On December 19th the Potomac Institute had a panel on the role of religion in combating terrorism that was broadcast later on CSPAN. There was a lot of Islam-bashing on this panel. Yonah Alexander of the Potomac Institute lumped Hamas and the murderous synagogue attack in Jerusalem in with ISIS. Robert Eisen, a religion professor at George Washington University, said, “We’re mainly speaking about Islamic terrorism,” in which violence against enemies has a “spiritual and transcendent purpose.” Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt also said that terrorism is mostly a Muslim problem in our time.
After 105 minutes, the ambassador of the Arab League to the United States was invited from the audience to speak. Mohammed Al Hussaini Al Sharif said that religion is not a source of violence, state policies foster violence, including Israel’s “occupation.” The Islamic terrorism described by the panel makes it “all the more imperative to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict…This is one of the major causes of instability and insecurity in the region.”
Al Sharif then quoted from the speech by Secretary of State John Kerry on Eid al-Ahda, October 16. Kerry:
As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL coalition, the truth is we – there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to. And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity, and Eid celebrates the opposite of all of that.
Al Sharif said the US had vetoed resolutions for Palestinian self-determination 40 times in the Security Council.
Now, what do you expect the Palestinian to react? Tell me. They resist, and they call them terrorist. If you are under occupation for 60 years, what will happen?
The ambassador’s comments irritated Rabbi Weinblatt. Weinblatt heads a Conservative congregation in Maryland and is a leading supporter of Israel, the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America and former Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly. He said:
I must say that in the course of our discussion today–and we’ve been discussing this issue of the role of religion in combating terrorism– we’ve talked about incidents of terrorism in Sudan and Somalia, we’ve talked about what’s going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve talked about what’s going on in Nigeria and so many parts of the world. I must say, I’m rather offended by the fact that you would even shlep in the Palestinian problem. None of those issues that we have referred to have anything whatsoever to do with the Israeli Palestinian cause. And despite what Secretary Kerry may have said, it’s not relevant to the issues we have discussed today.
I think we should be discussing the role of religion in combating terrorism and not just bringing in irrelevant, tertiary issues that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.
I must say I found the rabbi’s comments deeply dismaying. They reflect the inability of the American Jewish leadership to even consider for an eyeblink how Israel’s policies are generating suffering, resentment, resistance, and international condemnation. The Arab ambassador was speaking common sense. But the American Jewish leadership is reactionary on this question. They make John Kerry look like a radical. It is this sort of rigid authoritarian thinking that generates revolution.