More Jewish groups speaking out against Islam bashing
09/08/2010 - 10:38
James Besser

More Jewish groups are getting the message that the epidemic of Islam bashing isn't ...well, good for the Jews or any other religious minority.

Yesterday a broad spectrum of religious leaders gathered in Washington to discuss the rising tide of anti-Islam bigotry. Representing the Jewish community at sessions hosted by the Islamic Society of North America: Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).

The Reform movement has also spoken out against the Florida pastor at the badly misnamed Dove World Outreach center who plans to go through with his promise to burn hundreds of Korans on Saturday despite warnings from top military officials that it could endanger U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“We can scarcely find words to express our revulsion at the Dove World Outreach Center's 'Burn a Koran Day,' scheduled for September 11,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Only those whose minds have been tainted by evil and acrimony would undertake to organize a sacrilegious event such as this and to do so in the name of God and religious piety.”

Nancy Ratzan, president of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)  had this to say: “Today we live in a country where religious freedom is a cherished cornerstone of our democracy. And yet, Muslims in this country face growing persecution and violence, such as the burning of their holy Koran, desecration of mosques, and physical assaults. NCJW decries Islamaphobia and urges others to speak out against these hate crimes and in defense of freedom of religion. The extremists who use Islam as a justification for their heinous acts of terrorism should not be allowed to dictate the character of the entire religion.”

And a new “Interfaith Coalition on Mosques” is arguing that  “the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America. They deserve nothing less than to have a place of worship like everyone else.”

That comes in response to mounting resistance to mosque building and expansion around the country, not just in New York City, where a proposed Islam community center near Ground Zero has touched off firestorms of controversy.

The coalition was initiated by the Anti-Defamation League; also board is Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of Center for Leadership and Learning.

JTA's Sue Fishkoff reports that “six rabbis and scholars representing the Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox streams have launched an online campaign urging rabbis to devote part of their sermons this Shabbat to educating their congregations about Islam.”

And Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Jewish delegation on Capitol Hill and an outspoken human rights advocate, teamed up with Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) to produce a sideshow on discrimination against Muslims.

“The hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric from opponents of the Cordoba House, especially political leaders, is inexcusable,” the two lawmakers – chairs of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) – said in a statement. “In a country founded on the principles of religious freedom we should not be in the business of picking and choosing when to apply those principles. It is unfortunate that so many national leaders have said they would deny Muslims or persons of any faith the right to build a place of worship.”

What about the Orthodox community? I haven't' seen any formal statements, so I called Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union's Washington director, who didn't mince words.

“The OU was at the forefront, along with other religious groups, in working to get RLUIPA passed,” he said, referring to the 2000 law making it harder for local authorities to bar the building of synagogues, mosques and churches. “We know very well from our own experience how local communities use zoning laws or other devices to oppose the construction of houses of worship.”

What about Koran burning?

“The notion of burning holy texts should not only offend, but send chills down the spine of anybody, especially in the Jewish community, which has seen its own holy texts burned over the centuries,” Diament said. “This has no place in the United States.”

I'm still hearing from a few Jewish Week readers who insist it's Islam itself, not a fanatic, bloodthirsty minority, that's the enemy.

But pretty clearly, the extremism of so many of the Islam bashers, starting with the Koran-burning pastor in Florida, and the talk show hosts and commentators who argue that local public opinion should trump religious freedom, are producing deep alarm in Jewish leadership circles and a new burst of activism.

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