American Jews Are Speaking Out Against Anti-Muslim Ads
by Sheila Musaji
A few days ago, I wrote an article All extremists are “savages” and “civilized men” need to counter the hate calling on the Jewish community to speak out against the message of these AFDI/SIOA ads now running on both coasts. To speak out, not because the whole community is responsible for the actions of some members of that community, but because such hateful speech hurts us all and needs to be marginalized. The voice of the American Jewish community is important in this controversy because the author of the ads is Jewish, and claims that the ads are “pro-Israel”.
AFDI/SIOA were successful in getting the “savages” ad run in San Francisco. Bus Ads: Of Savages and Idiots for a full background on the controversy this is causing. Caitlin Esch reports that The SF MTA has said that it will run the ad, but condemns the content, and they will donate the money they receive from AFDI/SIOA to a public education campaign by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and Muni will go one step further by placing their own signage next to the SIOA ad saying, “Muni doesn’t support this message.”. They also said that they will review their ad policy going forward.
They were successful in getting this “Islamorealism” ad posted in New York, and it is causing a lot of controversy there. James Arkin reports that Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner is urging Metro-North to put up ads of its own in response to “inflammatory” postings in the Hartsdale station. Feiner added that he will recommend the Metro-North donate profits from the ad to education campaigns against discrimination.
There are a number of Jewish individuals and organizations who are speaking out, and they deserve the appreciation and thanks of the American Muslim community. They are truly engaged in Tikkun Olam (healing the world).
Russell Simmons wrote an article A Yom Kippur Reflection: The Conflict Between Coexistence and the Destruction of Human Life in which he calls on fellow Jews to speak out on this issue. A few passages:
On the eve of Yom Kippur, a day of prayer, fasting and self-examination, each of us needs to shatter our complacency and narrow the gap between our conscience and our conduct as it relates to American Muslims. Let us acknowledge that ever since the Ground Zero Mosque controversy of 2010 and continuing until today, it has been open season on Muslims in this country. There is no conflict between Islam and the West. There is only conflict between those who embrace coexistence and those who seek to destroy human life. As we write, ads will be going up in New York City subway cars—which, sadly enough, have been placed there by a Jewish woman named Pamela Geller with a fanatical hatred of Muslims, featuring the slogan; “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
... When anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, we expect non-Jews of good-will to speak out against it. On this day of reflection and introspection, are we really OK to turn our heads and look the other way when our Muslim brothers and sisters are held up for contempt in such a public way? We believe it is incumbent on each of us to speak out loudly and say it is morally unacceptable to falsely libel all American Muslims or any Muslim as savages and to hold a great religion in contempt.
In that light, we are proud that The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is taking an active role in Shoulder to Shoulder, a coalition of 28 national Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups, who are standing up for American Muslims and upholding basic American values of tolerance, openness, fair play and celebration of diversity. Let us make it clear that the vast majority of Jews do not share Ms. Geller’s bigotry, nor accept her equation that support for Israel means hatred of Muslims. The time to raise our voices is now.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a longtime champion of interreligious dialogue, told the Forward that he was “troubled” by the linking of Islam and Judaism in such a contentious way. “People must understand that there is not a conflict between Muslims and Jews. The only conflict there is is between those who believe in coexistence and those who seek to destroy human rights.”
The ADL released a new version of its’ backgrounder on SION “Consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam, the group has introduced a growing number of Americans to its conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda. (ADL Backgrounder on Pamela Geller.) The ADL had previously issued a statement on the ads calling Geller “a bigot”, and saying
“The Anti-Defamation League strongly objects to this message of intolerance. ADL believes these ads are highly offensive and inflammatory. Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. And support for Israel is not built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes. At the same time, ADL consistently maintains that censorship is not the answer to hate speech. The League supports the free speech guarantees embodied in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, understanding that the best way to combat hateful speech is with more speech.”
3 NY Jewish groups condemned the ‘savages’ ad in subways “Jews Against Islamophobia (JAI), a coalition of three Jewish organizations, condemns the hate-mongering ads, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). “During this period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which, for many Jews, is a time of reflection and introspection, we must recommit ourselves to standing up against these ads and all forms of Islamophobia,” - Jews Against Islamophobia (JAI) is a coalition of three groups: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and Jews Say No! (JSN!).
