Fighting Faithwashing and Islamophobia
Interfaith dialogue and activism across faith communities has often played an important role in movements for justice. For interfaith work to succeed in pushing forward struggles for freedom, it must always be grounded in a commitment to dismantle oppression at a structural level, and not only focus on interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, within the context of organizing for Palestine, the use of interfaith relationships has all too often contributed to further denying Palestinian rights. The word for this is “faithwashing,” a tactic which attempts to whitewash Israel’s war crimes and improve its image through interfaith work that misrepresents and distracts from Israeli apartheid, rather than challenging it.
Faithwashing promotes the idea that the so-called conflict is rooted in centuries-old religious differences, instead of a settler-colonial project that continues to dispossess and oppress Palestinians daily. Within that contrived framework, Palestinians (essentialized to represent Muslims) and Israelis (essentialized to represent Jews) only need interfaith dialogue to find their way to a solution. This disingenuous framework whitewashes Israel’s deliberate denial of Palestinian rights and structural oppression enforced by governments, corporations, and other institutions. Faithwashing also erases the existence of Palestinian Christians, Druze, and other religious groups, as well as allows liberal Zionists to engage in misleading interfaith efforts in the name of social justice that are in fact meant to stifle organizing for Palestinian rights.
Examples of Faithwashing and Why It Matters
Examples of faithwashing abound. They include interfaith dialogue that explicitly bans the discussion of politics in relation to Palestine; or that posits dialogue as an alternative to boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns; or other efforts to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes. Less overt faithwashing efforts include interfaith projects by groups that are actively involved in anti-Palestinian efforts. For instance, local Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country partner with progressive groups in the fight against the Muslim Ban, while simultaneously pushing state level anti-BDS laws that would criminalize nonviolent tactics being used to resist Israel’s 70-year ban against Palestinian refugees. Groups like the Anti Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee declare their support for Muslim American communities and call for joint Muslim-Jewish efforts against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, while doing advocacy on behalf of Israel that promotes Islamophobic rhetoric as a justification of Israel’s suppression of Palestinian rights.
In this political moment, it is critical that we are able to identify and call out faithwashing. At a time when we must band together to fight hate and the stifling of dissent, groups cannot be allowed to be Progressive Except on Palestine (PEP). The Palestinian movement for freedom, justice, and equality cannot be divorced from the movement for collective justice. As PEPs attempt to align themselves with the growing resistance to Trump’s policies and rhetoric, we must make clear that there cannot be a Palestine exception to collective justice.
Watch and Learn: Fighting Faithwashing and Islamophobia
Watch our webinar featuring American Muslims for Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace’s Network Against Islamophobia to learn more about faithwashing, the connections between Zionism and Islamophobia, and the need for principled interfaith programs.
- The Network Against Islamophobia includes workshops, modules, and other resources to challenge Islamophobia and racism. Topics include “Individual vs. State-Sponsored Islamophobia” and “Islamophobia and Israeli Politics.”
- Webinar from the Network Against Islamophobia featuring writer and activist Kalia Abiade.
- Faithwashing.org includes specific examples of faithwashing initiatives to avoid.
- The Islamophobia Is Racism curriculum is designed for teaching and learning about Islamophobia in the United States.
- An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation (article)
- In the US, we need a Muslim-Jewish alliance, but one that does not silence discussions on justice for Palestine (article)
- Negotiating alliances in the age of Islamophobia (article)