Countering Islamophobia means ending the structural silencing of Muslim voices– including their critique of Israel

US Politics
on 21 Comments

The complex and often contentious relationship between American Jews and Muslims witnessed two momentous events that produced divergent results and emotions. On the one hand, anti-Semitic attacks on a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, brought about a rapid $120,000 online fundraising drive in the Muslim community and hundreds of volunteers to repair damage to the cemeteries and express solidarity. On a national level, Muslims mobilized to visit local synagogues and demonstrate their solidarity with American Jews in a time of rising anti-Semitism and threats directed to their houses of worship and cemeteries.

On the other hand, we have an extremely discordant event–the campaign against the candidacy of Representative Keith Ellison for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship. The outcome of the election is that Ellison lost in favor of Tom Perez, the choice of the party establishment, and the wounds of the campaign will not be easily healed. It was abundantly clear that the mainstream organizations of the American Jewish community heavily mobilized to defeat Ellison by utilizing directly and indirectly the charge of anti-Semitism so as to discredit him and his campaign. Let’s be clear, the creation of the new DNC deputy chair position and appointment of Ellison to this never-before-existing post was an attempt to dress-up another ugly smear campaign against an African American Muslim candidate to protect Israel’s influence over the Democratic Party.

What happened in the lead-up to the vote and why did mainstream American Jewish organizations oppose and work hard to defeat Keith Ellison? At this juncture, it is important to ask if a mainstream Jewish-Muslim alliance against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism would succeed if the effort is directed on a superficial level while the structural empowerment of Muslims is sacrificed for Israel’s interests in the United States.

At the outset, let me be clear that the American Jewish community is very diverse and no single monolithic characterization can be used to describe it. The line of demarcation in the community covers the full spectrum from far right to far left on all issues. However, recently one can observe a gap emerging between the older and more established mainstream groups that have unquestionable commitment to Zionism and Israel as the focal point of their identity and politics, and a critical mass of post- (and one may say anti) Zionist young Jewish Americans that no longer consider Israel and attachment to it as the issue that defines their identity and politics. As a matter of fact, and across the country, many of the leaders within the ranks of Students for Justice in Palestine are themselves young Jews who represent this readily observable shift.

I, for one, have seen this and can attest to the development, and I have a close alliance and organizing working relationship with Jewish Voice for Peace, a large group that has many differing points of view on a number of issues including how to think of Israel and Palestine. Likewise, I have worked and coordinated activities with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network as well as worked and partnered with Jewish liberation theologians and academics on a number of projects. As a matter of fact, Bernie Sanders’ campaign victory in Michigan was a clear evidence that Muslim communities rallied to support a national Jewish-American candidate based on shared progressive values and an embrace of the issues of common concern, which include a critique of U.S.’s one-sided policy in the Middle East that favors Israel. Initially, Sanders did not have a close relationship with Arab, Muslim or Palestinian communities but the Michigan win and grassroots pressure from communities of color influenced Sanders’ change of strategy and approach to these communities. However, the forged relations between Sanders and members of the Muslim community including Keith Ellison himself was met with alarm and opposition from mainstream American Jewish organizations.

What I write below is a critique of mainstream American Jewish organizations that are still bound to the Zionist old guard framework and have a singular outlook in approaching the complexity of the current period. I write this to point out the contradiction inherent in attempting to forge a Muslim-Jewish alliance that intends to silence the critical questions on Zionism, Israel, BDS, and the prevalence of Islamophobia within mainstream American Jewish organizations including the AIPAC, ADL, JCRC and AJC. How can we begin to address Islamophobia without challenging its purveyors, who posit demonization and marginalization of Muslims as the best way to protect Israel’s interests in the U.S.?

Haim Saban, the Israeli-American businessman and major Democratic Party and Clinton donor, came out early in opposition to the candidacy of Congressman Keith Ellison to DNC’s chairmanship, labeling him “an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual” whose election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee would be a “disaster” for the party’s relationship with the Jews. Saban’s relations and work within the Democratic Party is of long standing and he has contributed greatly to bolstering Israel’s outsized position in the political arena. In 2002, for example, he contributed $12.2 million to the party, $7 million of which went to build the party’s Washington DC headquarters.