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism wrote The Sin of Sowing Hatred of Islam
... What is the message of this ad, directed at the multitude of subway riders of countless faiths and ethnicities?
By using the term “jihad” in the context of a war against savages, the ad paints Islam as inherently violent, evil and bent on overthrowing the Western democracies and their key ally in the Middle East, Israel — even though, for the vast majority of Muslims, “jihad” refers to a spiritual quest, not the more politicized idea of holy war.
Yes, these ads are lawful. But they are wrong and repugnant. What other purpose can they have but to incite hatred against Muslims? In addition, they reinforce a terrible stereotype — presenting me and others who love Israel as people who believe themselves to be superior to Muslims. That characterization will only incite hatred of Jews, too.
Further, the group’s effort to co-opt our nation’s commitment to and support of Israel — a commitment embraced by countless millions of Americans of many faiths — suggests that if you love Israel, you must stand up for this distorted formulation of Islam. And it defines support for Israel with a false dichotomy between “civilized “ Jews and Muslim “savages.”
Israel is at the core of my identity. I am unshakably committed to Israel’s security. And I am not naïve about the real threats faced by Israel. We must unequivocally denounce and remain vigilant against terrorist attacks, whether from Al Qaeda, loners or states like Iran and the proxies it sponsors. But we must also defend against those who peddle hate, who would impose the sins of the extremists on more than a billion Muslims. They not only offend Muslims and those of us who value religious diversity and liberty for all; they pollute America’s own public square at a time when our society is desperate for civility and respectful discourse.
Fall in New York is always a special time for me. In addition to relief from oppressive heat, the brisk breezes of autumn herald new beginnings like the start of a new school year for our children. Fall also brings the Jewish High Holy Days, which offer America’s six and a half million Jews (of whom roughly one-third live in the New York area) a time to reflect on the past year and to rededicate themselves to a fresh start in their relationships at home, at work and with friends.
This fall, when religious hate speech appears in public places, when several mosques across the nation have been desecrated and burned, when Sikhs have been murdered, it is time for our nation to raise our voices in repudiation of all manner of hate mongering.
This Yom Kippur, we will once again read these words from Deuteronomy 11:26: “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.” Those same choices are before us today. Let us, as a nation, reject the curse of hatred and instead choose the blessings of faith, acceptance, understanding and respect for all.
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, director of North American Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights wrote Subway ads: A right to hate speech, a duty to condemn.
... As a rabbi, I find the ads deeply misguided and disturbing. The Jewish community is deep in the heart of our High Holidays, the Ten Days of Repentance that encompass the holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. One of the most powerful moments in the holy days is when the community rises for a recitation of public confession, beginning Tuesday night.
I have always been struck by how many of the foibles of daily life have to do with speech. The words from our mouths have power: Once released, whether intentionally or by accident, what we say shapes reality. It can bring about healing or atonement, or it can unleash violence and hatred. Geller’s ads, sharply dividing the world into civilized people and savages, are only intended to hurt and tear fragile relationships apart.
... As an American, I believe in the right to free speech, even when I detest the message or disagree vehemently with the messenger. But I can still raise my voice against words of hatred.
Moreover, freedom of speech does not absolve our elected officials from denouncing hateful rhetoric. A key part of their jobs as our representatives is to uphold core American values of pluralism and inclusion. Unfortunately, New York City’s public officials have largely been silent about the message of hate that will confront all of us during our morning commutes.
... As a Jew, I know the extreme to which where baseless hatred can lead. And the Jewish community has been in the past a target of hatred in the United States. Geller’s message ignores the positive contributions that our Muslim friends, neighbors and colleagues make to our country every single day.
It is also unfortunate that Geller chooses to frame her message of hatred as one of support for Israel. The complicated struggle for peace in the Middle East and against terrorism must not be reduced to a simplistic message of a war between good and evil. Although there is considerable debate within the Jewish community about how to best support Israel and achieve peace with her neighbors, it is clear that part of our contribution as Americans is to show the world that religious pluralism is both possible and beneficial for a thriving democracy.
In America, no one should have to live in fear for his or her safety because of faith. If there is a silver lining to the events of the past few months, including the subway ads, it is that Americans of all religions have the opportunity to come together and loudly reaffirm their commitments to religious pluralism. Together, we have and will continue to show that speech can also heal. This is our strength.
