Do Not Let Pamela Geller Speak for American Jews

 It is high time to uproot Islamophobia from Jewish communities #muslimjewishunity

 When I heard that Pamela Geller had decided to adorn our DC metro area buses with Islam-bashing ads featuring images of Hitler shaking the hand of Hajj Amin El-Husseini, I wasn’t outraged, just exasperated. Our nation’s cities have been dealing with her garbage for about two years now, since a district court in New York struck down an MTA policy that refused to allow on public transit “demeaning” advertisements to racial or other protected groups.

I view this latest of Geller’s public tantrums, however, as a unique opportunity and a challenge for American Jews. In the United States today, there are numerous mosques and Muslim religious centers facing hostility from their surrounding communities. EEOC reports that since the September 11th 2001 attacks, Muslims report a more than 250% increase of workplace discrimination based on religion or national origin. Countless American Muslims report harassment and discrimination at our country’s airports due to cumbersome and overbroad travel watchlists. There are reports of the FBI placing informants in Muslim institutions to sow discord and recruit terrorists. And of course, there is a whole cable news channel devoted to the idea that Muslims are trying to stealthily subvert our Constitution to replace it with shari’a law.

All of the mistrust, prejudices, and abuses that Muslims face in the post 9/11 world are things Jews should be quite familiar with. It was not so long ago that prominent public figures like Father Coughlin and Henry Ford proclaimed publicly that Jews were enemies of American values, that our leaders were secretly maneuvering to undermine the Constitution in favor of an anti-Christian state, and that we were simply not to be trusted. This resulted in pervasive discrimination that permeated all aspects of our lives, from where we went to school to where we lived and where we felt safe to walk. Our American Jewish history provides an important backdrop for the solidarity that we could show to our American Muslim brothers and sisters, should we be so inclined. So, why is Pamela Geller a welcome guest speaker at synagogues across the country? Why does she get so much of her support from right wing, pro-Israel Jews?

We certainly see Jewish organizations, such as the ADL, issue press releases with condemnations and articles like this one from Mira Sucharov that call for Muslims and Jews to “dialogue.” But Muslims need and deserve much more from us than mere words. Our Jewish leaders and rabbis should be the ones on Fox News calling out those who foment prejudice against Muslims. Our Jewish organizations should be reaching out to support Muslim civil society organizations with common concerns about the rights of religious minorities in America and putting an end to discrimination. Instead, we see organizations like ADL repeating baseless accusations of terrorist ties. This only foments unjustified prejudice against the entire American Muslim community and prevents the bridges between us from being built.

 It does not advance the interests of Jews to cherry pick verses from the Quran, distort their meaning, and then insist that Islam is antisemitic. Denigrating Islam will not solve Israel’s problems in the world. Other writers have done an excellent job of explaining why Geller’s assertions about antisemitism and the Quran are completely off the wall, but this does not stop Jewish Americans, some of whom are members of my own family, from indulging in grotesque and ugly stereotyping of Muslims while claiming they are simply defending the rights of Jews.

There is no question that American Muslims have a lot to learn about the experience of American Jews. I have personally had enriching discussions with young Muslims who had questions about Jewish religious practice, who were curious about my own experience of antisemitism, who wanted to understand the European history that led to the Holocaust, who wanted to better understand why they faced such hostility when they attempt to talk about Palestinian rights on their campuses. But, these conversations would never have been possible if I had hedged on the issue of Muslim civil rights. We cannot reasonably expect Muslims to take a strong stand against anti-Jewish oppression if we refuse to uproot Islamophobia from our own communities.

Islamophobes divide us to push their agenda, to foment fear, and thereby raise their own public profiles. Their place in our public discourse has nothing to do with keeping Jews, Israelis, Americans or anyone else safe. Instead of giving into this kind of emotionalism and demagoguery, we owe it to ourselves and to our children and to all the generations that come after them to support Muslim civil rights in America robustly, not reluctantly.

Frankly, if it weren’t for the crazed debate over Israel, it would be a no-brainer.

 

Tweet your thoughts on this article #MuslimJewishUnity

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23 thoughts on “Do Not Let Pamela Geller Speak for American Jews

  1. As a Canadian Jew I am in total agreement with you. We have the same fight here, as some Jews feel that being Islamophobic somehow makes them stronger. It’s so important to let our Muslim brothers and sisters know that those who discriminate are not speaking for all of us.

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  2. Pingback: Don't let Pamela Geller speak for American Jews

  3. What a silly column. Pam Geller is a racist crackpot who, by no stretch of the imagination, speaks for the Jewish community.
    Asking Jews to engage/condemn her is like asking Muslims to condemn the Tsarneyev brothers or Latinos to condemn that guy in Cleveland who held those women captives in the basement.
    No, ethnic groups are not required to speak out against pieces of excrement who happen to be of the same ethnic group. Doing so suggests they are connected to them.

