Tying together a long history of Jewish social justice activism–think Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel participating alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches–Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No! gathered in Rockefeller Plaza on the first night of Chanukah to call for an end to the virulent and growing Islamophobia facing Muslims in the United States.
Members of the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition held up nine candle placards to represent each candle of the Chanukah menorah in a poignant action against the varied and pervasive forms of Islamophobia and racism that exist within American society. The coalition identified eight commitments corresponding to the eight candles; the first night’s commitment stating “We will not be silent about anti-Muslim and racist hate speech and hate crimes.” Among the holiday and tourist crowds, demonstrators called out their commitment to fight Islamophobic hatred and violence, punctuating the directives with songs of resistance and tolerance like “This Little Light of Mine.” Some people scoffed, some shouted back–and some joined the demonstration.
A man who gave his name as Parviz was walking by with a friend and asked to hold up a sign that said “Solidarity”. Originally from Uzbekistan, Parviz is a Muslim American living in Brooklyn who is tired of what he called the mainstream media incitement against Muslim communities. “Generations of Muslims growing up will be afraid,” Parviz worried, adding that even he is afraid to “read the word Muslim or Islam in the news,” for fear it will be in the oft-repeated xenophobic narrative.
The concerted racist hatred of the U.S. rightwing is perhaps most obvious in the rhetoric of billionaire GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump who over the course of his campaign has proposed a plan to register all Muslim Americans in a national database as well as ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition spokeswoman Dorothy Zellner told Mondoweiss, “people in every community everywhere have got to stand up now. This is a critical moment. I mean when open, fascist statements are being made and they’re not being contradicted…we have to, we absolutely have to stand up. So as Jews we have to because we know what happens when you don’t.”
Zellner further pointed out the hypocrisy plaguing mainstream media when it comes to dealing with suspected terrorists. Referring to the mass shooting in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility on November 27 that left 3 dead and 9 others wounded, Zellner called out the double standard of Muslim terrorism versus Christian terrorism.
“You have a crazed Christian fanatic you know who just did it a week ago, who just shot up people a week ago, and truly the critics are right: I mean, nobody called this a Christian terrorism.” Zellner dated the lenient treatment of white Christian political violence to the 1950s and ‘60s, adding “coming from the Civil Rights movement, I assure you, no white person who bombed a church and firebombed somebody’s home was ever called a terrorist. Ever ever ever. They were never called white, they were never called terrorist, they were never called Christians.”
The Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition is holding similar events in 15 different U.S. cities on each night of Chanukah, in an effort to spread actions against Islamophobia and rekindle the “commitment to justice.” The other cities are Miami; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; New Haven; Portland; Oregon; Durham; Columbus, Ohio; Seattle; Atlanta; Boston; Ithaca; Springfield; Denver and Providence. Activists will also reconvene in all 15 cities on December 13, the last night of the holiday.
Reiterating the need for members of the American Jewish community to get involved in combatting anti-Muslim sentiment, Zellner stated unequivocally, “We have to stand up now against the hysteria–we absolutely have to. And if we don’t, we know what the end is.”