It is time for all of us, regardless of belief, or nonbelief, to stand together and reject stoking bigotry and hatred in our city with these ads. Our goal should be healing, not rupture, and laying the foundation for peace within our community and around the world.
Joshua Stanton, Assoc. Dir., Center for Global Judaism wrote Islamophobia is not pro-Israel
At a moment when I would otherwise be reviewing Yom Kippur teachings and preparing spiritually for the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, I instead feel called as an American Jew to respond to the abominable, Islamophobic advertisements in the New York City subways.
Islamophobia is an ideological threat to the State of Israel. It dims the ultimate hope for Israel’s future: peace.
Anyone who claims to be “pro-Israel” must by definition yearn for peace between Israel and its neighbors. Those who do not cannot possibly want what’s best for Israel. It is simply an irreconcilable contradiction. How could someone who claims to want what’s best for Israel want for it anything but peace? I would like to see the rationale of anyone who suggests that peace is somehow suboptimal for any state, much less one that we care for deeply.
... While many ambiguities about the peace process remain, one element is certain: false dichotomies hurt the prospects for peace in such a complicated region. The idea of condemning a single group for all of the pain and suffering caused by a multi-lateral conflict is morally bankrupt and politically foolhardy. Doing so creates fissures where there could be bridges and pits people against each other in arguments of little value. It undermines moderates and bolsters extremists. It looks for simple answers to complex problems that require greater nuance.
Islamophobia is an ideology that can create such false dichotomies. ... ricochet around the world.
The Islamophobic advertisements that groups recently placed in the New York City subways create false binaries of the sort that reduces the likelihood of peace—and then brings them home to Americans. They read as follows: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
From heinous implications and hateful language to insinuations about Islam and a claim that the Middle East conflict can be understood to be about the “civilized” and the “savage” rather than moderate Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze against extremists of multiple faiths, I see no reason that these advertisements should be seen as pro-Israel.
If there is an effective way to sideline people who love Israel and love their fellow Americans of all faiths, it is through these advertisements. If there is an effective way to create animosity where there was goodwill, it is through these advertisements. If there is a way to amplify the pain of the Middle East conflict overseas, while reducing the chances of its resolution, it is through these advertisements—and the debased sentiments that they espouse.
My hope and prayer, however, is that they also give moderate Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of all traditions the chance to sideline Islamophobes. As a Jew, a supporter of Israel and an ally of American Muslims, I can only hope that our success in marginalizing extreme ideologies in the United States—such as Islamophobia—can ultimately give Israel and all of its neighbors the hope for peace that they have long deserved.
Bradley Burston wrote on Haaretz Islamophobia, not Islam, will be the end of Israel
... At root, this is what Geller denies: Israel can only exist as a democracy if it continually acts to foster and equalize the rights of its Arab citizens, not abrogate and dismiss them. It can only exist as a democracy if it actively works to end the unperson status of the Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A true democracy cannot treat bigotry with understanding. It has to fight it, or its sense of democracy has no meaning.
At root, the Geller and pro-Kahane brand of “support of Israel,” is little more than a slash and burn Arab–hate that, if left unanswered, will tear apart the Israel and the Jewish community from within. It blinds people to solutions. It convinces people that there are no solutions. It persuades people that there are no options apart from violence, both of word and deed.
Israel has elaborate defense systems against military attack and terrorism. Its defenses against its own extremists are much more porous. The Gellers and Kahanists attack Israel at the root. An Israel torn apart from within doesn’t need an external enemy to destroy it. The enemy is right here.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs called the advertisement “bigoted, divisive, and unhelpful.” In a statement, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said, “Effective discourse is never served by one statement of incivility being answered by another. The remedy for bad speech is good speech, not more bad speech.”
Ron Meier, New York Regional Director of the ADL, said, “We believe the ads are highly offensive and inflammatory. Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. It is possible to support Israel without engaging in bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes. The basic premise of the ad is illegitimate and continuing to run it is irresponsible.”
Rabbi Mark Pelavin, senior adviser at the Union for Reform Judaism said “The challenge for us now is to raise our voices to say that these ads don’t represent and don’t reflect the mainstream American Jewish community.”
