslimsAgainstMLI Twitter users express anger over “Muslim Leaders Initiative”

And, Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, one of the MLI participants posted a statement on why he is attending and his experience:

I reiterate my support of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) as a tactic to challenge the moral responsibility of Israelis towards the policies and actions of their government. As part of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), I was given the opportunity to meet with Palestinians who champion the BDS movement. The interactions demonstrated how the BDS movement is not monolithic and how its practice in Palestine is so different from elsewhere. However, there is a unanimous consensus on boycotting the Israeli settlements and their products. I asked Dr. Mustafa Barghouti about MLI and whether to continue future delegations. He favored having American Muslims directly organize their own trips to Palestine; he didn’t object to MLI and met with its participants. Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway welcomed MLI participants in his home and favored selective BDS as one size doesn’t fit all. Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Christian leader from Bethlehem area, gave a historical narrative about the conflict. The MLI participants met with the Islamic leadership including the Grand Mufti of Palestine and the Supreme Islamic Judge. All stressed the need to come to Palestine to maintain presence in Jerusalem. All the people we met with rejected the calls by a small group of Muslim activists in the US to shun MLI participants. Personally, I object to turning the BDS into an extreme theology as demonstrated as it risks alienating friends of Palestine. An example of such inflexibility led to asking Israeli journalist Amira Hass to leave a conference at Birzeit University. The diversity of opinions is healthy, while personal attacks are reprehensible.

UPDATE 1/22/2015

Ali Abunimah reported that the MLI participant involved in the altercation at Al Aqsa has been identified as Mohammed Hameeduddin, a former New Jersey Mayor.  Abunimah also reported that “The website published and then deleted without explanation an article spinning the Jerusalem incident involving former Teaneck mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.  The Electronic Intifada has learned that the article, heavily favorable to Hameeduddin, was deleted because it relied on “hearsay.”

Alex Shams published Zionist tour for Muslim-Americans sparks anger in Palestine which notes that Imam Antepli said the Palestinian leaders they met

... were welcoming and never told them they should not have gone on the tour or that it “hurts the Palestinian cause,” the one leader Ma’an spoke to said in no uncertain terms that he categorically opposed the entire initiative, and had said as much during the meeting.

Mazin Qumsiyeh told Ma’an that he absolutely opposed the Muslim Leadership Initiative and considered it a “brainwashing” tour on equal footing with Birthright Israel, a free program for young Jews around the world intended to foster love for Israel and Zionism.

“We discourage them from coming, as we do for example with Jews who think about going on Birthright,” he told Ma’an in an interview. “But if they come here and want to speak to us, we have no problem. … We explain to them that what they have done is wrong, but since they’re already here and want to see something different, we are willing to show them something different.”

He pointed out that he had spoken to Israeli soldiers who were arresting him as well as Israeli settlers, and that he was not against talking to individuals per se, just “normalization” with the Israeli occupation.

Qumsiyeh said that the visit by participants to the West Bank was not a part of the Muslim Leadership Initiative and that he would never have agreed to be a part of the tour, adding that he believed that some of the participants he met with “showed regret and remorse about taking such a sponsored trip by the Zionists.” ...

Ahmed Moor published Palestine, an Islamic issue?

Al Jazeera Stream hosted a live discussion between individuals on both sides of the MLI trip.  AJ published Muslim Leadership Initiative: Interfaith or ‘faithwashing’? which includes a link to a 42 minute video of the discussion.  For those in the US who want to see yesterday’s #MLI roundtable on #BDS here is the link

One participant in the discussion, Zareena Grewal posted a comment on Facebook in which she noted:

... When I brought up Qumsiyeh’s support for the boycott of Israel, Moghul said that he, like other Palestinians, has no choice but to speak for boycott. For an American to deny the political agency of a leader in the Palestinian Christian community, a former professor at Yale, and currently a professor at Bethlehem University and activist in the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement, reeks of colonialism. For Moghul to argue that Palestinians such as myself and Dr. Qumsiyeh, who support the boycott movement, are irrational and merely being intimidated by our community, and to dismiss our voices and political efficacy, just because he disagrees with us, is appalling. ...

Haroon Moghul published Why I went to Israel.  Amani Alkhat published Haroon Moghul, MLI, and Apologists: Enough is Enough.  And, I am certain that there is much more to come.

UPDATE 1/31 to 2/4/2015

The controversy doesn’t seem to be abating, and at this point it does not seem as if those on either side are able to discuss this unemotionally.  One of the best attempts I have seen to bridge the gap is the article by Salam al Marayati When disagreements turn destructive.

Other articles posted recently:  Samar Kaukab Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI): Love Me or Hate Me, Adam Sitte THE MLI CONTROVERSY: WE ARE FAMILY!, Maggie Mitchell Siddiqi Forging New Muslim-Jewish Engagement: Reflections on MLI, Roqayah Chamseddine The Hidden Normalization: The Muslim Leadership Initiative’s Zionist Trip, Joe Bradford I’m not a Palestinian. I can’t tell you about Palestine, Jerry Haber The Shalom Hartman Institute, the Muslim Leadership Initiative, and “Faith Washing”, Hamza Khan The price of identity politics, Sabith Khan Is inter-faith work between Jews and Muslims possible?, Margari Hill RESPONSE TO “THE MLI CONTROVERSY: WE ARE FAMILY”, Deanna Othman MLI, Faithwashing and Why the Palestinian Narrative Can Never be Ignored.

Hena Zuberi MLI:// Finding the way forward is a very comprehensive discussion of both sides of the controversy.  Hind Makki has published a two part collection of articles about the MLI at Linksies:// MLI.

Some organizations have issued statements:  Jewish Voice for Peace On the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, BDS MOVEMENT statement to boycott MLI, The Muslim ARC statement on MLI

Some organizations and individuals issued a call for boycott of MLI Say No to Faithwashing: Boycott Muslim Leadership Initiative which I believe goes too far in calling for what amounts to shunning of the individuals who have participated in MLI:

... We pledge to not give a platform to any MLI participant to speak about their experiences at our community centers, places of worship, and campuses and call on a complete boycott of MLI. ...

There was also a satire published American Muslims eat hummos with Zionists, resolve to end Palestine-Israel conflict.

Social media is still full of posts agressively attacking “the other side”.  I am praying that someone is able to put together some sort of venue that can allow this to be a productive discussion from which we all can learn and make informed decisions.

UPDATE 7/1/2015

Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, the only Palestinian who particpated in the MLI now regrets his participation and has withdrawn his participation.  He wrote about this in the article A Palestinian’s Journey Towards Healing

Dr. Hatem Bazian wrote a two part critique:  Shalom Hartman’s MLI Program – A Constructive Engagement Paradigm (Part One) — Muslim Leadership Initiative and Understanding BDS, Zionism and Israel (Part Two),

And, today a petition was posted Call for immediate halt to Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), Sponsored by Shalom Hartman Institute.  The petition was initiated by Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, Laila El-Haddad, and Omid Safi


This will be further updated as more discussion takes place.

First published 7/13/2014


Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM), published since 1989.  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.    Biography  You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji