No Islamic Mea Culpas

At first-ever conference on the topic, experts explore the history and potential threat of Muslim anti-Semitism.

10/05/10
Staff Writer
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In the shadow of the controversial planned Islamic center near Ground Zero and a State Department alert about suspected Al- Qaeda attacks in Europe, several dozen experts on the threat to national security posed by contemporary Muslims met here Sunday

— and a 48-year-old turning point in Roman Catholic history became an unofficial theme.

Several speakers at the first Conference on Muslim Antisemitism, held at the Metropolitan Doubletree Hotel on the East Side and sponsored by the two-year-old Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, invoked the memory of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, which was held in Rome from 1962 to 1965. Vatican II, which introduced innovations in the Church’s liturgy, improved relations with the Jewish community by admitting Christianity’s fault for implicating Jews in the death of Jesus.

A similar interfaith effort is needed — but unlikely to happen — in Islam, which has become the chief instigator of anti-Semitism in recent decades, participants in the conference said Sunday.

A Vatican II form of “self-reflection” by prominent Islamic leaders is required in order to reduce tensions between Jews and Muslims, said Rabbi Richard Rubenstein, keynote speaker and author of the newly published “Jihad and Genocide” (Rowman & Littlefield). “I do not see this in Islam.”

Instead, said Rabbi Rubenstein and other speakers, Islam — little distinction was made at the conference between Islam itself and so-called Islamists who represent the extremist, terrorist wing — has become more assertive in preaching anti-Semitic aspects of the Koran and other Islamic texts, and Muslim leaders who engage in dialogue activities with non-Muslims often make less conciliatory statements to Arabic-speaking audiences.

In his keynote address, Rabbi Rubenstein said he finds dialogue with Muslims to be unproductive.

“I don’t engage in dialogue” with Muslim representatives,” he said. “I think it’s a waste of time. It gives them a legitimacy in the United States that they do not deserve.”

On the other hand, said Rabbi Rubenstein, president emeritus of the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Conn., dialogue with Christians is “a realistic possibility. I’ve spent 50 years in a fruitful dialogue with Christians.”

The rabbi’s remarks about dialoging with Muslims drew a mixed reaction from the conference participants, some five dozen of the leading experts — most of them Jewish — on Islamic politics and theology. Some of the other speakers said they enthusiastically take part in Jewish-Muslim dialogue. Many said they shared Rabbi Rubenstein’s feelings.

Many Jewish participants in Jewish-Muslim dialogue have been “burned many times” by Muslim participants who later made radical statements, said Sam Edelman, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He said he, and other potential Jewish dialogue partners, have grown suspicious of participating in such dialogues. “Without trust, dialogue is difficult.”

Though some dissenting views about the militancy of most Muslims were expressed at the conference, the participants, mostly scholars and activists who spend their time monitoring Islamic activities, were largely in agreement that Islam is a threat to Jews and that few Muslims would qualify as worthy dialogue partners. This would appear not to represent the diversity of thought in the Jewish community on this issue and put the sentiments of conference participants at odds with many mainstream Jewish organizations in the U.S. who continue to support an outreach to “moderate” Muslims while criticizing Muslim excesses.

Sunday’s conference was convened, said Neal Rosenberg, co-editor of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, because “there’s an ideological war going on.” The subject, he said, “is topical right now. Anti-Semitism on a worldwide basis is growing.”

A score of books on anti-Semitism are being published this year in the U.S., he said.

Rosenberg said he was disappointed that few members of the general public attended the conference. “It’s a problem of America,” he said. Most Jews in this country, he said, consider widespread attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions to be something that happens overseas, in Europe. American Jews “don’t feel threatened.”

Conference participants browsed at tables that exhibited such books, in English and German, as “Muslim Anti-Semitism in Christian Europe,” “Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom” and “ Hatred of the Jew in the 21st Century,” and they viewed posters of anti-Semitic rallies in England.

Speakers at the conference described Muslims’ attempts to deJudaize Jewish scriptures and biblical sites in Israel, to deny the Jewish roots of Islam, to blame Jews for “slaying Allah’s prophets” and to equate Israeli actions with Nazi crimes.

Muslim anti-Semitism, they said, predates the modern Zionist movement, Nazi-style anti-Semitism and the establishment of the State of Israel, but can be traced to Koranic statements that call Jews “apes and pigs” and relegate Jews to an inferior status. They cited centuries of forced conversions, pogroms and expulsions at the hands of Muslims.

“There’s nothing new about this,” said freelance journalist Alyssa Lappen, who writes frequently for the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism.

Other conference participants shared their personal stories of experiencing Muslim-generated anti-Semitism, and they offered suggestions for countering Muslim anti-Semitism. Among the suggestions: make coalitions with non-Jews, especially with members of the Islamic community who are open to admitting the problems in their faith; work to have anti-Semitic references removed from texts used by Palestinian children and expose “left-wing” activists who abet Muslim anti-Semitism.

Islam has replaced Christianity as the main source of international anti-Semitism, several speakers said.

“Today we take for granted that it is a global phenomenon. We’re in a new era of anti-Semitism … you can find it at any moment and anywhere,” said Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of the best-selling 1996 book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” who is at work on a book about anti-Semitism. “The Internet makes it available. It’s a click away.”

A Muslim version of Vatican II, a first step to reducing Islamic anti-Semitism, is unlikely, several speakers agreed.

