The controversy over my appearance last month in Canada, after the police pressured a dhimmi rabbi into canceling the initial venue planned for my talk, just keeps roiling. Today in the Toronto Star, another dhimmi rabbi piles on. Right on the heels of three anti-Semitic attacks in Montreal, another Canadian rabbi sees fit to condemn…a fellow Jew.
Put religious emphasis on best practices: Marmur: Rabbis right to express disappointment with invitation to anti-Islamic blogger. By Dow Marmur in the Toronto Star, June 10, 2013 (thanks to Blazing Cat Fur)
The late Krister Stendahl, bishop of Stockholm and dean of Harvard Divinity School, taught that people engaged in interfaith work should always compare the best in their own religion with the best in that of others. This has helped me not to judge Christianity by the anti-Semitism in some of its teachings and not to condemn Islam because Islamist extremists cause havoc in different parts of the world.
Reform Rabbi Marmur is stating the problem in false terms. My work is not about condemning Islam; it’s about defending human rights. It may be wrong to judge Christianity by the anti-Semitism in some of its teachings, but it would be equally wrong, or worse, to avoid confronting and challenging Christian anti-Semitism wherever it appears just because some Christians are not anti-Semitic. And genuinely non-anti-Semitic Christians should not object to a challenge to Christian anti-Semites; indeed, they should join in such a challenge. At Vatican II, the Catholic Church repudiated Christian anti-Semitism — why can’t we get Muslims to repudiate jihad, Islamic supremacism, Islamic Jew-hatred, etc? If “Islamist extremists” are causing havoc, it is not wrong to challenge them and ask Muslims who supposedly reject “extremism” to address the Islamic teachings that give rise to that “extremism,” and to reject and reform those teachings. And genuinely peaceful Muslims should be calling for the same thing, and standing with us.
Stendahl’s stricture has also made me stay away from Jews who compare the best in Judaism with the worst in other religions. In view of recent incidents in Boston, London and Paris, and riots in Stockholm and elsewhere, a lot of people are prone to such distortions of Islam.
Yeah, and they’re the jihadists in Boston, London, and Paris. Each one explained his actions by referring to Islamic teaching. The rabbi is falling into the Islamic supremacist trap of thinking that it’s “Islamophobic” for non-Muslims to point out that jihadists use Islamic texts and teachings to justify their actions, and to call on Muslims who claim to reject this understanding of Islam to do something effective to counter it.
One of them is the American-Jewish blogger Pamela Geller. Echoing statements by responsible Jewish leaders in the United States, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has described her in a recent Jerusalem Post column as “a bigot and a purveyor of hate.”
Where was Rabbi Eric Yoffie countering ‘hate’ when the Fogel family was murdered in Israel? Or when the Chabad house was targeted for a bloody jihad attack in Mumbai? Or when Christians are persecuted on an increasingly frequent and violent basis in Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere? Instead, he opposes me for standing up against this real hatred. My full response to Yoffie’s smears is here.
On the eve of her appearance here, the Toronto Board of Rabbis issued a statement expressing “profound disappointment” with the Jewish organization that had invited her.
In condemning me, just like Marmur, they didn’t cite one quote from me: not one. I have written three books, hundreds of articles, 26,000-plus blog posts, and they can’t find one quote. But they will give chum to the sharks by pitting Jew against Jew. It is the mission of the yehudim to speak the truth. Shame on Marmur and the other rabbis. They’re guilty of lashon hara, the evil gossip that is a lie. And a large number of people were enraged with these traitorous quislings for attacking a fellow Jew who is working in defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and individual rights.
The primary purpose of the statement seems to have been to mend fences and build bridges between local Muslims and Jews. Its authors expressed the fear that Geller’s customary rants against Islam would create tensions between the two communities.
“Rants against Islam,” i.e. condemnations of Islamically-justified Jew-hatred, kuffar-hatred, wife beating, honor killing, clitoridectomies, murder of apostates, denial of the freedom of speech, and so much more. Those people can just suffer — we don’t want to rant against Islam.
Addressing worshippers at the Beth Tzedec Congregation of which he’s the spiritual leader, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, currently also the president of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, provided further background: “The leadership of the Board of Rabbis felt that Geller’s words and presence would negatively impact on our efforts to work with the Islamic community to control and limit their more radical elements.”
He elaborated: “We want to strengthen the moderates, not alienate them. We recognize the anxiety, fear and concern that many fellow Jews feel, but do not want to be overreactive and turn into a negative force that could be injurious to ourselves and others. We must be vigilant, but to be victorious against extremism, we must be able to distinguish between true and imaginary dangers.”
Why would it alienate true moderates to discuss the elements of Islam that need reform and the violent and supremacist actions that make that reform necessary? They’re supposed to be against the violence and in favor of the reform, right?
A few days after Rabbi Frydman-Kohl’s address, I had the privilege to speak at an event co-sponsored by the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims and Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. The purpose was to explore teachings and practices of charity in the two religions.
Eschewing inflammatory politics and divisive theology, the evening was devoted to helping Jews and Muslims work together for the good of all and to explain to each other how religious commitment should lead to social action. It was interfaith at its finest: comparing best with best.
Did it prevent the recent Canadian jihad plot to blow up a train heading to New York? No. Why not? Did participants even address the elements of Islam that give rise to such plots, and discuss ways to keep such plots from arising in the future? No. So what good was this meeting?
I witnessed something similar at the international interfaith conference in Qatar to which I made reference in a previous column. There, too, the emphasis was on best practices.
Previously I had participated in such work through Ontario’s Interfaith Social Action Reform Coalition (ISARC). Its stress has always been on tangible results in addition to, and sometimes instead of, theological proclamations.