Marcia Kannry, Founder, The Dialogue Project posted on the FaceBook Occupy Judaism page
I AM A JEWISH JIHADI - On Yom Kippur, I am fasting and reflecting. I am a Jewish Jihadi.
Jihad is an Islamic process of reflection and struggle to bring thoughts, words and actions in alignment with prayer and best ethical practices. So too as Jews we practice sleichot (asking for forgiveness), and teshuva (return to good), offering compensation, asking for forgiveness from the humans whom we have offended.
Indeed this Jewish Month, Elul, comes from a Semitic language of ancient times called Akkadian - and it is also the month of Eylul in Arabic. Our roots are interwoven as is our spirituality. I ask my Muslim brothers and sisters to forgive those Jews whose fear and ignorance only points outward, rather than inward as this day of Yom Kippur asks us to do. To my fellow Jews – G’mar Hatima Tova. B’shalom
“John Harris, Chair of the N.Y. Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League said that
“It’s unfortunate that some people are trying to reduce the difficult issues in the Middle East to slogans on billboards. The latest Westchester ads by American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group headed by the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, are offensive and inflammatory. Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean being anti-Muslim and anti-Arab. Suspecting a “jihadist” motivation by everyone who follows Islam contributes to an atmosphere where hatred and discrimination are easily justified. Geller has a First Amendment right to spread her views, but she does Israel no service by her bigoted attacks on all Islam. The ADL hopes that our Muslim neighbors recognize that Geller’s campaign reflects the thinking of a very small minority in the Jewish community and trust that they also understand, as do we, the dangers posed by extremists in all of our faiths.”
Rabbi Ari Hart, an assistant rabbi at the Modern Orthodox synagogue Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and a founder of the Jewish-Muslim Volunteer Alliance response was to
go to Times Square with his Muslim friend Anam Farooqui. Together, they stood beside Geller’s ad and held up handmade posters. One said, “Fanatics from my faith do not represent me.” Another quoted from the Yom Kippur liturgy: “For the sins which we have committed before You—by evil speech, desecrating the Divine Name, and hatred—for all these, God, forgive us, atone for us.”
It was really important to us to not respond with hate and aggression,” Hart explained. Instead, he wanted to react by “spreading love and understanding.” He also wanted to respect the legal decision to protect Geller’s freedom of speech. So, rather than seek to nullify her message, he and Farooqui sought to present a counter-narrative. This counter-narrative quickly caught on: When Hart posted a photo of himself and Farooqui online, within hours, thousands of people liked, shared and commented on it across the world.
“The world is searching for hope and light today, and as Jews, I believe it is our mission to help spread it,” the rabbi said. “It is my hope that all kinds of Jews will speak out against intolerance.”
Rabbi Hart also posted on his FaceBook page a photo of himself and his friend Anan with the caption “A Jew and a Muslim coming together to fight intolerance” standing in front of one of the hate ads holding up a handmade sign saying: Our sign says: Fanatics from my faith don’t represent me!
Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Dir. of Dept. of Multifaith Studies at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College wrote
... The issue of free speech is, however, a red herring. The campaign aims to distract and confuse Americans. Geller has played that game before. Concern for sensitivity to victims’ families served as a cover for the anti-Muslim agenda in Geller’s last major initiative, the controversy she helped create around what she misnamed the “mosque at Ground Zero.” This time, Geller wants to link her ad campaign and its legal battles with free speech in America and backlash in the Middle East. She claims opponents of the ads are un-American. She is wrong. Opposition to bigotry is as much a core American value as freedom of speech. It is Geller’s effort to set the two at odds that flies in the face of our ideals.
Geller’s ads seek to provoke the behavior she claims to fear, and to provoke enough of it to create fear in others. Like Geller’s other pet project, “Stop Islamization of America,” the campaign is designed to stoke anxiety that American Muslims do not understand and support America’s freedoms. Geller posts provocative ads. She then reports on her blog—with great satisfaction—any examples of Muslim Americans reacting in ways that fail to appreciate the complex, messy business of freedom of speech in this country. At this, she cries, “The sharia-ization is beginning!”