“Vatican II was based on some form of mea culpa,” a Catholic admission of guilt in fomenting anti-Semitism, said Andrew Bostom, editor of “Legacy of Jihad and Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” (Prometheus, 2008). “Mea culpa is not on the [Islamic] radar screen.”

“There is,” added Steven Baum, co-editor of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, “no mea culpa in Islam.”

E-mail: steve@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

10/14/2010 - 16:32

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This conference report was disturbing to me because of its apparent defeatism. Sometimes, the only way forward is to face up to realities. While many individual Muslims are "moderates" and fine to talk with, it is those in power, the "representatives", who have become impossible to trust. While Sufis, Baha'i and Ahmadiyya followers might be cool guys, they are severely repressed and persecuted in Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. The left and especially the atheist left are indeed aiding and abetting Islamic anti-Semitism, especially under the cloak of anti-Zionism. Non-Jews like myself who care for Jews, we can tell the difference between genuine political commentary and irrational stereotyping. Most of the flack against Israel is the latter. Shame on all Jew haters. Shame on all Israel bashers.
Vatican II was a Catholic conference. The Catholic Church has a central authority which can issue such a statement. Islam is divided into many sects with different beliefs and traditions. Members of some sects are more likely to kill members of other Muslim sects than a Jew or Christian. Lumping all Muslims together and expecting them to work together to develop a cohesive stand against anti-Semitism when they cannot make peace among themselves is not only unrealistic, but it dooms to failure any attempts to do so. Placing all Muslim groups in a single category allows the conference organizers to reach the conclusion that 'Muslims' cannot produce a mea culpa even before the conference began.
As a Jew I found the whole idea of not engaging in dialogue deeply repugnant. There have been plenty examples in history of Jews living alongside muslims with relative friendliness. Certainly not perfect. People are not religions. There are plenty of our own texts that speak poorly of gentiles of all forms, and many of these texts are held sacred and taken literally by plenty of Orthodox jews today. Just because it is written in a book doesn't mean people believe it. We need to engage with muslims as fellow human beings and indeed challenge them when it comes to extremists within their midst. Alienation will only make the problem worse.
When you say "there are plenty of our own texts that speak poorly of gentiles of all forms," please be specific. You suggest there is an equivalence between the things that are written in the Koran and the Hadiths and the Torah and Ketuvim etc. I disagree, so it would be good to offer examples.
From "Settlement and Economic Activity in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: The Establishment of the Sephardi Diaspora in the Ottoman Empire" A considerable stream of exiles from Spain overflowed into the Ottoman Empire. Once the latter had annexed Erez Yisrael, it became a lodestone for Marranos who wished to repent and return to their former faith... The sultan at the time of the expulsion, Bayezid, welcomed the refugees fleeing from the fanatical Christians. As recorded by a Jewish contemporary 'the Sultan sent men ahead, and spread the word through his kingdom in writing as well, declaring that none of his officers in any of his cities dare to drive the Jews out or expel them, but all of them were to welcome the Jews cordially.' It can be assumed that this imperial protection and the order granting right of domicile were issued through the influence of the leaders of the long-established Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire...
I find this to be rather frightening. Not that such a conference took place, but that those who participated found it acceptable to hold such a conference without allowing Muslim to speak for themselves. I also find it disturbing to hear a participant say that he doesn't want to even talk to Muslims, as though something can be accomplished in terms of countering anti semitism without actually being in conversation with those who are being accused. This, it seems to me, is akin to what happened in Europe during the darkness days of anti-semitism, when Christians would get together to talk about the "Jewish problem" without actually inviting Jews in on the conversation. What happened was that such gatherings merely reinforced the predudice. Sad.
The participant did not say he didn't want to talk to Muslims. He said he had spent many years talking to them and was disillusioned by THEIR words and behavior, and had given up. You should come down from the clouds and recognize the reality of the actions and words of the Koran and Mohammed, and centuries of Muslim rulers. There a were a few "moderate" Nazis, also, who made statements to the effect that Jews weren't so bad, etc. Does this mean it was "bigoted" for Jews to get together and discuss Naziism, without a Nazi being present to "speak for himself"? The vast majority of the antisemitism in the world today is fuelled by one source: Islam.
We asked six Muslim professors to attend and they were all unavailable. Muslims are on our Board and we also have a special issue next year edited by Muslims addressing antisemitism in Islam. I do not know who said that they did not want to speak to Muslims, but the Journal's position is that a conversation with extremist Muslims will not be productive as is the case with extremist Hindus Jews etc.
Steve Baum told me that several Muslims were asked to join the conference and they declined!
Dear Jan Suzanne: I am not surprised that Muslims declined to attended what was obviously a set-up the the conclusion already drawn. If the group of supposed experts refuse to differentiate between Sufi and the offf-shoot Baha'i and the Wahhabists and the even more extreme Taliban, how could they be expected to draw any other conclusion? Also, if their definition of anti-Semitism includes anti-Zionism, they can also sweep many well-meaning Christians and even Jews into their net. There is the claim that anti-Zionism is just disguised anti-Semitism, and that may be the case for some but certainly not all. The world admires both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for their efforts towards peace, yet Ghandi opposed the creation of Israel while King supported Israel. Was Ghandi an anti-Semite or did he just have a point of view which differed from that of Zionists? Having a different political point of view does not make one ipso facto anti-Semitic.

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