Jewish Voice For Peace’s Statement on Contemporary Islamophobia.

Those brave few who read my various articles/essays etc. will know how much I admire Jewish Voice For Peace. The following text is their statement on the Islamphobic sentiments recurrent in the United States at the moment (hyperlinks in the original).

Dear Supporter,

Within the next ten days, Jewish people will welcome a New Year, even as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan draws to a close. These are times of special significance for us, and yet these joyous occasions are marred by what is happening in the world around us.

The so-called peace talks are beginning today under the shadow of ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine. In the United States, we are approaching the anniversary of 9/11, and the rising tide of manufactured bigotry against Muslims is reaching a new high.

As the peace talks begin, we condemn the murder of the four Israeli settlers last Tuesday in the occupied West Bank. Violence against civilians, any civilians, is never the answer.

We also note that while the U.S. government condemned Tuesday’s brutal attack, it never condemned even the assault on Gaza almost two years ago, when over 1400 people, mostly civilian, including over 400 children, were killed.  This disproportionate response is an indicator of the apparent inability of the U.S. to be an “honest broker” in these talks. (You can find two sobering analyses of the upcoming talks in these two pieces: Hoping Against Hope and Top Ten Reasons for Skepticism.)

As difficult as the situation is in Palestine and Israel, we cannot ignore what is happening in the United States. As Jews, we feel an obligation and a responsibility to speak up for the rights of all of our citizens and residents — rights that we should enjoy regardless of religion or ethnicity. We are gravely concerned by the new wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice — including violence and threats of public burnings of the Qur’an — that the planned building of an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan has brought to light.

We are particularly disappointed by the role being played by some leading Jewish-American institutions, founded to promote human rights and democracy, that are standing now on the side of bias and prejudice. When the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the American Jewish Committee oppose the unconditional rights of Muslim-Americans to build their mosque, they oppose the religious freedoms of all Americans and the Jewish values we all share.

Sadly, the decision of organizations like these not to vigorously fight for the rights of Muslim Americans appears to be rooted in their impression that bias and prejudice against Muslims is advantageous to Israel. On the one hand, we hear false and misleading claims of anti-Semitism to silence critics, on the other, are the appeals to Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism to foster alienation from the Palestinians and their struggle for human rights and dignity. This is not good for Americans, not good for Israelis, and not good for Palestinians.

Just as the hurtful and dangerous rhetoric is increasing in New York, so it is increasing in Israel. Just last week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual head of the Shas Party, a member of the governing coalition, repeated his 2001 admonition for the annihilation of Arabs, adding, “It is forbidden to be merciful to them.”

Turning back to the U.S., as we are honoring our holidays, American Muslim leaders have expressed fear that when Muslims gather to celebrate the end of Ramadan, their gatherings might be wrongly interpreted as a celebration of the 9/11 attacks. We remember darker times when we Jews celebrated Passover in fear because of the heightened potential for blood libel accusations and pogroms.  We remember when our sacred books were burned in public square. We wish our Muslim brothers and sisters a joyous and safe holiday.

We are now in the time of Teshuvah (repentance). We call on all Jewish leaders and on all our Jewish brothers and sisters to pause and reflect. As we start a new year, we ask all of you to join us in reaffirming a shared commitment to confronting Islamaphobia and anti-Arab racism with the same determination we have when facing anti-Semitism.

Shannah Tovah and Ramadan Kareem,

Sydney Levy
Jewish Voice for Peace