Mosque Conflict Seen Sharpening Jewish Divisions

Nascent effort to combat anti-Islam sentiment running into strong headwind.

Washington Correspondent
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The New York Islamic center controversy — and what some analysts say is the worst surge of nativism and bigotry since the Red Scare of the 1950s — is sharpening longstanding rifts in American Jewish life.

Consider: a prominent Jewish thinker argues that Muslims do not “value life” and do not deserve First Amendment protections (the second statement resulting in an apology and retraction); rabbis sermonizing on Rosh HaShanah both defend the Park51 plan for a cultural center two blocks north of Ground Zero and warn against a rising global tide of jihadism, sometimes in the same sermon. On the Jewish Week Web site, a strong majority of commentators seem to agree with the argument that the problem is Islam itself, not a radical fringe.

In sharp contrast, many major Jewish groups have supported the right of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to build the cultural center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Groups such as the Reform movement, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) have been at the forefront of the nascent effort to combat the anti-Islam eruption.

And the reaction in Jewish communal circles against the proposed Koran burning by an obscure Florida pastor ranged from the negative to the appalled.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of JCPA, said suggestions that Islam is somehow outside America’s traditional religious freedom protections represents a seismic shift that could ultimately endanger Jews and every other religious minority.

“But I don’t even want to go there,” he said. “Before talking about that, we should be outraged by what’s happening in America because some of our most fundamental tenets are being challenged.”

Still, portions of the Jewish community clearly reflect the fear and rage sweeping across America — as they have in past surges of hostility to different minority groups.

“We’re more like the rest of America than we’d like to admit,” said a longtime Jewish leader who asked not to be identified.

According to polls, though, Jews remain more liberal than other groups in the country; 55 percent of Jewish New Yorkers oppose the center’s proposed location compared to about 68 percent of Americans in general.

Observers in the community note that Jews are torn between support for Israel – which sometimes morphs into hostility toward Islam – and commitment to civil and religious liberty, seen as key to the success story of Jews in this country.

Earlier this week, the Internet was buzzing with the controversy over an online essay by Martin Peretz, editor and publisher of The New Republic, suggesting that Islam does not deserve the Constitutional protections afforded every other minority.

“Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” he wrote. “And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

James Fallows, editor of The Atlantic, called that “an incredible instance of public bigotry in the American intelligentsia,” a view privately echoed by many Jewish leaders.

Peretz quickly backtracked, saying his comment about the First Amendment “genuinely embarrasses me, and I deeply regret it.”

But his anger reflects national feelings that threaten to leap over traditional barriers against overt bias and discrimination — and to widen longstanding divisions within Jewish life, where the gap between the major organizations and a resentful, outspoken minority is widening by the day.

“A portion of the Jewish community leadership has betrayed Jewish values,” said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, founder and director of JewsOnFirst.Com, a web-based First Amendment group. “Jews were accused of killing Christ for 2,000 years; now some of us are supporting those who say all Muslims are responsible for September 11.”

Within the Jewish community, the proliferating view that Islam itself and not a minority of jihadists is the enemy is the result of “a concerted effort” by Jewish neoconservatives and “the Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles,” the rabbi said. He also pointed to the Christian Zionist groups that have been the primary target of his group, “many of which describe Islam in the same terms we heard from the Rev. Terry Jones” (the Florida would-be Koran burner).

Rabbi Beliak was particularly critical of Jewish leaders who have tried to have it both ways — defending the right of Muslims to build mosques anywhere in America while saying the proposed location of the New York Islamic cultural center was insensitive to the September 11 victims and survivors. It is a position that he says “creates the idea there can be Islam-free zones anywhere in America, at local whim,” a position he says further undercuts those Islamic leaders who are genuinely fighting the forces of extremism in their community.

But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the situation is more complex than that.

Foxman was an early critic of the Park51 plan, arguing not that Imam Rauf didn’t have the right to locate his community center and mosque there but that the choice of a location reflected an insensitivity to Sept. 11 victims and survivors.

He was quickly taken to task by other Jewish leaders. But the ADL was also an early critic of overt Islamophobia and politicians who tried to cash in on the popular mood of resentment. The group also was behind a just-launched “Interfaith Coalition on Mosques,” which argues 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.”

