Spy on mosques, stay away from synagogues: NYPD surveillance differs based on religion

US Politics
on 29 Comments
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An NYPD observation post outside a mosque in Queens. (Photo: AFP Photo/Stan Honda)

The threat was menacing: the celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach “deserves death,” wrote a Brooklyn Jewish male in an April 2007 posting on a extremist web site. The next year, the same man wrote on Kahane.org: “Someone shoot Shmuley Boteach,” the well-known Rabbi who is a close friend of New Jersey Senator-elect Corey Booker, a former spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson and the person Samantha Power feted to prove she was a supporter of Israel.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) used the postings made on the public forum to help justify why a “terrorism enterprise investigation” needed to be opened into Kahane Chai, according to documents obtained by Tablet magazine’s Adam Chandler. But while an investigation was opened, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division never requested the authority to enter into a synagogue where information could be gleaned about Kahane Chai, a far-right Jewish group founded by Meir Kahane that has been linked to deadly violence, including plots in the U.S. The Intel Division also never relayed the threats to the man most interested in knowing about them: Boteach himself.

The methods of investigation into a specific Jewish terror threat stands in sharp contrast to how the NYPD investigates terrorism in the Muslim community. The New York police appear never to have entered into a synagogue in relation to the case, despite there being a number of synagogues who openly celebrate Meir Kahane every year. But when it comes to the Muslim community, mosques are fair game. At least a dozen mosques are being investigated as “terrorist enterprises,” a designation that allows the police to infiltrate religious institutions and record what imams are saying. What’s more, the “terrorism enterprise investigations” (TEI) launched into mosques are justified using much more innocuous reasons when compared to the TEI launched into Kahane Chai.

“It seems to me, on the face of it, a difference that is pernicious. In other words, that it is treating Muslims differently and allowing investigations to range much more broadly when it comes to Muslims,” said Jethro Eisenstein, a civil rights lawyer involved in the Handschu case, the legal decree that governs how the NYPD conducts surveillance. “It appears to me that there is a double standard being applied.”

According to Tablet, the investigation into Kahane Chai dates back to early 2008, when Israel’s Shin Bet contacted the NYPD to request information on 25-year-old U.S. born Israeli who was a leader in the Kahane-linked Jewish Legion. After conducting surveillance on the man and then perusing Kahane Chai’s websites, top NYPD Intelligence officials requested the authority to investigate the group as a “terrorist enterprise.” But the NYPD didn’t take the investigation seriously. They never told Boteach his life may have been in danger. And they only launched the investigation as cover, according to Adam Goldman, the co-author of the new book Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America, an eye-opening look into NYPD surveillance.

“They only opened up the investigation because it looked bad, because all the other ones were directed at Muslims or Arab-Americans,” Goldman told me, relaying information he received from a source familiar with the NYPD investigation into Kahane.

Regardless of the validity of the investigation, though, the documents posted by Tablet reveal the vastly different ways the NYPD investigates terrorism threats. And it all has to do with religion, despite the protestations of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

NYPD Chief Ray Kelly defends the investigation of mosques by saying, “we follow leads wherever they take us. We’re not intimidated as to wherever that lead takes us. And we’re doing that to protect the people of New York City.” But a close look at the documents reveals that leads in relation to specific terrorist threats are not used to justify “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques. There’s a much lower standard. In comparison to the specific and deadly threats from Kahane Chai members on websites, the NYPD has launched TEIs into mosques where no similar deadly threat has emanated from.

One document posted by Goldman and his co-author, Matt Apuzzo, shows an NYPD request to extend a years-long TEI into Tablighi Jamaat, a South Asian-dominated, conservative Islamist movement devoted to spreading the religion and bringing disaffected Muslims back into the fold. While the movement is nonviolent, terrorist plotters have used it as a cover to mask their intentions. But their North American headquarters, the Queens-based Masjid Al Falah, hasn’t been linked to terrorism. The NYPD infiltrated it anyway.

