Last month, Musalaha put on a conference where its main speaker accused Aramean Christians of being “collaborators.” Michel Sabbah argued that Aramean Christians were wrong to identify as such, and told Arameans to “be loyal to yourself“. Sabbah was clearly using his platform from Musalaha, to try to put pressure on Arameans, who are tiny compared to Israel’s Arab population.
This was plainly ridiculous: the Aramean community is far smaller than the Arab community in Israel.
This week, Yediot columnist Ben Dror Yemini highlighted the politically-driven attacks against the Arameans from the United Arab list leaders, noting that Ayman Odeh’s party have branded Arabs doing national service as “lepers”, and have incited against a community leader of the Arameans, Father Gabriel Naddaf. Father Naddaf has faced numerous death threats.
Yet rather than stand up to the propaganda campaign against Arameans, Musalaha has fanned flames.Now an article appears on the Palestinian website Come And See, by Musalaha’s campaign manager Shadia Qubti, claiming there is pressure on Arabs to become Arameans, rather than the other way round. She writes:
As Christians, there are voices that try to change our identity to Arameans as a way to separate us from our Arab identity, and particularly our Palestinian heritage in the hope that it would produce a better relationship with the state. They have associated themselves with Netanyahu’s party and other right-wing parties. Arameans, however, might face the same discrimination as non-Jews.
Who are these voices? The Aramean commmunity is self-confident, and is proud of its own historical roots; just as the Arab community is happy in its own identity.
The historical authenticity of Aramean identity is something that Michel Sabbah inadvertently admitted himself at the Musalaha event, when he said:
“There are voices among Christians encouraged by the authorities, who have begun to say “We are not Arabs, we are Arameans” Where does this imaginative discourse come from? Perhaps it has its roots in the past. It is true that some of us Christians, we spoke Aramaic millenia ago, like the Jews. However history has been ongoing, and has transformed situations and peoples. Today, we are what we are: Palestinians, Arabs and Christians.
So Sabbah admitted the historic Aramean identity, and his argument against contemporary Aramean identity was that “histoy has transformed us” – a dubious point at best.
Qubti’s article had its good points – especially that Israeli Arabs should go out and vote, and participate in Israel’s healthy democratic system. She is right to insist that social change can be affected at the ballot box, rather than by trying to undermine democracy.
However, it is a shame that Musalaha’s leader wouldn’t want to highlight that the party she recommends voting for, is lying and inciting against fellow Holy Land Christians she voices concern about – the Arameans.
Musalaha is an organisation that promotes reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian believers in Christ, yet here is their leader essentially discarding the Arameans as a right-wing pressure group, rather than a community with dignity every bit as much as Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianics have.
Musalaha argues that those involved in reconciliation should show special care towards the disenfranchised, weaker communities who are not power-brokers. In which case, their leaders should be taking up the cause of the misunderstood and persecuted Arameans, rather than indulging in lies about them.
To claim special pleading for the most popular political narratives of the Israeli Arab minority, but then to dismiss the views of the even-tinier Aramean minority, appears slightly disingenuous from Musalaha’s leadership.
It is also strange to see a Musalaha leader dismiss Israeli Messianic Jews as basically associated with “Zionist right-wing parties”. Some Messianics vote Likud, Jewish Home or Yisrael Beitenu; other Israeli Messianics will vote for the centre’s Yesh Atid or the centre-left Zionist Union, and there have also been Messianics associated with left-wing Meretz.
This Musalaha-flavoured dismissal of Israeli Messianic Jews voting intentions comes days after Yad L’Achim published a dishonest piece attacking Jews For Jesus’ flyers about “voting” for Yeshua, as somehow deceptive.
Again, Musalaha ought to be taking up the cause of the misunderstood Messianic Jews, who are a minority within wider Israeli Jewish society, rather than peddling further misunderstandings.
Qubti seems to reject Zionism itself as a political ideology, yet the definition of Zionism is the belief in a Jewish homeland of Israel, which was established in 1948 and is not going anywhere, ever. If Qubti rejects Zionism then she is essentially denying the authenticity of Israel as a Jewish state.
From the outside, it seems strange that Qubti has not internalised this point, after years of discussion with Messianic Jews within Musalaha.
Perhaps the biggest irony is this:
Musalaha is all about bringing people together and viewing each other as humans, not as separate ethnicities. Yet here is their project manager encouraging Israelis to vote according to ethnic blocs.
It is one thing to voice your reasons for supporting a particular party, which we all should do. But encouraging bloc community voting is the exact opposite of real reconciliation – civil society cannot be built along these lines.
Musalaha needs to explain why their leadership is publicly misrepresenting Israeli Aramean Christians and Israeli Messianic Jews, if indeed it is genuinely interested in mutual understanding and reconciliation.