In fact, major Muslim American spokesmen responded to the ad altogether appropriately. CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper said, “The First Amendment grants everybody rights, including to be a racist and a bigot.” But you won’t find that statement reported on Geller’s blog. Nor will you find the picture of an orthodox rabbi and a Muslim protesting the ad with a sign stating “Fanatics from my faith do not represent me!”
As Jews, we regularly expect Muslim and Christian friends to denounce anti-Semitism and terrorism within their own communities. In fairness, it is our duty to join others in stepping up when Jews are the ones promulgating hate. Geller knows well that apparent support for Israel is one way to package an anti-Muslim message that makes it tricky for Jewish leaders to offer unequivocal and unified denunciations. Her tactic, however, does not seem to be paying off across the board. Even Jews who do not usually agree on matters related to Israel are refusing to be distracted. The Anti-Defamation League carries on its website a condemnation of Geller for “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam.” On Sept. 21, the Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Say No! issued a statement condemning Geller’s ad. The same day, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs decried Geller’s ads as “Bigoted, Divisive and Unhelpful.” Rabbi Rachel Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights North America has spoken out, as has the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.
In his famous letter to the first Jewish synagogue in America, George Washington wrote that the United States government grants “to bigotry no sanction.” But because our government does grant to all its citizens freedom of speech, it will protect the right of Pamela Geller to post her bigotry, just as it allows over 900 hate groups, including anti-Semitic groups, to operate. In America, the work of giving bigotry no sanction devolves on citizens. We are the ones with the liberty—and the obligation—to speak our own truths in the face of hate mongering. And Geller isn’t clever enough to stop us.
At this point, the only positive articles about the AFDI/SIOA ad campaign are from Geller, Spencer, and their allies in the Islamophobia industry. Geller insists that the ads are not hateful, and that any criticism is unfounded, and a deliberate attempt to misrepresent her message. However, it seems that Geller’s message is “misunderstood” as hateful by an awful lot of people.
The Business Insider thought the term “savages” referred to Palestinians generally. Adam Chandler in the Jewish Tablet thought the ad could be read as anti-Israel. The San Francisco Jewish Community Center thought the ad was anti-Muslim. Ron Meier, the ADL NY Regional Director thought the ad was highly offensive and inflammatory, saying “We support the court’s conclusion that the ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, yet we still strongly object to both the message and the messenger. We believe these ads are highly offensive and inflammatory. Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. It is possible to support Israel without engaging in bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.” Tfhe Huffington Post thought the ad was anti-Islam. Alex Kane thought the ad was offensive and anti-Muslim. The San Francisco MTA who ran the ads thought the ad belittles, demeans, and disparages others. Sydney Levy, Director of Advocacy for Jewish Voice for Peace thought the ad was very offensive. Tim Redmond of the of the San Francisco Bay Guardian thought the ad was inexcusably offensive. The Jewish Weekly thought the ads were bigoted. Johnathan Vigliotti thought the ads were anti-Islamic. The Times of Israel thought the ads were anti-Islamic. Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feine thought the ads were offensive and inflammatory and encourage hatred. Bradley Burston ]thought the ads represented “At root, the Geller and pro-Kahane brand of “support of Israel,” is little more than a slash and burn Arab–hate that, if left unanswered, will tear apart the Israel and the Jewish community from within. It blinds people to solutions. It convinces people that there are no solutions. It persuades people that there are no options apart from violence, both of word and deed.” The SFMTA agreed to publish the ads as they are protected speech but posted a notice condemning the description of any group as “savages” and they will donate the money they receive from AFDI/SIOA to a public education campaign by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission ... update: the negative reviews continue to pour in Robert Mackey in the NY Times called the ads anti-Islam, as did CBS News as did NBC Connecticut, as did Hispanic Business, as did The Stamford Advocate. The Greenwich Post calls on its’ readers to reject the hate displayed in these ads. - Salon anti-Islam ad - Business Insider anti-Muslim - Electronic Intifada Islamophobic hate speech - Fox News inflammatory and anti-Muslim - New Republic anti-Muslim - PolicyMic ignorant - Think Progress Islamophobic - Newsday legal but lacking common sense - Big News anti-Islam - Digital Journal anti-Muslim - Haaretz anti-Muslim - New York magazine anti-Muslim - The Gothamist hateful - CNN hate speech - Huffington Post Islamophobic, not pro-Israel - Global Grind Islamophobic, anti-Muslim - The Daily Beast exploiting the first amendment with hateful public message - Haaretz anti-Arab hate
Two Christian and one Jewish organization have posted ads countering the message of the AFDI/SIOA ads. See Americans support tolerance and reject hate for details of these campaigns. The Jewish organization is Rabbis for Human Rights. Their ad reads “In the choice between love and hate CHOOSE LOVE. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”
Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria is director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly, and Rev. Clark Lobenstine is executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington have published an article Anti-Jihad Metro ads: An interfaith response to hatred. A few passages from that article:
... The ads do absolutely nothing to strengthen our nation as we work to unite and work for peace in the face of violence. Instead, they exploit very real concerns in order to cultivate mistrust of those who practice Islam. As such, these ads are an embarrassing example of hate speech. They rely solely on bigotry and ignorance to reduce a complex conflict to simplistic and simple-minded stereotypes. Hate speech cannot address the complexity of issues we face as a country. Rather, it deepens misconceptions and far too often promotes violence.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, faith leaders play an essential role in speaking out against hate, especially when it targets a fellow faith community. It falls on our shoulders to counter the misinformation about American Muslims that has become commonplace in media, in religious education and in our congregations.
