The freedom to speak amongst Jews about their enemies was just dealt another blow. The talk Pamela Geller was to give at the Great Neck Synagogue this Sunday, April 16, “The Imposition of Sharia in America,” was cancelled tonight, after months of intimidation inflicted on the synagogue’s rabbi, his board, the synagogue members, and the parents of the children in the Sunday School program. It was shut down by those who are more frightened by the idea of a slim Jewish woman speaking to a group of Jews on a Sunday morning than they are by the enemies of the Jews, about which Geller planned to speak.
Less than three weeks ago The Jewish Press spoke with Geller, the rabbi of Great Neck Synagogue, Dale Polakoff, and the primary opponent at the time of Geller’s shul appearance, Habeeb U. Ahmed, who is a vice president of the Islamic Center of Long Island.
When the story ran, and until just a few hours ago, the synagogue had held firm.
But no one involved with the event anticipated the relentless crush of intimidation, the piling on of additional opponents not of the dangers posed by Sharia law, but of one Jewish woman.
They shut it down.
The rabbi, the members of the shul’s men’s club – that is who invited her to speak – the parents of the children in the GNS Sunday School, everyone was beaten down. They were beaten down by those who hear Geller’s name and don’t see a sassy woman with long hair, they see a waving red cape, like the one held by matadors.
Geller’s opponents become so enraged by the thought of Geller speaking – speaking, mind you, not striking, not hitting, not bombing, not shooting – that they metamorphosed into a herd of stampeding bullies. Geller is the capa, these guys heard her name and they started pawing the ground, snorting, and threatening clergy members, Sunday School children, and parents.
But it isn’t really Geller herself they cannot bear, it is the way she speaks – without apologies – about the dangers of Islamic ideology embodied in Sharia, and that she warns without hesitation that it is encroaching upon this country. That they simply cannot abide.
Geller was scheduled to speak this Sunday. She was going to be introduced at the talk by Greg Buckley, whose son, Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley, Jr., was one of three U.S. Marines killed in a “Green on Blue” insider attack on a military base in the Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Aug 10.
When Geller heard of the cancellation on Wednesday evening, April 10, she was sad, but not shocked.
“There’s a war on free speech, which is exactly what my talk was going to be about. The synagogue board ‘was unable to bear the burden of the extraordinary pressure’ placed on them,” Geller said, quoting from the statement released by the synagogue.
Geller said she understood how it was that the synagogue was unable to withstand the thuggery and intimidation by those who simply could not bear to allow her to talk.
“The synagogue didn’t turn on me, it did what it felt it needed to do to protect the Sunday School children. Once the thugs announced they were going to organize a mob march of leftist Jews and Muslims on the shul on Sunday morning, when all the children are there to attend Sunday School – the parents were terrified and the shul had to respond,” Geller told The Jewish Press, just hours after she learned of the cancellation.
“Still, it’s a sad day. The synagogue should not have had to make a choice between protecting Sunday School children and allowing me to speak about the dangers of Sharia.”
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld is a well-known pro-Israel New Yorker. He happens to be a member of the Great Neck Synagogue, and he spoke with The Jewish Press shortly after Geller’s speech was cancelled.
Wiesenfeld described some of the tactics Geller’s opponents engaged in, in what was ultimately a successful campaign to block her talk at the shul.
“Rabbi Jerome Davidson became involved, and he really riled up their forces. He let it be known that he was organizing a march with some of his congregants and some Muslims from the Westbury Mosque. When parents got wind of that, they turned to the head of the local Jewish day school, and he then turned to the rabbi and began demanding indemnification and who can withstand that kind of tsunami,” asked Wiesenfeld.
Davidson, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, New York, and Michael White, the senior rabbi of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, New York, co-authored an article in The Jewish Week in which they called Geller’s proposed talk “hate speech,” and enthused about their deep and abiding love for their Muslim neighbors.
“We state unequivocally that Geller’s inflammatory rhetoric does not represent us or the great majority of Jews in Great Neck and on Long Island. Hate speech has no place in synagogues. Synagogues should be places for worship, positive dialogue and reasoned political debate,” rabbis White and Davidson wrote. They did not mention the planned march or the waves of orchestrated phone calls, or the threats to the Sunday School children’s physical and emotional well-being.
Wiesenfeld waxed philosophical. “these people think that by shutting down someone like Pamela Geller, they’ll be just a little bit safer. They don’t get it. There was no Pamela Geller at the El Al ticket counter in LA (July 4, 2002 terrorist shooting attack by a Muslim, one person was killed, five injured), there was no Pamela Geller at the Riverside Jewish Center when it was targeted by an Islamist terrorist group in 2009, and there was no Pamela Geller at the Seattle Jewish Federation Building (in July, 2006, a Muslim man entered the offices and shot six women, one fatally).”
“With each success in stifling any discussion about our mortal enemies, it becomes that much harder to have that discussion at the next event. And once the discussion cannot even be held, it becomes that much easier to take the next step, and things will not be good for your children and your grandchildren,” intoned Wiesenfeld.
“What’s next?” Wiesenfeld asked rhetorically, then answered his own question, “they’ll be dancing in the streets. Our enemies laugh and say to each other, ‘we know how to screw these Jews, these Jews are just chickens, while we believe in what we do and we will fight for what we believe. Nah, actually those liberal Jews will do the fighting for us, they’ll help us to bury those other Jews.’”
Wiesenfeld has seen too many fights like these lately to be anything but bitter.
Geller was more subdued than usual. She was dismayed that her talk was shut down, but she understood that once her opponents, the Muslims and the liberal Jews alike, were willing to put the safety of Jewish Sunday School children at risk, or simply to allow their Jewish parents to believe there was a risk to their children, her talk would be cancelled.
The willingness to be barbaric enough to use children as a pawn proves Geller’s points about who are the savages and their enablers, but it is a hollow victory.
“It’s a shanda,” Geller said, as the interview ended.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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