The Reform movement’s Rabbi David Saperstein has been a leader in speaking out against discrimination against Muslims. While no Orthodox group has officially issued a statement, Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union, expressed unease about growing bias by local officials against the construction and expansion of mosques. And like a long list of Jewish leaders, Diament expressed outrage at the prospect of a public 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,” he told The Jewish Week. “This has no place in the United States.”

But Jewish leaders calling for moderation are flying into an angry headwind being whipped up still further by politicians eager to capitalize on surging anti-Islam sentiment.

That includes Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has described a battle against “Radical Islamists, in both their militant and stealth form. The militant form believes in using military power in one form or another; the stealth form believes in using cultural, intellectual and political ... but their end goal is exactly the same.”

Without naming names, the ADL’s Foxman said demagogic politicians “make it more difficult” to find some kind of balance on the issue of Islam in America.
“It’s harder still because some of the politicians who have taken an extreme position on the [New York] mosque are also supporters of Israel,” he said. “So some in the Jewish community find it difficult to be critical of their views because they don't want to jeopardize their support for Israel.”

The fact that even apparent moderate Islamic leaders — including Rauf — find it hard to condemn anti-Israel terror groups like Hamas adds to Jewish anger about Islam.

But the Israel factor is only one part of the divided response of the Jewish community, and possibly a minor part.

Brandeis historian Jonathan Sarna said it is a mistake to look at Jews as somehow detached from a broader American society that is undergoing one of its periodic spasms of populist fear and scapegoating. And he pointed out that these sentiments are nothing new, citing a period of overt anti-Catholicism of America in the late 1800s.

“I have reminded people: if you go back to that period, you’ll find that some Jews were deeply involved in anti-Catholic activities,” Sarna said. “Their argument was that Catholics have long held Jews in contempt, so why should we want to encourage the growth of Catholicism here?”

In falling in with the national trend, Jews are reflecting the national mood of angst and anger over an ailing economy and an increasingly confusing, threatening international environment, Sarna said.

“Americans are feeling very insecure; it’s a moment of real economic hardship, which always leads to insecurity and fear,” Sarna said. “The nature of America itself is changing, and that’s also part of it. Many look at the changes in Europe [with its rising Muslim minorities] and believe, this is something we need to prevent. That’s something we do see in the Jewish community.”

The American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, offered a counter argument — that talk about Islamophobia as the “social pathology du jure” may be “slightly exaggerated. After all, according to federal hate crimes statistics the likelier victim of a hate crime today is a Jew. I do see pockets of hatred; I don’t see Islamophobia sweeping the nation.”

Last Update:

09/23/2010 - 12:02

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The last sentence of the above statement is untrue. There is no evidence that a good portion of these crimes against Jewish Institution are carried out by [AMERICAN] Muslims IN [AMERICA].
I know the author of this piece is trying to be objective, but I don't think he scratched the surface. Jews, like Christians, won't face the depth of Islamophobia in their communities. And they just aren't willing, most of them, to make the connection between neo-cons, religious nationalism, and the overwhelming influence of Zionism on American Jewish life. Americans Jews say they love and cherish Israel, yet Israel is now in the grip of an incredible wave of McCarthyism that threatens democracy. And the same Jewish fascists that are pushing the current wave of undemocratic legislation in the Knesset are also pushing hatred of Palestinians and Muslims. Go on the websites of the ten big neo-con foundations and you'll quickly see that these monied groups are the main supporters of speakers that promote religious bigotry in America. Peretz has been doing it for decades. So have all the other super-Zionists that have taken over the leadership of the organized Jewish community. Read Beinart's piece on the failure of the Jewish leadership and you'll get an idea of the catastrophic moral collapse that's facing Judaism in America. Sadly, most Jewish leaders are more invested in hating Palestinians and Muslims that in really fighting for a democratic Israel. The state of Israel is heading for Jewish fascism--not just neo-fascism but the full-on thing--and most Jewish leaders in this country don't have a clue, and don't really care. They have no connection with the real Israel, but embrace a fantasy Israel that exists only in their own minds. Look at this story and ask yourself, "Where's the material about Jewish Voice of Peace, and Rabbi Lerner's group? Why isn't more consideration given to their actions against Islamophobia, since they're doing more than anybody else in the Jewish community to fight hatred of Muslims, and discrimination against them?" Because they've been read out of the community. Why? They won't drink the rightwing Zionist Cool-Aid, instead welcoming Zionists, post-Zionists and anti-Zionists to dialogue. But no journalist anywhere, not just the Jewish Press, will say a word about Jewish Voice for Peace and Rabbi Lerner, and other Jewish progressives who are really fighting for religious liberty and the First Amendment. They, too, will quickly be read out of the community. Beinart had it right--Jewish leadership is on the rocks. And nobody will admit how much religious bigotry comes directly from their inaction, their name-calling and lies, and their inability to understand how the settlers in Israeli occupied territories are pulling Jewish life down in the US.
You absolutely know nothing about the teaching of the Quran, so I would suggest you get one and read with understanding rather than making such ignorant comments! Each verse in the Quran has a story and a situation behind it! Learn before speaking! You all are becoming like the terrorists who took verses from the Quran and interpreted them as the desire! Islam is not responsible for their actions
You absolutely no nothing about the teaching of the Quran, so I would suggest you get one and read it with understanding rather than making such ignorant comments! Each verse in the Quran has a story and a situation behind it! Learn before speaking! You all are becoming like the tererosts that took some verses from the Quran and interpreted them into their own desire! And most importantly, Islam is not responsible for what they've done!
Number 1 it is not a Constitutional issue it's a decency issue, they have the right... but is it right.2 Rauf insinuates violence if the mosque is not built in that location by Muslims across the world.The American Islamic community is always decrying anti Muslim attacks across the U.S. yet there are 7x more bias incidents against Jewish Institutions across the U.S. check out the FBI bias crimes chart. Bias crimes against muslims are 1 point higher then bias crimes against Catholics.A good portion of these crimes against Jewish Institution are carried out by Muslims.
When looking at statistics, consider the proportions. Catholics in the US outnumber Muslims 15 to 1. According to your numbers, a Muslim is 15 times more likely to be attacked than a Catholic. And by the way, why should we tolerate any bias attacks? Iman Rauf did not insinuate (a loaded word), he predicted. It is a prediction that any reasonably intelligent person would make given the facts of what has been going on in the worlds for the past several decades. Several years ago, someone I knew wanted to keep Orthodox Jews out of her neighborhood. She told me this. She and her neighbors got together and opposed the construction of an eruv by claiming that it violated a variety of regulations, particularly church-state separation since government approval was necessary. She and her neighbors didn't have any problem with the eruv per se, which is almost invisible and non-intrusive, they just wanted to keep the Orthodox Jews out. (Several eruvs currently exist in NYC. You've probably never noticed them.) I see the same thing happening now. The protesters do not want a mosque, or any Muslim building, in Lower Manhattan, or Upper Manhattan, or anywhere in Manhattan. They do not want Muslims in New York City, New York State or the United States. It's just like the Protestants in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries wanting to keep the Papists and Jews out of the US. They came up with reasonable sounding excuses, but it was just anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. Now it is just anti-Islamism. The Ground Zero issue is just a smoke screen for bigotry. The worst are those who post the evils carried out by some Muslims as if Judaism and Christianity do not have horror stories of their own. How about moving it to Staten Island? Nope, the same protesters put the kibosh on that in July. How about moving it to Tennessee? I guess that's too close, too. It was firebombed in August. California must be too close, too, judging by what recently went on there.
Please read the fuller report and study guide at and there is a study guide for Yom Kippur: JewsOnFirst has over 5,000 subscribers. Haim Dov Beliak
