The Passions (And Perils) Of Pamela Geller

The vehement Park51 opponent and day school mom sits down with Jewish Week, up to a point.

09/01/10
Special To The Jewish Week
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 Pamela Geller had had enough.

The right-wing blogger, whose vehement opposition to the planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero (a “mega-mosque” in her parlance) has earned Geller national headlines, rose from her seat at a Midtown diner last week and, fed up with the line of questioning, stormed out of a Jewish Week interview.

“Shame on you,” she shouted, “shame on you. Stop slamming the good guys.”

A journalist’s offense? Asking questions about her accuracy and her red-meat rhetoric.

The sense of drama seems, in part, to define Geller, who can be seen on the Internet frolicking in a bikini and posing in a skin-tight Superwoman outfit. Her blog “Atlas Shrugs” has referred to Democrats as “National Socialists,” has sided with Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian president charged with war crimes, and has claimed that Elena Kagan, the country’s newest Supreme Court justice and a Jew, admired “an architect” of Nazism. She has also likened President Barack Obama’s opposition to settlement growth on the West Bank to preparations for the Holocaust and has provided space to one writer’s view that Obama is Malcolm X’s love child.

Geller’s politics and tone have drawn a growing number of visitors to her blog, which she uses to promote other projects, including a provocatively named group, Stop Islamization of America, and her recently published book, “The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America.”

But it’s her opposition to the proposed Islamic center — an effort she helped fuel and now helps to lead — that has arguably won Geller the most attention. Recent articles in the Washington Post and on Salon.com have noted that Geller was among the handful of people calling attention to the project nine months ago, before it hit the national radar and when the host of a Fox News show could still interview Daisy Khan, wife of the center’s leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and wish her well.

Since then, Geller’s right-wing fans have hailed her as prophetic, especially for warning of the dangers posed by Muslims in this country, while progressives, moderates and at least some embarrassed conservatives see her as something entirely different: a radical activist who comes across as shrill, crude and offensive and who fails to distinguish between Islamic fanatics and the religion itself.

Those emotions are bound to escalate in the next week, as Geller plans a Sept. 11 rally in Lower Manhattan to protest the Islamic center, known as Park51.

But few people are likely to guess that the woman who has stirred so much passion is also a Jewish day school mom raised by a Yiddishkeit family in the Five Towns enclave of Hewlett, L.I.

For her part, Geller dismisses any suggestion that she put the whole story in motion as “nonsensical” and as “condescending to the American people, as if they don’t know their own minds. It’s an issue of common decency,” she said while sitting in the back of a Midtown diner. “And you can see that in the [polling] numbers,” which show 70 percent of Americans opposed to the project.

The one thing Geller does acknowledge is that “no one else was talking” about the center as she began addressing the issue on Atlas Shrugs. But no one should assume that Geller’s blog posts made the story the one it is today. Instead, as she sees it, awareness of the matter simply grew and, with it, opposition to the center.

But Geller has done more than simply write about the project. She has also organized much of the opposition, showing up at the May 25 community board meeting that heard public debate over the issue, convening the first rally against the center, in early June, and now, of course, planning next week’s rally. Geller attended the community board meeting with Robert Spencer, an author and fellow blogger with whom she often partners, where they and others often shouted down speakers in favor of the center, creating an atmosphere that reminded one board member, the son of a German Jewish refugee, of the Brown Shirt movement.

She has also debated the issue on Fox News, “The Joy Behar Show” and other TV programs, where she often raises her voice and talks over the other guests.

In person, though, the 51-year-old blogger comes across as charming, demure and even subdued, as long as she isn’t questioned or challenged too vigorously.

Like many New Yorkers, Geller appears to divide her life between “Before 9/11” and “After 9/11.” Before the terror attacks, she worked on the business side of the newspaper industry, spending the 1980s at the Daily News before moving to the New York Observer. She was mostly apolitical, although, if anything, she said, she leaned left, seeing everything “through the prism of abortion.”

All that changed after 9/11, Geller recalled, saying she “felt guilty that I didn’t know who attacked my country.” She began reading all the material she could about Islam, Geller said, citing such authors as Martin Gilbert, the British historian; Bat Ye’or, an Egyptian-born scholar whose politics are decidedly right wing; and Ibn Warraq, a former Muslim from Pakistan.

“I spent years studying the matter before I started blogging,” Geller said, adding that the more she read, the more she realized that journalists and historians were “whitewashing Islam.”

Today, Geller describes herself as a keen believer in individual rights — “the well from which all things spring” — and says the name of her blog, launched in 2004, reflects that. The name refers to the title of Ayn Rand’s most famous book, which is an inspiration for Geller. She also calls herself an ardent Zionist.

Much of her blog’s focus, though, springs from Geller’s view of Islam, which, is portrayed as a monolithic religion that can only be interpreted in a single way — the one most scholars associate with radical, Wahhabi Muslims.

“It’s not like Judaism, where you have these different levels of observance,” Geller said. “Islam is Islam. … There’s no way you can be a devout Muslim and not support jihad.”

The only moderate Muslims are those who are secular, Geller said. And she dismisses any Muslim who claims otherwise by insisting that he’s a liar — a follower of taqiyya, the Islamic principle that allows Muslims to mislead their enemies, according to Geller.

Comments such as those, by Geller and others, leave at least one local Muslim in disbelief.

“They talk about Islam as if it’s monolithic,” said Qanta Ahmed, a British-born physician who often writes about religion for the Huffington Post and other sites. “We’re 1.5 billion individuals from 57 countries and countless cultures.”

“‘Devout’ means devotion to one’s faith, and you can be very devout without being radical,” said Ahmed, whose articles have concerned such topics as the friendship and inspiration she has drawn from a number of Jews, including a rabbi; the admiration she often feels for Israel; and the hatred toward Jews conveyed in Palestinian textbooks and TV shows.

Discussing jihad, a word that means “struggle,” Ahmed said it’s not even mentioned in the five pillars of Islam, “the absolute basis of being a Muslim,” and there are three kinds of jihad to which Muslims refer. The most important, known as the “greater jihad,” is the internal struggle within each individual to be good, while the “lesser jihad” concerns the religious permission Muslims need to defend themselves against military attack.

“There is no such thing as a holy war in Islam,”Ahmed continued. “There are only just and unjust wars, and Islam is very clear about that.”

On the matter of faith, Geller herself is not especially observant, calling her children far more religious than she is. She sends two of her children to Jewish day school, although she prefers that any further information about her kids remain private — a consequence, she added, of the death threats she says she has received.

She grew up in a Conservative Jewish home — “more Yiddishkeit than by the book,” she said — and has visited Israel twice: once during college and, again, in 2006, when she blogged about Israel’s war with Hezbollah. But her views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are just as right-wing as her views on American politics.

In Geller’s eyes, Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] are Jewish land; there are no settlers, only Jews living in the Jewish homeland; and the area’s Muslims should return the Temple Mount to Jewish hands.

Geller has also taken aim at Jewish leaders in the United States, comparing mainstream organizations to Jews before the Holocaust who ignored all the danger signs. She has also called J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council “kapos,” a reference to the Jews in Europe who aided the Nazis.

Geller’s fans include Lori Lowenthal Marcus, founder of the right-wing, pro-Israel Z Street, who said “she’s definitely serving a need. She’s an indefatigable fighter and very brazen, which is necessary to raise the profile of the issues.”

Another view comes from Todd Gitlin, a progressive scholar who teaches journalism and sociology at Columbia University, who considers Geller part of “a long history” of firebrands devoted to “this sort of agitation. … These are people who have a fixation on some paranoid scenario,” he said, and they often become a focal point for wider passions.

While not discussing Geller specifically, Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a neoconservative think tank, said the tenor of the conversation regarding Islam in recent months has distressed him. The “good part” is that Americans are now pushing back against Islamacists, or radical Muslims, but the “bad part” is that many are now doing so “in a crude way,” calling Mohammed a pedophile and referring to all Muslims as terrorists.

Many of today’s bloggers, Pipes said, “came of age on 9/11” and haven’t done the serious study of Islam that he and others have. As a result, he added, much of what they write is based on ignorance.

For her part, Geller defends the tone of her blog, calling Atlas Shrugs “my living room and kitchen” — a place where she can kick back and yell, like some people shout at their TV. Her book and opinion pieces “are more studied and more measured.”

“There’s no gray area with me,” Geller said. “I know why I think what I think.”

Last Update:

11/27/2013 - 09:04

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Pamela Geller is a hero who tells the truth about how Arabs stole Judea, the Jewish homeland. Although she is incorrect that Islam is a "monolithic religion," it is true that the majority of Muslims hate Jews.

I went to LHS with Pam. Smart girl. Really smart. I am in no way a religious man, but was raised a Catholic. At 52, I learned a long time ago the importance of preserving the good in one's culture. Without that, my country would really be lost. Our differences are what make us strong, and enable us to bring our best to the table. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I'll say that I've never seen a great Jewish Motown artist, nor a great NY African American deli. I'm not very right-wing, either, but extreme liberalism is eroding Jewish, African-American, and my own white middle-class cultures by way of its attempt to homogenize us all, and make awareness of our differences a sin.
Bully to Pam for having the courage to defend my country when so many able-minded men are fearful.

Pamela Geller is a champion on anti semetism. She is pro jewish. Pro Israel. Why is your paper slamming her??? I pray for her safety. Please retract your slamming of Pamela.

So many of the comments so far seem to be knee-jerk in nature - indeed, several posters admitted they had not read past the first paragraph. Ms. Gellar strikes me as a quite remarkable woman, in so far as she is able to draw together completely contradictory positions and outright fabrication (crackwhore, anyone?) and not see the gaping holes in her ideology. However, this is unsurprising coming from an individual who expresses pride in seeing the world in black and white. I know others have said this before, but I find Ms. Gellar's exhortations 'comparing mainstream organizations to Jews before the Holocaust who ignored all the danger signs' all the more incredible given that she seems incapable of recognising that her own behaviour, in demonising a minority group that is unsympathetic in the eyes of the majority, echoes the events of 1930s Europe so closely.

Finally, if all this were not enough, anyone who can support, and promote, the English Defence League loses all my respect. Perhaps she is just naive, or (as ever) simply reads the words 'anti-Islam' and jumps on the bandwagon, but I can assure you, the EDL is a racist organisation that uses the current trend for Muslim-bashing its advantage. I am a non-white woman from Birmingham in the UK, and the EDL has chosen our multicultural city as a site of 'protest' on a number of occasions. These people are thugs, and many of its members are aligned with the British National Party, a group that expresses a desire to 'repatriate' all non-Anglo-Saxons - including Jews. Still think they're great, Ms. Gellar?