Then we have Israel’s defender, the liberal warmonger Alan Dershowitz who, in a vicious op-ed for The Hill, attacked Ellison’s “long history of sordid association with anti-Semitism.” In the same op-ed, Dershowitz declared his intention to leave the Democratic Party if Ellison is elected, saying “My loyalty to my country and my principles and my heritage exceeds any loyalty to my party.” Dershowitz is a regular at AIPAC’s conventions, is at ease in throwing the anti-Semitic charge on anyone critical of Israel, and attacks almost daily, Students for Justice in Palestine and the BDS movement. However, you will not find him attacking the Christian Right for their deeply held theological anti-Semitism because they “love” Israel, host many fundraising dinners to support the IDF and send thousands to visit the Holy Land so as to help Israel’s tourist industry.

Saban’s attack was echoed in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) press release on the 1st of December 2016, in which Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the organization’s CEO, stated that “new information that has come to light since Rep. Keith Ellison’s announced candidacy for chair of the Democratic National Committee raises ‘serious doubts’ about his ability to faithfully represent the party’s traditional support for Israel.” Greenblatt’s statement, indirectly and in a more sophisticated manner, tarred Ellison with the anti-Semitism brush. Claiming that “whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives, but that has no place in open societies like the U.S.”. According to Greenblatt, “These comments sharply contrast with the Democratic Committee platform position.”

While Ellison did get support from J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and 300 Jewish leaders from liberal leaning groups, the mainstream American Jewish organizations rallied to oppose Ellison’s election. The division between the older and younger generations in the American Jewish community was reflected in the DNC chairmanship campaign and, despite the outcome, it will be hardly resolved in the near future.

Mainstream organizations of the American Jewish community took a very antagonistic and hostile stand against one of the two national Muslim elected political figures in Congress at a time that called for rallying to his side in a critical period in the history of this country. Indeed, Israel’s interests are apparently far more important to them than standing on principle. One may ask the question of the same groups that attacked Ellison regarding their views on Steve Bannon and the alt-right in the White House, including Dershowitz, who mounted a vociferous defense of Bannon on CNN.

Keith Ellison’s attempt at securing the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee was foiled by pro-Israel groups and their allies who engaged in a systematic campaign of defamation to disrupt the rise of the highest-ranking Muslim serving in a public office in today’s America. The campaign took shape despite Ellison’s hard work and, may I say wrongly, to please the pro-Israel crowd by issuing a troubling statement on the BDS movement and coordinating his position on Israel with NY Senator Chuck Schumer.

Mainstream American Jewish organizations stood in vehement opposition to Ellison because they deemed him “not good for Israel,” which would be the only measure of acceptability by the avowed Zionist crowd. While I strongly disagreed with Ellison’s statement on BDS and the framing of the Palestine-Israel problem in the campaign effort this does not mean that I will not defend him when it comes to charges of anti-Semitism and the attempt to squeeze more political concessions in Israel’s favor.

While ADL’s case might be understood given its long history of policing Israel-related matters, the opposition from the American Jewish Committee raises serious questions regarding the viability of the newly formed Jewish-Muslim advisory council. An email that circulated from the American Jewish Committee illustrated a similar line of attack directed at Ellison, which urged a vote against him for the DNC chair. Thus, the AJC’s effort to forge an alliance with American Muslim communities to counter Islamophobia and anti-Semitism stands hollow considering the frontal assault on Ellison’s candidacy and the attempts at tarnishing his character. What is the point of creating an alliance to counter Islamophobia if AJC is committed to countering the empowerment and civil society visibility of American Muslims?

In an article by Rafael Medoff from the 17th of November 2016, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind asks “Does Senator Schumer actually believe that there is literally not a single other person in the Democratic Party, anywhere in the country, who would be a better choice than Ellison? Why is Schumer in such a rush to support a candidate who is so unfriendly to Israel?”. A later article on Ellison by Medoff published on the 28th of February quotes Dr. Harold Brackman, “a scholar of black-Jewish relations and expert on the Nation of Islam,” who says that Ellison’s “near-miss” should be “disconcerting, not only to friends of Israel, but to those concerned about indications of a rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents in this country as well as worldwide.” In this article, a link is drawn between Ellison’s campaign and the rise of anti-Semitism without taking a minute to address the rise of the alt-right all the way into the White House.

The organized opposition against Ellison also included a petition initiated by the Hindu-Jewish Alliance, which–in urging people to sign–referenced a long statement by the Hindu American Foundation and the ADL’s own press release. The Alliance’s petition read in part: “We wish to acknowledge the deep and abiding ties that the Hindu-American and Jewish-American communities have to India and Israel, as well as the long-standing and loyal support that members of both these communities have given to the Democratic Party in the U.S. political arena.” It is clear that a coordinated campaign to defeat and demonize Keith Ellison on the basis of anti-Semitism was afoot with the intense participation and engagement of key mainstream American Jewish organizations.

