Geller’s speech leaves Muslim community unsafe, and echoes era of anti-Semitism


Below are three statements urging New York institutions not to host Pamela Geller, who seeks to demonize Islam. Geller was invited to speak at the Great Neck Synagogue today. The synagogue then cancelled her appearance. But other Jewish organizations have now offered her space.

First, from the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition, released today:

Jewish Coalition Reaffirms Commitment to Challenging Islamophobia

Sunday, April 14, 2013  The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC) strongly reaffirms its commitment to challenging Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism and calls on the rest of the Jewish community to do the same. While the Great Neck Synagogue has decided not to host Pamela Geller, JAIC is outraged by those synagogues and Jewish institutions that are now offering platforms for Geller’s hate speech. JAIC also condemns those who have been targeting individuals speaking out against hate speech.

“The kind of hate speech we see regularly in New York, coupled with government violations of the rights of the Muslim community, makes it a very unsafe environment for the Muslim community,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace and member of JAIC.  “We need to continue to speak out unequivocally against it.  Our community needs to take seriously the need to continue to challenge the systems and practices that enable Islamophobia to flourish.”  

“As a Jew, when I hear about the NYPD surveillance program against the Muslim community and other ways the Muslim community has been targeted, I am reminded of the state-sponsored anti-Semitism that we endured at different times in our history,” said civil rights lawyer Alan Levine of JAIC. “It was intolerable then when it happened to the Jewish community. It’s intolerable now when it happens to the Muslim community.”

Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, another member organization of the Coalition, said, “Islamophobic rhetoric supports and facilitates programs such as NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim communities. As the recent Mapping Muslims report documents, this program and ones like it have very real harmful effects on individuals and a chilling effect on people’s right to practice their religion and participate in democratic life.”

JAIC joins the Muslim community as it organizes against Islamophobia and racism and for justice and dignity for all communities. 

The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition is composed of Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Jews Say No!.

At The American Muslim, Sheila Musaji writes (h/t CAIR) that allowing Geller’s speech would mean that other institutions would be justified in hosting anti-Semitic speakers:

As a Muslim, I find other aspects of this controversy more important.  Before the Geller talk at the Great Neck Synagogue was cancelled, the synagogue issued a statement: “We believe that it is important to hear what she has to say and we are confident that intelligent and fair minded individuals will consider her views in reaching their own conclusions…. We reject the categorizing of any religious majority based on the actions of a minority. …. We do, though, believe that it is appropriate to speak about the actions of that minority.”

So, according to the synagogue where Geller was invited to speak on Sharia – this is an issue of freedom of speech, and people can make up their own minds about the validity of the views of the speaker.  It is “appropriate” to discuss the actions of extremist Muslims in a synagogue.  And, the fact that the speaker has absolutely no qualifications or expertise on the subject doesn’t matter.

Following exactly the same logic.  There are some extremist and even terrorist Jews who justify their actions by their interpretations of halakha, Torah, Talmud, etc.  So, it should not be a problem for any mosque, or Muslim organization to have a program inviting an individual with no expertise at all in the subject matter (even one known for anti-Semitic views) to come and speak on the subject of Halakha or Talmud or any topic about Judaism.  Perhaps a mosque could invite a known anti-Semite from the Muslim lunatic fringe to speak on the dangers of Halakha to the American legal system, or perhaps the viciousness of kosher slaughter.  This should not be considered confrontational or hostile to Muslims as long as the group arranging the program publishes a statement saying:  “We reject the categorizing of any religious majority based on the actions of a minority. …. We do, though, believe that it is appropriate to speak about the actions of that minority.” Geller pretends not to realize the similarities between Kosher and Halal:  Halakha and Sharia Requirements or between Islamic Sharia and Jewish Halakha Arbitration Courts.  However, continuing to stir up a hornet’s nest of bigotry will sooner or later make this similarity noticed by the bigots she appeals to, and this will not be good for the Muslim or Jewish communities.

Following exactly the same logic, there should not be a problem with Muslim groups running an ad series countering each ad in the ad series being run by Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer of the hate groups AFDI/SIOA.  And, as long as the group running these ads says, we are not anti-Jewish, only anti-Judaism, or anti-Halakha, or anti-Talmud – or, we are not anti-Christian, only anti-Christianity, then any objection from the Jewish community or the Christian community would just be an attempt to shut down freedom of speech.

Also, here is a statement in the Jewish Week from Rabbi Michael White and Rabbi Jerome Davidson, Long Island rabbis, saying that “Hate Speech Has No Place in a Synagogue” and citing their work with the Muslim community on Long Island:

Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have  designated Geller’s “Stop Islamization of America” organization as a hate group. As was recently reported in the Jewish Week, Etzion Neuer, director of community service and policy for the ADL’s New York region, said that Geller “under the guise of fighting radical Islam, absolutely demonizes an entire religion. In directing her rhetoric at the entire Islamic faith, she fuels anti-Islamic bigotry. Geller doesn’t do us any favors,” he continued. “She muddies the waters because she hands the platform to the extremists in our midst. Instead of thoughtful, fact-based dialogue on the issues, we get incendiary rhetoric and xenophobia.”

We cherish our relationships and friendships within the local Muslim community. Both Temple Beth El of Great Neck and Temple Sinai of Roslyn share deep and abiding connections with the Islamic Center of Long Island. Our communities have broken bread together, studied together, engaged in social action projects together, and our children have learned from each other as well.  The local Muslim community adds immeasurably to Long Island’s vitality, and we are blessed by their commitment to the betterment of our society. Their presence among us affirms the essence of America’s greatness, a nation founded on the principles of democratic pluralism.

We state unequivocally that Geller’s inflammatory rhetoric does not represent us or the great majority of Jews in Great Neck and on Long Island. Hate speech has no place in synagogues. Synagogues should be places for worship, positive dialogue and reasoned political debate. The right of free speech is vitally important, but Geller crosses the line from political to hate speech. In sharp contrast, Judaism teaches us to respect the traditions and values of other faiths.

Last fall the group T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (formerly Rabbis For Human Rights-North America) echoed that sentiment with its effective New York City subway ad campaign that countered Geller’s offensive anti-Muslim subway posters.  T’ruah’s message challenged: “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”

We share T’ruah’s vision, reflecting our faith’s mandate to work for understanding, unity and peace among all humanity. Geller’s messages seek to divide peoples, and fail to acknowledge that even with significant political differences, Jews and Muslims are working to build the world of justice and compassion that both faiths demand. Rather than trying to denigrate a diverse community and rich tradition, we must find ways of respecting one another and working together on shared concerns. 


FYI, The Jewish Week provided space to Geller to respond: “Ultimately, these rabbis will answer to a higher authority.” She evidently knows the word of god.

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