Pam Geller knows nothing about Islam, based on her biased sources and the anti-Islamic statements she makes. What she ought to do is focus more on HER faith & leave Islam for the Muslims!!
Doug Chandler's article is amateur and unprofessional. I wonder if he reflects Jewish Week as a whole ? this is the first time ive seen this publication. If so, I'd say its infiltrated by Islamics.
Another important missed piece of information is Pamela Geller's link to Jewish Defense League (JDL) events used to promote such views.
There is an important factual error in this report, and that is the Pamela G. Oshry was genuinely concerned about the Park Place Islamic Center 9 months ago. In fact, it was not until after she became the lead of the Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) movement in April 2009 at the behest of its European organizers, and a month before her July 2010 book release that she got involved in protests about the Park Place Islamic Center. When you look at these facts, it provides a different context on the issue.
I wish we have 1,000,000 like Pamela and the country be back on track! We are in a war for our lives, for our country! Only the TRUTH will save us! We MUST NOT whitewash or sanitize the truth about Islam. Islam is in America to create an Islamic government under barbaric medieval shari'ah law. Nothing more , nothing less. What this will mean TO ALL Americans is the end of all freedom and security we have had since the United States was founded! This will mean the end of the life we still have today. ANYONE who is sabotaging the exposure of the truth about Islam, is jeopardizing one's own life, and the lives of one's children and grandchildren and possibly the end of the America our Founders gave us!
Pamela Gellar is a true leader not some multi millionaire worth 100 million or more who rotates around different Jewish organizations year to year.She's not some Let wing Jew who is thrilled like a puppy dog when some Muslim pats them on the head and says Israel can exist but without Jerusalem and with a partial right of return.As far as the Huffington Post i have seen as many Anti Jewish comments on that site as any White Nationalist site. Many complaints have been lodged to them and they said they would pre screen for Anti Jewish comments lol the comments have increased.Many Jews are getting feed up with left wing Jewish establshment and the fanatic Anti Israel Jews.Pamela is the wave of the future.
I had the same desire to find out what was going on after 9/11 but came to a very different conclusion than Ms. Geller. It only took a little bit of scratching the surface to see that the official narrative of Israel/Jews as entirely the "white hats" and Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims as the "black hats" was horribly one-sided. I am an atheist and reject everyone's mythology. And while fundamentalists and fanatics are certainly more troublesome than your ordinary practitioners, our pluralist values are worth defending as it protects our rights individually. If we go even crazier then we have already, then the terrorists have won. I have more concern about the lies US citizens are being told regarding 9/11 then I do over a "beheading threat" based on the rise of Islam (Americans love beer, bacon, and dogs too much). And I have a hypothetical for Pam -- if it was established that Israel played a part in the 9/11 attacks, would she be for the prohibition of synagogues near Ground Zero? Our "War on Terror" has made us no safer, and exposed our own moral bankruptcy. After 9/11 we were outraged by the killing of thousands of innocent people over a political beef; so we responded by killing thousands and thousands of innocent people over a political beef.
After reading this article...I can only say Wow! It's so filled with lies & half truths. I was at the community board meeting & nobody was shouted down. It is true that about 95% of the speakers were against the mega (in your face) mosque, from being built so close to ground zero. That was to be expected. Most New Yorkers have some semblance of respect & decency. It is not OK to draw a cartoon?, but building a shrine to the 911 murderers seems to be just fine to this writer. Anyone who has bothered to read what is written in the Koran, would know that it is a book full of hate for all non-believers. All the politically correct rhetoric can not change that fact. I applaud Pamela Geller for having the guts to speak the truth about Islam. All you liberal Jews would be the first ones to be beheaded, if the Islamists ever gained power in the US. Shame on You!
Mr Chandler, you are a disgrace to the Jewish community. A bitchy article, no substance, just plain leftwing bitchy dhimmitude. I won't ever visit this site again and all other ties ceased. Absolutely disgraceful.
As the Jerusalem Post points out, American conservatives should be very wary of promoting Pamela Geller. Her blog deals with conspiracy theories and lies. She is basically a right-wing Rev. Wright. Stay away!
I LOVE PAMELA GELLER! She stands for all which is good and decent - With her watchful eye and common-sense blog, I hope that she can help turn our country from the abyss-like direction it is currently heading. Doug Chandler, you are a no-goodnik - You should be writing articles for "Jewish Weak". Shame on you.
Pam Geller is a bold, courageous, intelligent and passionate Counter-Jihad Activist. I support her in her valiant efforts to raise awareness to the perils of Islamic Jihad. (My longer comment went into moderation queue.)
Pam Geller is a bold, courageous, intelligent and passionate Counter-Jihad Activist. Once you get beyond the basic faith aspects of Islam, Islam brings with it a comprehensive package of violent, oppressive and de-civilizational war-making and political ideology, all aimed at conquering lands by whatever means necessary, bringing the peoples of those lands to submit to "Allah" by converting them to Islam and exercising a chokehold on the thus converted people and their subsequent generations via the Sharia law, until a Global Islamic Ummah is established, where all people everywhere on the planet either become Muslims or are relegated to subjugated slave-like Dhimmi status. And that, in essence, Islamic Jihad. One should not chastise or hate ordinary non-Islamist and non-Jihadist Muslims, as that would be inhumane, but the ideological aspects of Islam beyond basic faith MUST BE critically examined and questioned. Only then does a reformed version of Islam that is compatible with the non-Muslim world have a chance to emerge (I am not counting on such emergence of non-violent Islam, going by the extremely violent past and present of Islamic Jihad.) That's pretty much Geller's message, once you strip off (what some may consider) the "political incorrect" and flamboyant elements of what she writes. My one advice to Pam would be tone down her writings a bit, while not comprising at all on the informative and substantive aspects (ala Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch), in order to extend her reach to a much larger audience. The publication and the interviewers should be ashamed of yourselves for a slanted interview whose predetermined aim appears to be to attack her and paint her in as bad light as possible. Shame on you.