Critically, the material that was used by the ADL and referenced by mainstream American Jewish organizations like AJC and others originated in Steve Emerson’s neo-McCarthyite outfit, the Investigative Project on Terrorism. For a long time, mainstream American Jewish organizations like the ADL and AJC have been incubators for Islamophobia and provided civil society legitimacy to well-known and well-documented members of the Islamophobia industry, including Emerson himself, Daniel Pipes, and Frank Gaffney, to name some of the best known. Accountability on Islamophobia and defamation of American Muslim organizations and leaders can’t be erased or forgotten by merely attending a rally, or showing up at a mosque or on airport steps. What is needed from the leaders of ADL, AJC and JCRC is to publically dissociate their organizations from individuals and groups that demonize Islam and Muslims on a daily basis. In this case, the right action from American Jewish organization would have been to rally around Keith Ellison and the American Muslim community and reject Emerson’s neo-McCarthyite defamation.

Muslims will defend and work to protect Jewish communities because it is the right thing to do and I do believe that American Jews will do the same in defending mosques and religious institutions. The time for alliances based on sound universal principles and indivisible justice worldview is inescapable. Countering Islamophobia means rejecting the structural silencing of Muslim voices including their much-needed past and present critique of Israel. Defeating Keith Ellison means that the Clintons’ machine, which moved the Democratic Party to the right, will continue to hold the reign of power while essentially becoming indistinguishable from the Republican Party. Here, the mainstream American Jewish organizations are participants in cementing the weakening of the Democratic Party in return for preserving Israel’s interests in the U.S. while shifting to embrace America’s rightwing worldview for the same reason.

I do believe that the moment for a courageous political, social, and economic faith-based coalition is upon us in the U.S. but a litmus test on Israel is no longer a viable or defensible position. What benefits Israel does not benefit American Jews, American Muslims or the working class across the country. Trump’s election should be a wake-up call to everyone, signaling that the existing political machine is broken and a new direction should be developed. During the development process, an honest and open debate on Israel as a domestic, disrupting factor should be undertaken, as a progressive and faith-based agenda is not possible without addressing the Israel elephant in the room.

This article was originally published on March 14, 2017, on Hatem Bazian’s blog here. 

About Hatem Bazian

Dr. Hatem Bazian is a co-founder and Professor of Islamic Law and Theology at Zaytuna College, the 1st Accredited Muslim Liberal Arts College in the United States. In addition, Prof. Bazian is a lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Bazian between 2002-2007, also served as an adjunct professor of law at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He teaches courses on Islamic Law and Society, Islam in America: Communities and Institutions, De-Constructing Islamophobia and Othering of Islam, Religious Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies. In addition to Berkeley, Prof. Bazian served as a visiting Professor in Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California 2001-2007 and adviser to the Religion, Politics and Globalization Center at UC Berkeley. His latest book is "Palestine … it is something colonial" (2016, Amrit Publishers).

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21 Responses

  1. just
    March 22, 2017, 3:27 pm

    Wow.

    Thank you for a most excellent, thoughtful, and long- overdue article, Hatem.

    Your students are fortunate indeed.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 22, 2017, 4:13 pm

      i completely agree. the article really says it all. i am so pissed what they did to ellison. and the clinton team twitter brigades are just brutal lately. also attacking linda sarsour. did you see this thread:

      • Annie Robbins
        March 22, 2017, 4:37 pm

        and one more thing. there’s this dnc hack watchdog on twitter who calls herself ‘riotwomenn’ and she’s got like 40k followers (i have no idea who she is and never heard of her til the other day, and for all i know maybe she’s a collective of women). she comes on that thread and tweets:”You, Linda Sarsour, are a destructive divisive force. You need to get some insight.” to which i responded “how very mean and divisive of you to say.” and there was a little tit for tat and then it was over, no biggie. so she finds me the next day to have the last word and tries to take another stab at sarsour. she writes “Not trying to be a leader. I can be divisive & mean. When I attempt to hijack an entire broad movement to elevate my status, let me know”

        she’s a super b**ch. i blow her off and mention it’s a tad hypocritical accusing others of being divisive, divisively.

        then i wake up this morning to yet another tweet from her (3 days in a row!). by then i’d had it:

        these people are the establishment clinton patrol. they know no bounds. and they pretend to be progressive and pick on/hammer muslim leaders on social media. what kind of BS is that?