If Rauf and Khan are so sensitive and "tolerant",| they should immediately abort this ill conceived project. Frankly, I think they are loving the publicity, the momentum and have no desire to consider any position but their own. This is a PR bonanza for them, beyond all expectations, I'm certain. These crocodile tears of dismay are laughable. Notice how "Cordoba House" morphs into Park51. Americans are not totally ignorant and jumped on the implications of Cordoba, the site of Muslim conquest.As quickly as you can say, "Kumbaya", a more palatable name appears. It saddens me that reasonable concern and protest is so quickly delegitimized, especially by sanctimonious members of my Jewish faith.
Beliak is speaking words of Torah. So he is actually speaking for at least 73. Himself, me, Moshe Rabbeinu, and the 70 membres of the Sanhedrin.
JW always goes to the usual liberal Jewish groups for comment, ignoring Orthodox groups. "A liberal is someone who is too open-minded to take his own side in an argument"
How does Beilak become a Jewish leader when he is head of of an organization of of just one, and a website. If Besser wants to find ultra lefties at least let him find some with an real organization and someone behind them. Beilak represents no one except h himself.
Emotions must fit into the equation; they must be considered an important factor in the discussion of a mosque at Ground Zero, and not dismissed as rantings of the ignorant or manipulation by political opportunists. The fear and anger of many who oppose the construction of this mosque stem from an understanding of Islam's more negative teachings as they are stated in the Koran, teachings which are acted-out in global terrorist attacks, and which, contrary to what President Obama would like us to believe, are not the acts of misguided individuals or of one enemy - Al Qaida. In arguing for the mosque's construction, our Jewish organization leaders, particularly rabbis, cloak their own fears in intellectual justifications. They know all about Jewish suffering over the centuries, and their fear that it can happen again here in America blinds them to the Koran's negative teachings. Instead of ignoring the fear factor, everyone should be facing it openly and honestly. The argument should be: yes, we fear terrorism as it is fomented by Koranic teachings; ease our fears you moderate Muslems; stand up everywhere and loudly proclaim your rejection of those teachings; condemn the acts of barbarism that result from them; hold your hate-ranting Imams accountable for the spreading of fear and anger; recognize and accept the root of the Islamaphobia that is growing around the world. If the world hears such strong Muslem unity, it will recognize the good that is in Islam, and the present fear and anger directed against Islam will dissipate and ultimately disappear.
no one seems to be addressing the issue of this so-called moderate Iman based on everything i have read the money trail here needs to be addressed as to where the funding is coming for this so called center? In addition his associates and backers such as Dr Khan do not reflect a so-called moderate Muslim if such a thing in fact exists. Furthermore close analysis of the Imans earlier statements and positions reflect a very disturbing position on support for Hamas and Iran which does not support his recent public profile. It seems he is doing what many Muslim radicals have done in the past i.e. trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the infidels as his prophet in the Koran preaches. I say no to this mosque and let him advocate for a church or synagogue to be built in Saudia Arabia if he wants to show how liberal he is.Shame on those self delusional Rabbis who support him , we have always had Jews with a Judenrat mentality in jewish history and today is no different.
The jews and Rabbis who espouse their liberal values, support the building of the mosque at ground zero and believe there is such a thing as moderate Islam are the same Jews who like in 1943 let themselves be herded onto train to the death camps.
Dave, Bravo, you nailed it on the head. I, and many of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends, relatives and colleagues couldn't agree more. Further, I am deeply disgusted by those who try to analyze away our views by laying the "bigot, racist or economically terrifed" label on us. It seems that the world is now divided into two groups: those who can think independently and can see through the political correctness and group-think, and those who can not.
The article is very well written with great intellect & insight. As an American Muslim I feel deeply that if the mosque cant be built at Park 51 in NY, it cant be built anywhere else. The most unfortunate aspect of this phony debate over the mosque site is that now if muslims want to built a mosque anywhere in America, it is up for debate and as soon as the plans for construction go public, it is labelled as , " controversial mosque". This indeed is disturbing, disheartening & discouraging at all levels. The radicals on all sides have taken over the conversation. As Imam Rauf pointed out during the interview with CNN that we , the moderates have to take charge of the conversation. All eyes are on America to see how we deal with this issue which was a non issue to begin with. To consider that 68% oppose it a reminder that 70% of the people were for the Iraq war in 2002, now looking back after 9 years, thousands dead, many injured and Trillion dollars later, was it a good idea? so to sum it up, we dont have to do the popular thing but we have to do the right thing.
For a careful examination of the factors that have led to this outburst of anti-Muslim feeling, see "Five Steps to Burning Books," on our website. The Shalom Center held the first public support vigil for and at Park51, where we greeted them with the traditional Jewish housewarming gifts of bread, salt, honey, and candles. We also initiated a strong Jewish statement, signed by hundreds of rabbis and hundreds of other Jews, supporting the creation of a Muslim-rooted cultural center (consciously modeled on the 92dSt Y and the West Side JCC) and rebuking the Anti-Defmation League for its opposition to the center. My own feelings on this issue go back deep deep into my childhood. When I was about seven years old (1940), my grandmother interrupted other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher shop who were talking contemptuously about "the shvartzes" -- that is, Black people. She challenged them: "That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!" Ameyn! -- Rabbi Arthur Waskow,

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