The Jewish Community Should Not Embrace Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The fracas over Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis shows that Israel devotees cannot distinguish friend from foe. For obvious reasons, Jews should not count Islamophobes among our friends. 

It’s Pesach again and our people still aren’t quite getting the holiday’s lessons, especially this one: ואהבתם את-הגר  כי-גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים

After students, faculty and civil rights groups expressed objection, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to anti-Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was to receive an honorary degree at its spring commencement. Citing its commitment to the free exchange of ideas, Brandeis invited Hirsi Ali to speak at a later date in a forum that would not endorse her view. Predictably, this did not stop Hirsi Ali and her defenders on the extreme right from crying foul and declaring that she had been “silenced.” More astonishing, however, was the reaction from Tablet Magazine, a Jewish publication. Tablet obsequiously offered Hirsi Ali their first ever, impromptu “Moses award” and stated that while some of her statements “ought to be challenged” Brandeis should not have rescinded her award. The magazine also said the university subjected an “outspoken dissident…to public pillory.”

Well, let’s pretend that a prominent university scheduled an antisemitic public figure to speak and receive an award. I’m not talking about a critic of Israel or Zionism, but someone who openly opines that being Jewish is incompatible with Western values. Let’s pretend that the antisemitic speaker is himself of Jewish origins, who claims to denigrate our religion, community, and ancestry from a place of painful personal experience. Say this individual had called Judaism “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and had advocated for the closure of all Jewish day schools in the United States. Wouldn’t it be more than justifiable for a Jewish organization or two to have something to say about it? I sure hope so.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Jewish organizations were to decide collectively that our antisemitic speaker should speak. Say that Jewish groups were to affirm that our community is tough enough and savvy enough to handle a rabid antisemite in a public setting. Say the Jewish organizations were to invoke the famous words of Justice Brandeis: “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Would the Jewish organizations be at all justified in taking exception to the university offering our antisemitic speaker an award? I think they would be.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims (and her family disputes her account) that she was subjected to various forms of abuse as a girl growing up Muslim, including female genital cutting. She has stated that the abuse she allegedly endured is religious in its origin and that this kind of abuse is endemic to Islam, a religion which she claims has no moderate voice. Despite calling herself an atheist and a critic of all religions, Hirsi Ali singles out Islam for special opprobrium. In an interview with Reason Magazine, she states: “I accept that there are multitudes seeking God, seeking meaning, and so on, but if they reject atheism, I would rather they became modern-day Catholics or Jews than that they became Muslims.” She goes on to state that she believes Islam should “be defeated.” When the interviewer asks her if she meant radical Islam, she states “No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.” In other words, Hirsi Ali believes that Islam is incompatible with free societies and believes that pious Muslims are more loyal to their faith and their own kind than to the countries in which they live. Shouldn’t this sound at least a little familiar and a little troubling to Jews?

At Tablet, it seems not to be troubling at all. I think this can only be due to the fact that the debate on Israel has completely blurred our moral sense and our ability to empathize with the people some want to characterize as our ‘enemies’. Even though Palestinians and their armed organizations have Christian, Muslim, and secular members, right-wing Israel fanatics seem to find it easier to perpetuate the most pigheaded, unsophisticated stereotypes about Islam. How they think this solves Israel’s many problems in the world, I don’t know. But it seems to make them feel pretty righteous and it wouldn’t surprise me if it generates some money. Tablet claims that it condemned equally the cancellation of Rashid Khalidi’s talk at the Ramaz School, but these two instances can hardly be compared. Khalidi is a well-credentialed professor, a Palestinian, and a thoughtful critic of Israel. He is not merely a ‘controversial speaker.’ He has also never claimed that being Jewish is somehow illegitimate or suspect, the way Hirsi Ali does about being Muslim. He does not say that Jews should stop being Jewish.  He is a participant in a debate about policy, he does not take issue with our communal identity or creed. The fact that Tablet’s editors would draw such a comparison is cause for concern because it indicates that the crazed tenor of the Israel debate encourages us to conflate a political adversary with someone who intends harm to Jews. It also seems that there is a section of the community that believes that casting Muslims and Islam in a negative light somehow adequately rebuts questions about Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians.  This is obviously very silly and avoids the issues we must confront in order to achieve peace.

The Brandeis community and Muslim organizations did the right thing in challenging Hirsi Ali’s award and the university did the right thing in inviting her to speak in a neutral forum. It is sad that a Jewish publication is offering this woman an award in response when we should be the ones speaking out the loudest against her Islamophobia. This woman is not our friend. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For more on this topic, check out Ali Gharib’s excellent opinion piece in the Jewish Daily Forward

And thinkprogress’ roundup of the issue


14 thoughts on “The Jewish Community Should Not Embrace Ayaan Hirsi Ali

  1. Pingback: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

  2. Who should the Jewish Community embrace, people like Phil Weiss whose site this article was on? A site where Jews are regularly compared to Nazis and where all the tropes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are daily fare? Who speaks for the Muslim girls that are forced into marriages at 6 years old? You? Who speaks for this murdered in honor killings, you? Who speaks for the schoolgirls shot and killed or have acid thrown at them? Who speaks for the daily butchery in Muslim lands? You?

    Its funny that the Muslim Students Association talks about “a climate of fear” for Ali getting an honorary degree, yet they support the odious Israel Apartheid Weeks across campuses.

    Shame on you for this article. She is a fighter for justice.