      • Keith
        March 22, 2017, 6:48 pm

        ANNIE- (RiotWomenn quote)- “Stein & Bernie … Trump / Putin’s best friends”

        I am not sure if she(?) is including (Jill?) Stein and Bernie Sanders with Trump and Putin, however, the notion that Trump and Putin are “best friends” is the absolutely outlandish meme of Democrat (& Soros?) loyalists. The statement so preposterous that it indicates an irrational level of group solidarity. One doesn’t have to be religious to be a fundamentalist. This irrational demonization of Putin/Russia is logical ONLY as a propaganda offensive leading up to confrontation and possible war. This is McCarthyism on steroids.

      • just
        March 22, 2017, 7:27 pm

        Touché! Nicely done, Annie!!!

        (‘Tis total bs that she/they are spouting, of course.)

        Thanks for keeping me informed, Ms. Annie. ;-) Thank you for all that you do.

  2. yonah fredman
    March 22, 2017, 5:33 pm

    The US is in danger from the trump presidency and the Republican agenda. How to defeat trump and the republicans is an open question. There are those who say that purist progressivism will win at the polls and there are others that say centrism is where the votes are.

    Israel is not an issue that has many votes hanging on it, although it is a litmus test for two groups- the hard lefter than Bernie left and israel supporters in the opposite direction.

    There is no question that the defeat of ellison was due to his stance on israel, too far right for mondoweiss, but certainly too far left for most mainstream supporters of israel. (His vote regarding iron dome puts him out of line for mainstream israel supporters.)

    I myself have two added comments regarding ellison: 1. I respect the left wing jews of Minnesota who have built a relationship with ellison over the years and in general give him the benefit of the doubt based on their testimony. 2. Ellison is a politician, a talented one. But before he decided upon elected office he hung around with farrakhan and the nation of islam much too long. And his loose lips regarding 9/11 and the reichstag fire, I don’t remember precisely, but I do recall loose lips, street corner rabble rouser rhetoric a little too easy off his tongue.

    But I don’t think my specific objections really matter. Israel supporters defeated ellison. He was a useful middleman to negotiate a platform deal with the hillary faction, but if I were a mainstream israel supporter i would have opposed him too.

    The future of the Democratic party seems to be anti israel. And those who are pro israel are not going to let go of the party’s platform so easily.

  3. Philip Weiss
    March 22, 2017, 9:00 pm

    Hatem Bazian’s description of how the politics shook out over the Ellison bid are more straightforward than anything else I’ve read on the subject, including the fact that Ellison made nods to the pro-Israel position. I am hoping Bazian is right about the crisis the ISrael reservation will create in a party bent on solidifying a base that is actually leaning toward Palestinian solidarity. That shakeout has been postponed among Democrats for decades…

    • oldgeezer
      March 23, 2017, 12:35 pm

      @RoHa

      And a US/Israeli (Jewish) individual has been arrested and believed to be the perp of the majority of bomb threat calls against JCC etc. And apparently his father as well. Not totally surlrised by this. While it was speculation in part i did find it suspiscious when the authorities were saying that spoofibg made tracing the calls difficult.

      http://m.jpost.com/#/app/article/484990

      • oldgeezer
        March 23, 2017, 4:14 pm

        @boomer

        The serious illness line would appear to be largely BS unless the illness is normally referred to as DAD.

        His father was also arrested on suspiscion of having made some of tbe calls.

        All i want to know was the motivation creating racial conflicts, manufacturing antisemitism, encouraging aliyah. Some combo of the above.

      • Mooser
        March 24, 2017, 12:11 pm

        “All i want to know was the motivation creating racial conflicts, manufacturing antisemitism, encouraging aliyah. Some combo of the above.”

        Manufactured antisemitism, I can only surmise, is considered a panacea. Cures everything and has no bad side effects.

    • Boomer
      March 23, 2017, 3:50 pm

      re “rising anti-Semitism,” see also http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/teenager-israel-arrested-jcc-bomb-threats-article-1.3006540

      Evidently the young man suffers from a “very serious” medical condition. Perhaps Dr. Mooser should be called in to consult. He often refers to “Ziocaine,” but I’m not sure whether that is the name of the condition, the cause, or the cure.

      • Mooser
        March 23, 2017, 4:45 pm

        “but I’m not sure whether that is the name of the condition, the cause, or the cure.”

        I sure don’t know. I only took a couple of pre-med courses, and never got a mantra.

  4. Kay24
    March 23, 2017, 6:37 am

    Talking about bullying and intimidating, watch this filthy Israeli policeman, show a Palestinian truck driver just how “tough” he can be. Disgusting but not surprising.

    http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.779039

  5. JeffB
    March 23, 2017, 9:39 am

    @Hatem

    I think you fail to get what these 3 groups are offering. They lean mainstream liberals (mainstream Democrats) not leftists. They have no problems with specific alliances on specific issues while opposing the same groups on other issues.

