Faithwashing and the Censorship of Palestine Advocacy in Interfaith Engagement

By: Prema Rahman, MPAC Policy Analyst, and Leela Cullity, MPAC Policy Intern

Photo via: Reuters/Ammar Awad

The intersectional struggle for Palestinian liberation characterized by years of systemic injustice and oppression continues to be minimized and censored in interfaith communities through faithwashing. Faithwashing is the use of interfaith relations to whitewash crimes committed against the Palestinian people. This approach works explicitly to erase Palestinian suffering and conflates critiques of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism. It distracts interfaith partners from addressing the perpetual settler-colonial violence in Palestine, only leading to the widespread legitimization of an apartheid system, rather than active resistance, including several non-violent approaches to addressing the atrocities. We need to encourage and engage in interfaith conversations that respect the other side’s views but do not deflect criticisms against the Israeli government’s war crimes and repeated violations of international law as the occupying force.

Faithwashing creates a false narrative of “historic” Jewish-Muslim rivalry as the core cause behind the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine, detracting from the reality of Israeli apartheid and occupation of Palestine, and moreover, detracting from the history of “Jews prospering copiously” at the height of Islamic civilization, according to historian Bernard Lewis.

In doing so, faithwashing purports the solution to lie in interfaith dialogue and positioning towards neutrality instead of scrutinizing and addressing occupation and apartheid head-on. It promotes the censorship of pro-Palestine advocacy in interfaith groups, hurling accusations of anti-Semitism at anyone who raises the question of Palestinian human rights. In a recent article for Haaretz, a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. said that pro-Israel groups should focus on Evangelicals and not American Jews, proving that the interfaith arena has become politicized by Israeli officials to gain more influence in the U.S. As Nicholas Kristof noted in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, “just as anti-Semites shouldn’t use this conflict to promote hate, supporters of Israel shouldn’t use anti-Semitism as a screen to hide actions from honest criticism.” Faithwashing is an affront to our shared Abrahamic values of justice, equity, and human dignity. The silencing of legitimate criticism is a major roadblock to opening up hearts and minds to the realities of the Palestinian struggle, of the Nakba, the catastrophe, that continues to this day.

To protect the integrity of interfaith principles and build honest, meaningful relationships with those across the aisle, it is important that we as members of the American Muslim community determine how best to navigate faithwashing to freely engage in pro-Palestine dialogue with interfaith partners. Although we will respect those approaching the conversation from varying perspectives, deflecting criticism against the Israeli government’s war crimes and violations of international law as the occupying force on Palestinian lands will never lead to a constructive interfaith dialogue.

In order to combat faithwashing, youth within the Evangelical Christian community have taken action. Widely believed to represent some of the strongest supporters of hardline Zionism, a new Barna Group-administered poll shows a sharp drop in support for Israel amongst younger Evangelicals. In our own firsthand experience, at a recent event in an Evangelical church, we were amazed to see the need among Evangelical youth — especially those who have gone to Palestine — to speak out on the rights of Palestinians and actually apologize for the role their community has traditionally played in the suffering of the Palestinian people. That is the kind of interfaith engagement we need.

It is high time for interfaith communities to prioritize the difficult conversations about Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian territories, its inhumane blockade of essential supplies to occupied Palestine, its abuse of Palestinian rights and liberties, and Palestine’s right to self-determination. American Muslims and American Muslim organizations should no longer have to check their pro-Palestine principles at the door to be involved in interfaith groups. Below are a few talking points to jumpstart this conversation:

Talking Points

  • Faithwashing creates a false narrative of “historic” Jewish-Muslim rivalry as the core cause behind the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine, detracting from the reality of Israeli apartheid and occupation of Palestine.
  • “Just as anti-Semites shouldn’t use this conflict to promote hate, supporters of Israel shouldn’t use anti-Semitism as a screen to hide actions from honest criticism.” — Nicholas Kristof
  • Faithwashing is an affront to our shared Abrahamic values of justice, equity, and human dignity.
  • We need to engage with and hear more stories from the Christian/Evangelical communities, especially the younger generation who is shifting the conversation on Israel and Palestine and are reevaluating the notion of Christian Zionism and its repercussions on Palestinian Christians.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council improves public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging our government, media and communities.