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    • Hi Mindy,

      Thanks for stopping by. I have not asked Jews to engage or condemn Geller, but rather to root out the Islamophobia in our own community. If you look at what I write above, I’m saying we need to go beyond denunciations in press releases and calls for dialogue. We need to play an active role in promoting their civil rights. This is what will build bridges between the two communities. No one would be justified in demanding that Jews answer for Geller, sort of like no one would be justified in demanding all Muslims answer for Hamas (but of course we do this to them all the time….)

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  4. 1. You’re completely correct about Pam Geller.

    2. Pam Geller does not speak for American Jewry. No mainstream Jewish organization has recognized or worked with her, and many have condemned her.

    3. Mainstream American Jewish organizations do not quote the Qu’ran or accuse Islam of being antisemitic.

    4. American Jewish organizations reach out to Muslims all the time on these issues, specifically the ADL and AJC. Muslim organizational life is not the same as American Jewish organizational life, and reaching out on an organizational level is not nearly as simple as you make it seem. But to assert that American Jewish orgs do not stand up against Islamophobia is simply a lie.

    5. You will not get very far publishing things like this on an antisemitic website like Mondoweiss. Publish it in the Jewish newspaper, not on a website that will look for any and every excuse to bash the American Jewish community.

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  5. Anything which tries to “delegitimize” Pamela Geller’s inane Israeli/Jew-centric arguments is fine by me; so good on you Rachel. To express my truest feelings about Pamela Geller, I’d have to use some very colorful language which might offend some folks, so instead I’ll just leave a link to a vid I made a couple years back which relates directly to the subject of your above article:

    Best of luck,

    JohnDworkin

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  6. Just totally wrong, John. Ann Coulter has been embraced by mainstream conservatives. She’s published several best sellers. She’s spoken at many mainstream conservative conferences. Geller has never been embraced by mainstream American Jews. I’ve fought quite hard against her. But Rachel Roberts is more interested in making the American Jewish community look bad than she is in fighting Pamela Geller. She’s carrying water for CAIR here.

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  7. Ok, I agree with you, I, as an Israeli am not crazy about her. So, perhaps you can also state that Phil Weiss and Max Blumenthal and Jewish Voice for Peace DO NOT speak for Jews. Max compares Jews to Nazis, on Mondoweiss the same as well as all the tropes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are daily fare there, and JVP encourages and praised Christians to boycott Jews. Will you ask for that too Rachel? I highly doubt it.

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  8. Jewish federation cancelled and ZOA isn’t mainstream. You’re proving my point. She’s persona non grata. Is that true of antisemites and CAIR?

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    • The Jewish Federation would not have cancelled were it not for the pressure placed on them by local organizers. She still speaks at synagogues here and in Canada. ZOA absolutely is mainstream and hosted a well attended briefing on Capitol Hill last week. You seem to make much of my former affiliation with CAIR, which is not surprising even though this blog is obviously my own and has nothing to do with that organization. Jewish Islamophobes love to hate CAIR because their work is effective. But, if they are so close to antisemites, why did they choose to hire an outspoken Jewish feminist from New York, who no one in their right mind would mistake for a Muslim, to do their civil rights work in California? Why would they hire a Jewish Executive Director in Philly? Or a Jewish legal director in DC? I generally don’t respond to trolls, but honestly, you need to get a grip on reality. Why are you spending all of your spare time on my page and on Mondoweiss?

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      • They cancelled. And I don’t think there is another Jewish federation who has hosted her. ZOA may have a presence on the Hill, but they are an outlier; they vigorously opposed the 2SS, are vigorously Islamohphobic and they are much further to the right than the mainstream is. Name me another org in the Conference of Presidents besides them who has hosted her.

        Geller tends to speak in very religious synagogues like. Chabads. She was disinvited from Great Neck synagogue. She’s not spoken in any mainline synagogue in NY. Usually,
        it’s a matter of ignorance. They think she’s just there to critique radical Islam, and they don’t know what’s on her blog. But your casting of her as a mainstream figure in the Jewish community is highly misleading and unfair. People like me have fought hard against her, and my views represent the vast majority.

        You’re doing exactly what you accuse others of doing with Muslims. You’re taking one extreme figure and attemppting to use her to tar an entire community.

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      • Islamophobia, however, is a problem in Jewish communities, which is why she has a platform at all. I do not think Jews grapple with this prejudice enough and I believe we owe it to ourselves to make greater efforts to uproot it. Sorry to hear you think that combatting bigotry is about making you look bad. This is a thin skinned, petty response to a real problem which our community would greatly benefit to resolve. Now, I’ve responded to your tantrum. Stop stalking me.