    AJC is pretty specific on their goals. They want an alliance on:
    a) Hate crimes
    b) Workplace discrimination
    c) Immigration

    where they see the two communities as connected. They aren’t naive enough to fail to understand there are deep differences.

    JCRC sees anti-Zionism as equivalent to anti-Islamic rhetoric. So for example in response to the Palestinian bus campaign, “We decry extremist rhetoric that slanders Islam and Muslims, including that which comes from Jews. We expect our Muslim partners to similarly denounce attacks against the Jewish community and Judaism, including those when it comes from adherents within their community. “. They are openly conditional allies against hate. Quite openly part of the conditions of the alliance on hate rhetoric is Muslims not widely preaching anti-Zionism.

    ADL is the leftmost of these groups. The ADL finds fighting leftwing anti-Zionism divisive to their donor base, i.e. the fight against BDS alienated a substantial minority of ADL supporters. Fighting rightwing Antisemitism (or the appearance of it) is unifying to their donor base. Right now the rightwing Antisemitism is mostly kooks, but the rightwing anti-Muslims often express some Antisemetic views. So yes, they will talk about and donate to help vandalized Mosques and try and unify with Muslims around rightwing religious bigotry. But that doesn’t mean there is any desire to discuss much less support anti-Zionism. They will distance themselves from anti-Zionists and likely continue to conflate anti-Zionists with the attitudes of the people who burn down Mosques not the people who worship in them. ADL donors like to believe in a happy world where people’s interests don’t conflict.

    FWIW the fact that Bernie Sanders is not telling his supporters that DNC chair is a fund raising and coordination position not a policy position is more evidence of why he was completely unfit to run the country and should not have been the nominee. I think both Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are good guys I don’t have a problem with either one of them.

    One final comment:

    However, you will not find him attacking the Christian Right for their deeply held theological anti-Semitism

    FWIW I find the Christian Left much more theologically Antisemetic than the Christian right. To an evangelical I’m going to hell for the same reason that a Muslim, Hindu, Animist, fallen Christian or Atheist is: I haven’t accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. There is nothing Antisemetic in that, that’s treating Jews like any other group of heathens. Moreover even in the missions field evangelicals are much more tolerant of Jewish culture as Moody put in the 19th century in reference to Jewish diet, “Our Lord command us to convert the Jews to Christianity not Anglo-Saxonism”. This contrasted strongly with the 19th century mainstream churches which did see Jewish missions as cultural more than religious. Most Jews don’t care about Christian eschatology anymore than they care about Muslim eschatology (which is equally horrific). Heck for that matter Jewish eschatology is pretty awful and people in glass houses….

    Leftwing Christianity often gives Judaism a special place and still embraces replacement theology (as contrasted with evangelical dispensationalism). The NCC anti-Jewish missions scares the hell out of me since this seems to essentially in doctrine (though not in tone) to be embracing the core belief of classical Antisemitism: that Judaism is a genetic evil immune to baptism. That enhances not counters the practical level. I want to be grouped with the heathens and ignored not set apart into a special category. Many leftwing Christian churches are often openly rallying for official state sponsored anti-Israelism. IMHO even if that were to become law there would be too much domestic opposition and the laws would fail to have meaningful effect. But were there a desire for those laws to be successful the domestic opposition would need to be countered and that would perforce translate into viscous Antisemitism. See the history of Stalin’s attacks on Zionism in the Soviet Union for a detailed case study.

    • Mooser
      March 24, 2017, 3:33 pm

      “and that would perforce translate into viscous Antisemitism”

      I don’t think so, “JeffB”. Not any more. These days it will undoubtedly be a multi-viscosity, all-season, petroleum-and-synthetic blend.

      • JeffB
        March 24, 2017, 4:55 pm

        @Mooser

        Autospell corrections strikes again, You got me on that one.

      • Mooser
        March 25, 2017, 1:22 pm

        “JHeffB” one auto-correct mistake doesn’t matter.
        Everybody can see you are one hell of a typist.

  6. genesto
    March 23, 2017, 12:53 pm

    For me, the side-lining of Ellison by the Party establishment was the last straw for me. No longer will I entertain the notion that the Party can be reformed from within. Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the two (corrupt)-party system, no matter how long it takes, will be required to set us on a new, progressive path in this country and away from the current path towards destruction being orchestrated by our nation’s ‘leaders’.

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