They based their TEI on things like the mosque leadership allegedly preparing, distributing and utilizing “false Pakistani passports and other false identification documents to facilitate the illegal entry of aliens into both the United States and Pakistan.” But in contrast to the TEI into Kahane Chai, there was no specific terror threat from the mosque the police were investigating. Masjid Al Falah has been infiltrated since at least 2006, according to another NYPD document, but the investigation has never progressed to indicting the mosque as a terrorist enterprise. There has been no case built against any other mosque investigated as a “terrorist enterprise.”

Other NYPD documents show an obsessive focus on the Muslim community while ignoring the Jewish community. In 2007, the NYPD’s Demographics Unit mapped out “Syrian locations of concern.” But despite the majority of the Syrian community being Jewish, they were excluded from the document. “This report will focus on the smaller Muslim community,” the document posted by the Associated Press reads. 

NYPD spying “wouldn’t fly in the Christian community,” Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, told me recently. “It wouldn’t fly in the Jewish community. It wouldn’t fly in any other religious community. Why is it okay that it’s happening to Muslims?”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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29 Responses

  1. Shuki
    September 12, 2013, 10:06 am

    Why is it okay that it’s happening to Muslims?

    One has to question the sanity of someone who asks this question, even rhetorically, on the anniversary of 9/11.

    • Bumblebye
      September 12, 2013, 11:05 am

      You find Islamophobia logical?
      I suppose you associate crime to a certain race as well.
      Your unquestioning acceptance of it leaves me wondering at your lack of intellect.

      • OlegR
        September 12, 2013, 11:34 am

        Religion is ideology it is not above reproach.
        The fact that’s it’s based on the irrational makes it even less so.

      • eljay
        September 12, 2013, 1:06 pm

        >> Religion is ideology it is not above reproach.
        >> The fact that’s it’s based on the irrational makes it even less so.

        You’re right, OlegR: Zionism – which is ideology based on religion based on the irrational – is very worthy of reproach.

    • eljay
      September 12, 2013, 11:38 am

      >> Why is it okay that it’s happening to Muslims?
      >> One has to question the sanity of someone who asks this question, even rhetorically, on the anniversary of 9/11.

      Since you condone Islamophobia because of what a few Muslims did on 9/11, you must also condone anti-Semitism because of the atrocities the Jewish State of Israel has been committing against Palestinians for over 60 years.

      Shame on you. Your bigotry is disgraceful.

  2. DICKERSON3870
    September 12, 2013, 10:18 am

    RE: “Spy on mosques, stay away from synagogues: NYPD surveillance differs based on religion”

    FOR INSTANCE, THIS IS FROM “WAYNE MADSEN REPORTS” BACK IN NOVEMBER OF 2008:

    [EXCERPT] . . . WMR has learned from U.S. intelligence sources additional details of prospective White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s ties with the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad. We have also learned that President-elect Barack Obama is fully aware of the problems with Emanuel’s past security woes within the Clinton administration, but that the President-elect faced the problem of delivering on a few political IOUs he handed out during the campaign.
    WMR has learned that Emanuel will be under a virtual probationary period as Chief of Staff and that if there is one whiff from the FBI or another law enforcement or intelligence agency that he is dealing with foreign intelligence agents, Obama will cut him loose as soon as practicable.
    Emanuel has, according to our sources, been the subject of FBI counter-intelligence surveillance for quite some time. FBI surveillance teams have seen Emanuel enter Washington, DC and Chicago synagogues at the same time known Mossad agents assigned to the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Israeli Consulate General in Chicago entered the facilities. FBI regulations prevented the surveillance teams from pursuing the parties into the places of worship. . .

    CONTINUED AT – link to richardsilverstein.com

  3. Annie Robbins
    September 12, 2013, 10:18 am

    that photograph is really frightening.

    • tokyobk
      September 12, 2013, 2:18 pm

      I believe that photo shows an observation tower meant to protect the mosque.

      One good memory on a terrible, terrible day was the police surrounding NYC’s largest mosque on 9/11 to protect it from “reprisals” that of course never came.

  4. fnlevit
    September 12, 2013, 10:59 am

    Right. I have never seen anything even close to such a revolting thing near any of the countless mosques in Israel. So – following the trend perhaps it is time to call NYC an apartheid city? And start BDS against it? The evidence is overwhelming, isn’t it?

    • Bumblebye
      September 12, 2013, 11:30 am

      When did the NYPD become a government passing deliberately discriminatory laws, or a government pursuing deliberately discriminatory policies? BDS Israel for those actions!