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      • “Islamophobia, however, is a problem in Jewish communities, which is why she has a platform at all.”

        As I said, I generally agree with you. And as I also said, your piece is simply inaccurate. I’m very active in the American Jewish Committee in New York. The Committee has made Muslim-Jewish relations a national priority. It reaches out to the Muslim community all the time on both a personal and institutional level. So does the ADL, which does a ton of anti-bias work on Islamophobia, even if you don’t hear about it in the newspaper. Islamophobia is a problem on the Jewish hard-right, which I would say is maybe the most right-wing 10 or 15 percent of the American Jewish community. So I resent the implication that American Jewish organizations do not stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims, and I think that’s an outlandish accusation for you to make. It’s just deeply misleading, and it’s untrue.

        I particularly think it’s outlandish for you to make it on a website like Mondoweiss, which is Judeophobic by any possible definition of the word because of the manner in which it attack Judaism and misquotes Jewish texts on a regular basis in order to make derogatory statement about the religion. If the point of your post is to push the American Jewish community to do more, why would you choose to publish on a site like that?

        “Sorry to hear you think that combatting bigotry is about making you look bad. This is a thin skinned, petty response to a real problem which our community would greatly benefit to resolve. Now, I’ve responded to your tantrum. Stop stalking me.”

        I’m on record publicly and privately opposing Geller and everything she stands for. And unlike you, I’ve made my point in the right-wing fora where she is lionized, rather than among fellow travelers. I don’t need preaching from you about how Islamophobia is a real problem. Here are examples:

        http://www.thejewishstar.com/stories/Letter-to-the-editor,3842
        http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-249/2013/04/24/0/

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  9. “Islamophobia, however, is a problem in Jewish communities, which is why she has a platform at all.”

    As I said, I generally agree with you. And as I also said, your piece is simply inaccurate. I’m very active in the American Jewish Committee in New York. The Committee has made Muslim-Jewish relations a national priority. It reaches out to the Muslim community all the time on both a personal and institutional level. So does the ADL, which does a ton of anti-bias work on Islamophobia, even if you don’t hear about it in the newspaper. Islamophobia is a problem on the Jewish hard-right, which I would say is maybe the most right-wing 10 or 15 percent of the American Jewish community. So I resent the implication that American Jewish organizations do not stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims, and I think that’s an outlandish accusation for you to make. It’s just deeply misleading, and it’s untrue.

    I particularly think it’s outlandish for you to make it on a website like Mondoweiss, which is Judeophobic by any possible definition of the word because of the manner in which it attack Judaism and misquotes Jewish texts on a regular basis in order to make derogatory statement about the religion. If the point of your post is to push the American Jewish community to do more, why would you choose to publish on a site like that?

    “Sorry to hear you think that combatting bigotry is about making you look bad. This is a thin skinned, petty response to a real problem which our community would greatly benefit to resolve. Now, I’ve responded to your tantrum. Stop stalking me.”

    I’m on record publicly and privately opposing Geller and everything she stands for. And unlike you, I’ve made my point in the right-wing fora where she is lionized, rather than among fellow travelers. I don’t need preaching from you about how Islamophobia is a real problem. Here are examples:

    http://www.thejewishstar.com/stories/Letter-to-the-editor,3842
    http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-249/2013/04/24/0/

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  10. I am glad people like you are working within the community to try and stop Islamophobia. I hope someday it stops certain groups (including ones you claim to affiliate with) from repeating baseless lies about Muslim civil society organizations and that it translates to action in support of Muslim civil rights, not just condemnations of Geller. I disagree with you about Mondoweiss and I’m sure the editors there would be open to hearing whatever specific critiques you have. Just like I would not ask you to answer for the abominable Islamophobia in the hard right Jewish publications where your writing has appeared, I cannot answer for stuff on Mondoweiss that I have neither edited nor even seen. Now, this is not Shabbosdikh behavior. STOP IT!

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    • In Australia we have the Anti-Defamation Commotion which prides itself on fighting racism in all its ugly forms. They have a slogan that says ‘Promote Diversity’. Each year they have an annual oration and invite a prominent international speaker. Last year it was Dr.Deborah Lipstadt. Members of the Muslim community were invited but none came.
      Jews like Rachel go out of their way to oblige Muslims, doing favors on their behalf, making out as though there is a moral equivalence between their situation and that of the Jews. Sorry Rachel – it just doesn’t wash.

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  11. Loved this article ❤️ Thankyou. And for those saying Muslims hate Jews, no way! As a British Muslim I have nothing against Jews and would love nothing more than to live in harmony as friends, as our religion teaches. I guess there are a few rotten ones that distort the religion of Islam and Judaism. Shalom x

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