    • Thanks for leaving a comment, Ron. This is a good opportunity for me to explain that while I moderate the comments on this site, opposing viewpoints are absolutely welcome. I believe we must have these discussions, even though they are difficult for all of us at times. One caveat, however, is that I’m not going to post threats, biased name calling, accusations of self-hatred, or other comments intended only as invective. Otherwise, baruchim habayim lekulam!


      • Rachel, you didn’t answer Ron’s question. I am curious how you feel about Ron’s point regarding Phillip Weiss whose website I consider far more offensive as a Jew. Oh and thanks for bringing up the point regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I’ll take a look at what she is saying with a more critical eye.


      • Hi Bob,

        Sorry for the delay in responding, but as I’ve stated before, I don’t intend to get into a long back and forth with commenters here. I say what I have to say in my posts and that’s all the time I have. In my view, Mondoweiss is not antisemitic, full stop. There are certainly offensive commenters who post on that site, but then again, I find the Islamophobic commenters in the Jewish Week to be just as offensive. I don’t think a website should be judged by its comments section. If you find criticism of Israel and Zionism or questioning the concept of a Jewish state to be antisemitism, I’m afraid we are at an impasse. I don’t agree.

        Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Rachel, I hope you give me more latitude than Mondoweiss allows. Anything stated there that has even a suspected tinge of Islamophobia associated with it is censored. Interestingly you have allowed another Ron Temis’ response to be published but you have not responded to his criticisms of your position on this issue.
    Firstly I want you to realise that Hirsi’s argument is that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology, a view with which I agree. Secondly I want to highlight the question you asked, “Shouldn’t this sound at least a little familiar and a little troubling to Jews?”
    This is unfortunately very politically correct jargon where you draw a false moral equivalence between Jews and Muslims.
    And unsurprisingly Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s family deny her accusations – the perpetrators of these kinds of heinous actions always do bleat innocence.


  4. Hi Jack,

    Thanks for your comments. I won’t have time to respond to all comments I agree to post here, but others can feel free. I’ve made the points I want to make in the article above. One thing I will say is that the idea that ‘Islam is a political ideology’ has no basis in reality. The only reason why Israel supporters assert this is to denigrate Muslims. As I say above, supporters of Israel think it bolsters their position to make Islam look bad, but it really just makes them look petty and small. They also think they are being clever, because most people in the world do not equate Judaism with Zionism, which is a modern political ideology conceived about a century and a half ago. Israel supporters can’t argue for Israel’s behavior, so they try to paint it as antisemitism. I don’t think you need to be an expert in European history to know that Christianity has a long history of exerting control over temporal rulers, yes? One could argue that our Tanakh, in its present form, is a tool that ancient kings of Israel and Judah and later stewards under Persian rule used for governing people in the world, not just as a guide for worship, true? Our American concept of church/state separation is very recent and can’t be applied retroactively to Islam, a religion created more than a thousand years ago and practiced by more than a billion people. If Islam is a ‘political ideology’ than the Catholic Church is also. Anyway, this is all I have to say. I can tell you bear a deep resentment of Muslims and Islam, so please know that while I respect your participation in the debate, I won’t post biased comments here.


  5. Muslims cause their own hatred through their actions. If Muslims are so nice and peaceful, why are they involved in so many of the world’s conflicts? Why are so many terrorists Muslim?

    We should obviously embrace anyone as brave as Ali that speaks the truth to us all.


  6. Rachel, I am only interested in points of view that are based in fact and are rational. I don’t agree with your rather simplistic dismissal of deeply researched criticisms of Islam as being a political ideology. Let me refer to the words of he Egyptian-born ex-Muslim Nonie Darwish, who has been brave enough to express herself in the face of threats and intimidation and excoriation by Muslim and Leftist detractors, who try to discredit her by insinuating she is a liar.
    According to Darwish, Islam as a whole is “a political and legal system of totalitarian control….The most glaring evidence that Islam is hardly a ‘religion’ is in its apostasy law—the order to kill those who leave it. That immediately moved Islam from the realm of religion to the realm of totalitarian political ideology.”
    Moreover I would like to ask Rachel if she has actually read any of the books that Ayaan Ali Hirsi has written and if not how can she come to such quick opinions about Hirsi.
    Lastly I would exhort everyone to read the book written by two other ex-Muslims, the late Elias Al-Maqdisi and Sam Solomon called “Al-Yahud:: Eternal Islamic Enmity & the Jews”. Refer


    • Dear Jack,

      As I explained earlier, I will not get into a back-and-forth exchange with commenters here, but others are welcome to respond. If someone posts something here that is worth addressing and I have the inclination, I will put it in a later post. I plan to write in the future about the use of ‘turncoats’ with no credentials in both the Israel and the Islamophobia debate at some point in the near future. Thanks for stopping by.


  7. Good post, Rachel. Interestingly, in the Medieval and early modern period there were Jews in Europe who converted to Christianity and then polemiciEd against Jews and Judaism. One of them, Johannesburg Pfefferkorn, was a notable influence on Martin Luther and his anti-Jewish polemics. So the phenomenon of members of a religious group going renegade and exposing the supposed evils of their birth community is nothing new. It’s usefulness as a description of the actual religion being denounced is extremely limited.


    • Hiya Lawrence! Nice to see you on a different platform. I think a lot about the Disputation of Barcelona and its resonance in the era of Ayaan Hirsi Ali et al…There will be a future post on this. I will have to research Pfefferkorn! Thanks!


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