... The Constitution also guarantees free speech, which allows Ms. Geller and her colleagues at AFDI the right to insist that we return again to a society where exclusion and oppression can be justified by pitting the “civilized” against the “savage.” But a right to hate speech does not make hate speech right. As you travel to work, shop for groceries or ride with your children to the monuments to our freedom, look with pride at the faces of American diversity and look away from the words that bring us shame.
Rabbi Bruce Lustig, of Washington Hebrew Congregation said “It’s incumbent on us to respond. We oppose Ms. Geller’s use of public space to proliferate hate. Although we recognize and support free speech, as people of conscience we know all that is protected is not productive. To denigrate, to insult, to demonize, to give sanction to such bigotry is not productive.”
Andrew Silow-Carroll, Editor of the New Jersey Jewish News said regarding Geller’s claim that the ads do not refer to all Muslims:
... — that’s a stretch. According to the logic of the ad, you can either support Israel — or support “savages.” Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just between Israelis and bus bombers, Hamas rocketeers, Sinai desert infiltrators, and cross-border kidnappers. The conflict also involves millions of Palestinians guilty of nothing but wanting the freedoms and self-determination that come with running their own affairs. This isn’t crazy dhimmi talk — this is the official aspiration of the Israeli government.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks, as he did in his speech last week to the General Assembly, of a “demilitarized Palestinian state [that] recognizes the one and only Jewish State,” is he on the side of Israel or the “savages”? It is not only possible but positively mainstream to support Israel with all your heart and still support a Palestinian state.
But let’s return to my original premise: treating these ads as a coup in the pro-Israel propaganda war. To call them a success, you’d have to imagine that they will spark either a thoughtful discussion of the dangers facing Israel, or a visceral distaste for its enemies. However, the kind of people who would read an ad like this and declare “Damn right!” probably didn’t need much convincing in the first place. As for nearly everyone else — polls suggest the average subway rider is inclined to sympathize with Israel and hold a number of negative stereotypes concerning Muslims. But are they so naive as to accept that the decades of conflict boil down to a clash between civilization and its opposite?
It doesn’t help that the word “savages” seems lifted out of a Victorian boys’ adventure book, the kind that pitted British soldiers in knee socks against spear-handling “natives.” Probably the last thing Israel needs is to be associated with language that is itself associated with “colonialism,” one of the toxic charges flung against it by the BDS crowd.
Geller also doesn’t seem to recognize how the demonization of one religion can end up backfiring on the Jews. You get a taste of this in parts of Europe, where municipalities have been busy trying to criminalize circumcision. The original lower court decision in Cologne that inspired the anti-circumcision drive was aimed at circumcision among Muslims, not Jews. First they came for the imam, and I said nothing….
The Washington Jewish Week [url=http://washingtonjewishweek.com/main.asp?SectionID=31&SubSectionID=29&ArticleID=18115]published an editorial[/url] which called the ads a “gratuitous attack on perhaps 1.6 billion people illustrates clearly what is wrong with extremism: it feeds its own need for notoriety, but does nothing to solve the ill it purports to address. These hateful, attack ads do nothing to serve Israel’s security. Instead, they threaten to co-opt the rest of the Jewish community into the suffocating, black and white world of extremism.”
Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which seeks to inspire a renaissance of Jewish life, and author of the forthcoming, “The Bronfman Haggadah” wrote ‘Hate speech must not be accepted as civil discourse’
Both Jews and Muslims lose when rhetoric like this is put out into the world. It is a dangerous conflation of two things that are not equivalent: that supporting Israel means hating Muslims, and that Israeli versus Arab equates with Jew versus Muslim.
These ads are an unfortunate case of enforcing the first article of the Bill of Rights to protect what is essentially hate speech. They are an abuse of rights we hold dear as Americans: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It’s both offensive and ineffective. I, for one, will not tolerate such bigotry put out into the world in the name of my religion.
I am a committed Zionist with a deep love of Israel and a proud Jew, but it is clear to me that the messages conveyed by these billboards only serve to further factionalize an already deep divide and bolster dangerous stereotypes. As heirs to the Abrahamic tradition of welcoming strangers into their tents, American Jews and Muslims must serve as examples for civilized dialogue and coexistence between the two faiths. Together, both communities have a great potential to inspire hope and a responsibility to serve as role models of mutual respect. After all, if we as Americans can’t learn to be respectful of each other, what chance do our brothers and sisters have in the Middle East? We have an important opportunity to model democracy in action to the people who share our faiths throughout the world.
While we cherish free speech, we must also be vigilant about its potential harm. We are all Americans and our shared love of freedom should not be abused. In the case of these billboards, neither Jews nor Muslims should suffer from assumptions about their beliefs and loyalties. As a Jew, I can’t imagine that my desire for mutual respect and dialogue instead of inflammatory rhetoric is any different than a Muslim’s.
Having my faith associated with hate speech placed on billboards on subways, I feel as alienated and stereotyped as I imagine Muslims do by being branded as terrorists. Hate speech must not be accepted as civil discourse. We can make a more powerful statement against terrorism by showing the world how people of different faiths and political views can disagree peacefully and respectfully. Surely that is a better message to spread than one that perpetuates hate, disdain and distrust. That should be self-evident, but sadly it isn’t, and it is often further obscured by the political diatribes that are put forth in the name of religion.
Speaking out is a moral imperative for all of us, and fostering dialogue that is constructive is essential. I am inspired by the work being done at the Bronfman Center at New York University as a place where dialogue that encourages respect and understanding is being fostered between young Muslims and Jews. Currently, a rabbi and an imam co-teach a course entitled “Multifaith Leadership in the Twenty-first Century.” A group called Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Dialogue leads community service trips to disaster zones, working together to provide humanitarian relief to people who are suffering. The interfaith cooperation extends into the student dorms, where an entire floor in the residence hall was spearheaded by Jewish and Muslim students to live and study together, along with a rabbi and an imam.
I am inspired by these young Muslims and Jews coming together to learn more about each other, not just as representatives of their faiths, but as human beings. We would do well to follow their example and become models of mutual respect, engaging in the hard work of constructive dialogue and not resorting to hate speech.
‘If we don’t speak out, sin multiplies’, Rachel Gartner http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/if-we-dont-speak-out-sin-multiplies/2012/10/18/11eef3f6-1968-11e2-aa6f-3b636fecb829_blog.html
We have published a number of articles (beginning in September of 2011) on the current controversy over this series of ads being published in public spaces by the hate groups AFDI/SIOA. These articles include many sources and references regarding discussion of different aspects of this controversy:
- Pamela Geller: A Tale of Two Bus Ads
- A Tale of Three Bigoted Ads
- Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer announce new “Islamorealism” anti-Islam ad
- Bus Ads: Of Savages and Idiots
- 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks exist only in fevered Islamophobic brains
- Freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech
- Pamela Geller Does Not Understand Freedom of Speech
- American Muslims and Arabs respond to the ads.
- All extremists are “savages” and “civilized men” need to counter the hate
- How Muslims understand the term “jihad”
- Is vandalism an appropriate free speech response to hate speech? .
- The legal battle over AFDI/SIOA Anti-Muslim Ads
first published 9/29/12