    • Talkback
      September 12, 2013, 2:10 pm

      fnlevit says: “Right. I have never seen anything even close to such a revolting thing near any of the countless mosques in Israel. So – following the trend perhaps it is time to call NYC an apartheid city?”

      It shouldn’t be very difficult to understand that discrimination is something different from inhumane actions (like keeping residents expelled and denationalized) which are needed for a certain racist regime to survive (“Apartheid”).

      Btw, how many mosques did the Zionist Junta of Palestine destroy to ‘Judaize’ the rest of Palestine since the 120 it destroyed in 1948?

    • talknic
      September 12, 2013, 10:01 pm

      fnlevit ” following the trend perhaps it is time to call NYC an apartheid city? And start BDS against it?”

      Problem with your moronic theory about a trend … NYC is IN the US. A sovereignty has sole discretion in its own territory.

      One third of the territory Israel claims as it’s own link to wp.me is NOT in Israel, was acquired by war, has never been legally annexed to Israel and is not recognized as Israeli by the International Community of Nations, the UN or any other world body or court.

    • Hostage
      September 13, 2013, 10:10 am

      Right. I have never seen anything even close to such a revolting thing near any of the countless mosques in Israel.

      * link to csmonitor.com
      * link to si.wsj.net
      * link to i.huffpost.com
      * link to thehindu.com

      • fnlevit
        September 15, 2013, 4:23 pm

        Mr. Hostage, I already indicated earlier that every time I have time tpo examine your references I find them misleading at least. And again I took my time to look at your references and again found that they have nothing to do with anything. As we say in physics about such “evidence” – It is not even wrong. Do you know where it is? Is it in Israel? What does it demonstrate? What a waste!

      • Hostage
        September 16, 2013, 2:50 am

        Mr. Hostage, I already indicated earlier that every time I have time tpo examine your references I find them misleading at least.

        I know. Israelis usually bulldoze or dynamite mosques, rather than build fortresses or guard towers around them:

        According to a book by Dr. Meron Benvenisti, of the 160 mosques in the Palestinian villages incorporated into Israel under the armistice agreements, fewer than 40 are still standing.

        — History Erased link to haaretz.com
        — Rare photograph reveals ancient Jerusalem mosque destroyed in 1967
        link to haaretz.com

        — Beersheba mosque to become Islam museum: High Court rejects Negev Muslims’ petition to worship at old mosque after years of debates. Judges introduce compromise – museum to be devoted to culture of Islam link to ynetnews.com

        I’m simply pointing out that Israelis have a well deserved reputation for destroying or profaning mosques and churches by building guard towers and fortresses, just like the ones pictured above in New York. So you can stop making these smug and self-congratulatory comments. Your country’s authorities are no better than those you are trying to criticize and we will call you out on baseless hasbara claims.

        Do you know where it is? Is it in Israel?

        If I take your Foreign Ministry and Knesset officials seriously, then yes, the Ibrahimi mosque is a “national Israeli heritage site” and East Jerusalem is part of your “eternal” capital city. Your government only needs to claim that territory is disputed before it begins profaning its holy sites.

        Here is the fortress at Bilal bin Rabah mosque in Bethlehem: link to rachelstomb.org

        A guard tower and the wall surrounding the churches in Bethlehem: link to images.travelpod.com

        Muslim worshipers at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem being kept out of al-Haram al-Sharif by Israeli Security forces: link to vosizneias.com

      • Walid
        September 16, 2013, 4:59 am

        The Zionists didn’t limit their destruction to Islamic holy sites, they were equally destructive of Christian ones especially during the 48-49 war when they seized various churches and convents desecrated, profaned, destroyed and looted them; one of them, the Notre Dame de France hospice, ws occupied and served as the main Zionist base to attack Jerusalem. Another the Convent of the Reparatrice Sisters was torched. The Seminary of Sainte Anne was bombed and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate was hit with about 100 mortar bombs launched by the Zionists from the Monastery of the Benedictine Fathers atop Mount Sion. The list of attacks on Christian sites is as long as the list of attacks on Muslim holy sites.