You do a great NON-mitzvah by ridiculing Pamela Geller. You also are meshugina in using the right wing card...this is everyone's problem...the CREEPING creepy Sharia perpetrated by Obama and the Iman of the mosque at Ground Zero....Islam has already destroyed the UK and France where there are many NO GO zones and the police don't even go there. What IS it that you, a Jewish magazine, don't understand about ISLAM's hate for Jews and all western society? And don't give me that freedom of religion garbage. ISLAM is system of SHARIA LAW...it is NOT a religion...it poses as a religion..The Constitution and the Bill of Rights have NO USE for any LAW or system of LAW that would usurp us. You are not behaving in a Jewish manner that is helpful to the Jewish people. You are blind dhimmis...By the way, do you even know that Islam was in cahoots with NAZIS in WWII and in Croatia? WAKE UP AND ACT JEWISH. Wow...you can't fix stupid.
It's nice to have guts. But it's a lot nicer to have brains. And it's even a lot nicer to have "seichel". Ms Geller borrows from the playbook of every nativist hate-monger to ever attack Jews in the US from the know-nothing parties to Father Coughlin. She may yell very loud at an audience of sympathizers, but to infer that she speaks for anything other than her own paranoid psyche is to indulge her rather than risk being on the receiving end of her invective.
a good article about a very great lady. Perhaps, a little less condescending on the part of the author towards the unenlightened who refuse to think that 9/11 was no big deal would have made the article better, but all thinks considered it is still not too bad. Enjoyed the quotations from Ms Geller greatly. Many thanks!
Ms. Geller has openly supported neo-Nazi groups, her posing as a human rights advocate is laughable. She does a great disservice to the Jewish community by supporting people who only a few years ago were denying the Holocaust but are now ok in her book because they openly hate Muslims. I wish the 911 families who support her would understand what kind of a woman they are associating with.
Whatsamatter Doug? She turn you down for a date?
Why are Jews such wimps? Pam is a warrior - we need more like her in the USA. Issues like this remind me of how few Jews stood up and fought the Nazis. I give money to Pam and support her any way I can. This article is a shonda
Pam Geller is an aishet chayel. God should bless and protect her. The Jewish Week (weak) is a disgrace. Wake up people. You can see what is happening before your eyes and all you want to do is sit down and sing kumbaya with the Islamoterrorists. However the paper is good to write about every leftists liberal idea. I wish you were more balanced and pro Israel and pro Judaism. Islam is today's Nazisim. They will destory Western Civilization starting first with the Jews. God Bless America. Am Yisrael Chai
Pam Geller's brashness, which your writer Chandler detests, is precisely what is required for her and her views to get any attention in a city dominated by leftist media. She has made a name for herself to the point where even publications like the Jewish Week are interested in interviewing her. That, by and large, is a good thing, because it has helped galvanize support for her causes, which are in the interests of the Jewish people, and the survival of the United States and Israel.
Pam Geller is a gutsy lady, and I support her. I watched the " bikini" video. She sent an inspired message to the US troops, while leafing through a Muslim magazine, and pointed out the amazingly contradictory messages it was sending out to young Moslem women. She has been "ahead of the curve" in terms of the need for vigilance in the face of Shariya law and the likely chance of it testing our Democratic principles. The snide tone of your article is upsetting, yet not surprising. I don't understand why Jewish Week is not more steadfast in its unconditional support for Israel or why too many of the writers must muffle their reaction to real threats posed to our people.
I find your condescension and bias appalling, but certainly not singular in today's debased "journalistic" environment. Pamela Geller is a great warrior for freedom, and I am proud to stand with her. The part about our supposedly shouting people down at the community board meeting, in an action you say was reminiscent of the brown shirts, is not only false -- we shouted down no one -- but is also an outrageous smear of which you ought to be ashamed. The brown shirts, i.e., the enemies of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights of all people before the law are not us, but our opponents. You should be ashamed, that is, if you were capable of shame. From the looks of this smug little attack piece, I doubt you are.
SIOA and SIOE would not need to exist if the media did their jobs properly. For example, every politician seems to want Turkey in the EU even though it persecutes non-Muslims, knocks down churches and has reportedly used chemical weapons on Kurds. How is it the USA and European countries went to war with Saddam Hussein because of his supposed weapons of mass destruction, but seek to get Turkey into the EU even though it reportedly used chemical weapons against civilians? How is it the Western media are obsessed with the Israel v Palestine conflict, yet suppress the fact that in Thailand, Muslims have murdered the same number of non-Muslims as have died in the Israel v Palestine conflict, in as many years? If the media were truly impartial and reported all what's happening with Muslims across the world, SIOE and SIOA would not need to campaign. The whole of the people in the West would have nothing to do with Islam.
Pamela is standing up for Jews and Israel. We should keep on supporting her financially and morally.
G-d Bless Pamela Geller and her 24/7 relentless fight to defend freedom, Americans, for Israel for the West.

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