        For a detailed listing of sites attacked:

        link to books.google.ca

        Not to forget the mosque in Ayn Hawd that was ethnically cleansed of Palestinians and repopulated by Europeans to create an artist colony renamed Ein Hod, was converted into a bar and restaurant.

  5. hophmi
    September 12, 2013, 11:26 am

    Yeah, you know what that picture is? It’s a picture of the observation post that the NYPD set up after the Al-Khoei mosque was TARGETED by someone. link to slatest.slate.com

    I’m not a fan of the NYPD’s mosque-spying program either, but it didn’t come from nowhere. I am not aware of a string of plot by Jews to attack New York City.

    • Talkback
      September 12, 2013, 2:11 pm

      hophmi says: “I am not aware of a string of plot by Jews to attack New York City.”

      But the FBI is aware that Jews commited more terrorist attacks in the US between 1980 and 2005 than Muslims.
      link to loonwatch.com

      • hophmi
        September 12, 2013, 3:59 pm

        “But the FBI is aware that Jews commited more terrorist attacks in the US between 1980 and 2005 than Muslims.”

        Wow, that’s a surprising list. I had no idea that Latino attacks made up 42% of the terrorist attacks during that period.

        Your analogy between Muslims and Jews would have value, except for three things:

        1. There hasn’t been a JDL attack since 1986. So it’s a little misleading to talk about the period from 1980 to 2005. And I’m sure, in their heyday, the JDL was aggressively investigated, and had there been a history of JDL planning in synagogues, I’m sure the FBI would have infiltrated them.

        2. The pipe bombs that the JDL seem to have favored are obviously different in scale from the Al-Qaeda type attacks of 9/11 and the sorts of attempts you see, like the guy who attempted to blow up a truck full of explosives in Times Square. Terrorism is terrorism, but driving a plane into a crowded building is a different story than setting off a pipe bomb.

        3. It’s not only a question of successful attacks. It’s a question of unsuccessful attacks as well.

        The real question is what the FBI does to investigate the white supremacy movement, which makes up a significant percentage. My guess is that they’re ubiquitous in white nationalist churches.

        Muslims are not like white nationalists, and as I said, I’m not a fan of the NYPD program.

      • Talkback
        September 13, 2013, 5:53 pm

        “I had no idea that Latino attacks made up 42% of the terrorist attacks during that period.”

        The list includes Puerto Rico.

        “1. There hasn’t been a JDL attack since 1986. So it’s a little misleading to talk about the period from 1980 to 2005.”

        LOL. Jews attacked the US in 5 years more than Muslim did in 25? (I know, misleading again.)

        “2. The pipe bombs that the JDL seem to have favored are obviously different in scale from the Al-Qaeda type attacks of 9/11 and the sorts of attempts you see, like the guy who attempted to blow up a truck full of explosives in Times Square.”

        Or massacring and expelling citizens and destroying their villages to keep the state pure, right?

        “The real question is what the FBI does to investigate the white supremacy movement, which makes up a significant percentage.”

        True, I guess it’s like asking what Israel does against its religious and political supremacists.

  6. Citizen
    September 12, 2013, 11:49 am

    Just another example of how the Zionist mindset has taken over every crack and crevice of America’s security and defense arena. I don’t think anything can be done about effectively unless we change the US campaign finance system. The same goes for the 30 year and ongoing deepening income gap, an its attendant Wall St–IRS partnership. We already know SCOTUS won’t help rectify this matter; they actually support it. And congress is captured by it. How many congress critters are millionaires? Nothing can change this situation except a grass roots populist movement. I see none on the horizon, but the surge of protest against a strike on Syria offers a slim reed of hope our disparate groups against Tweedledee-Tweedledum government will one day face a new version of the old pitchforks, a neo-peasant revolt.
    What short of a WW3, beginning with an attack on Iran would actualize such a scenario? OTOH, didn’t WW2 coincide with the end of the Great Depression?

  7. fnlevit
    September 12, 2013, 1:47 pm

    I agree, hophmi. It also is really amazing how every piece of news is used by the usuals on this blog to bash Israel. Dieckerson et al do not really need the Palestinians to spill it out… No money for US to rebild bridges…. Stealing blns of $$$ from the budget… Rahm Emmanuel was Mosad’s agent… Etc…
    Zionist Jews are the demons of the world… Since Zionist Jews are the majority of the Jewish community clearly the Jews actually are….
    Good day to you, KGB moderator….

  8. hophmi
    September 12, 2013, 2:03 pm

    “Just another example of how the Zionist mindset has taken over every crack and crevice of America’s security and defense arena. ”

    Oh, grow up. There is nothing particularly Zionist about law enforcement overreaching. It happens everywhere, all over the world. A mosque in Egypt is a lot more likely to be subjected to spying than a mosque in Israel.

    • just
      September 12, 2013, 5:57 pm

      I am sure that you are correct. Perhaps it is because Israel is so very excellent at spying & always, always spying on Palestinian Muslims– 24/7, and a lot of them are in Israelis jails proper, or the open air prison that Israel occupies– not allowed in “Israeli” mosques, or even in Israel.

    • Citizen
      September 13, 2013, 6:21 am

      Since 2007, this blog has been documenting and discussing key personalities and organizations enmeshing the Zionist POV in every relevant facet of US governance. From the USS Liberty coverup to PNAC, the rise of the neocons, the obligatory trek of US political leaders to the annual AIPAC Conference, the “free” trek of new US congress critters to Israel, the training of HS, TSA, local police, “the Israeli way.” There is a very disproportionate number of dual citizen Israelis operating in our government. Here’s some more information for MW readers on the subject: link to clint4p.com

      “Oh, grow up.” I did, just not in Israel, nor in a Jewish enclave in America, nor in a Jewish household embued with Zionism and ethnocentric bias.

      • hophmi
        September 16, 2013, 2:54 pm

        “Since 2007, this blog has been documenting and discussing key personalities and organizations enmeshing the Zionist POV in every relevant facet of US governance. ”

        Yeah, police surveillance is a “Zionist POV” because there is none of it outside of Israel and the United States. LOL.

        “From the USS Liberty”

        A conspiracy theory

        “to PNAC”

        Another one . . .

        “the rise of the neocons”

        Because no one has ever been a hawk before. . .

        “the obligatory trek of US political leaders to the annual AIPAC Conference”

        Which they do because most of their constituents support Israel . . .

        “There is a very disproportionate number of dual citizen Israelis operating in our government.”

        Thanks, Henry Ford. Why don’t you go find them?

        ” I did, just not in Israel, nor in a Jewish enclave in America, nor in a Jewish household embued with Zionism and ethnocentric bias.”

        Apparently also not in a place where they teach reason and logic.

      • Cliff
        September 16, 2013, 3:56 pm

        Thanks, Henry Ford. Why don’t you go find them?

        Why even say this? You are an Israel Firster and Jewish nationalist/pro-colonist.

        Stop acting like you give a **** about America.

        Everything single thing you say and your entire mindset is about Israel first and foremost.

        So cut the bullshit about people being antisemitic. It’s YOU that’s disliked/hated/criticized/fought against. Not ‘Jewry’.

        Just you and your fellow ethno-religious nationalistic extremists/fascist/cultists.

        You’ve worn the same hat all throughout history – but being a troll, you use Jewishness as a cover.

        We don’t want to talk about Jewish this and that all the time. It’s your disgusting politics that’s the issue, troll.

  9. ivri
    September 12, 2013, 5:20 pm

    Oh, come on, this is an old story – and it`s all about Statistics. You got to rationalize the use of limited budgets – impractical to watch everybody with the same intensity – and profiling is what they always all do (e.g. police and criminals profiling). If most of the terror attacks in the world would have been done by Indian Sikhs they would have been watched with the same intensity – there is no Islamophobia here.
    One of the casualties of the terror campaigns of Arabs in the world, Israel in particular, is a huge damage to the Arab image. Those who conceived terror as a tool to achieve political goals by frightening others have actually succeeded as you can judge from the reactions – as the one

    • freespeechlover
      September 16, 2013, 1:59 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more when ou say “those who conceived terror as a tool to achieve political goals by frightening others have actually succeeded as you can judge from the reactions…” Israel’s attacks on Gaza have been frightening, so frightening that those terrorist acts were turning points in international civil society activism to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

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