There will be those who say that because I am writing to support my Muslim brothers and sisters today, in the face of “radicalization hearings” in the US Congressman by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), that I am a self-hating Jew, a naive and uninformed clergy person who is selling out my own people. “How can you support Muslims when they hate Israel?” I will be asked. “Why do you defend the terrorists?” people will yell at me. I can only imagine the comments that will appear below this post in a few hours. And yet, because I am Jewish, because I am a clergy person, because I am the chair of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative (AFPI), a group of over 50 Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders in Southern California, and because I am an American, it is even more important and crucial to me that I stand up and speak out against these hearings. Being a member of a minority group, one that has faced hostile and violent attacks throughout our history, I empathize with the Muslim-Americans today, many whom I am proud to call friends and colleagues, as they face increased hostility and anger from people acting out of fear and ignorance. For, at the end of the day, all racism and intolerance and hatred, at its core, stems from fear and ignorance. So, let me say this at the outset: I know that there are radical Muslim terrorist groups, around the world and in America, and we should be fearful of them and work to defeat them. Yet, racism comes when we see any Muslim and think that they are a terrorist. That is ignorance and that breeds fear. As a Jew, I have been stereotyped my whole life, and now that I wear a yarmulke everyday, I out myself and call attention to myself. People feel free to tell me what they love about Judaism, or that they know someone Jewish and wonder if I know that person (that is the nice nice and funny part), but people also feel free to give me unsolicited input on what they think of Israel, or ask me why we are controlling the banks, the media, Hollywood, or any other canard that we Jews have lived with for centuries. I know many Muslims and they are kind, caring, smart, funny, hardworking and loving people. If he is interested, I would invite Rep. King to join me at a meeting of our interfaith group so that he can sit with, talk with and get to know many law-abiding, hardworking, proud Muslim-Americans or American-Muslims, however they chose to be identified. Knowledge and personal relations are two huge keys to overcoming fear and racism.
It is very complicated and challenging, I will admit, to be in interfaith relationships, for it means having to come face to face with hard truths about one another, having to sit together in times of anger, fear and anxiety. I have been in working interfaith relationships for years, starting when I was in rabbinical school and participated in NCCJ, and I can tell you that it is not easy, but it is so important and incredibly rewarding. It is not easy when Israelis and Palestinians are bombing one another, be it in Gaza or Lebanon, and we sit together, Muslims, Christians and Jews and share our feelings. But, over time, and with the building of trust, there is truly no other place that I want to be, for we are all involved in the crisis and we all need to hear from one another. When you only talk to people you agree with, when you only sit with those like you, change is impossible. I would be fine with Rep. King calling hearings on the radicalization of terror groups in America, but why is he not calling Christian white supremacist groups to Washington, many of whom have been plotting and calling for the assassination of our president? Why is he not calling radical Jewish groups who help to fund the radical settlers in the West Bank, many of whom Israelis themselves call terrorists? Why is he not calling vigilante groups in Arizona who are taking the law into their own hands and policing our borders illegally? Why is he not calling the thousands of armed militias in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho that are plotting the overthrow of the American government? These groups are all pretty ‘radical,’ don’t you think? By singling out Muslims, he is showing his bias in full light and that is why many of us have been speaking out and standing up against these hearings. We have seen it before, too many times to recount here, and we know where it can lead: Jews, Japanese, Mexican, blacks, Communists, Socialists, and many others have been singled out. Dangers to society who must be stopped. So now it is the Muslims, and we need to stand up and say no. Deal with the dangerous people and leave innocent people alone.
I am not that interested in the names that people may call me; as I teach my children, name calling is for the weak and it offers nothing positive or constructive to society. So, as I stand up and speak out for the rights of my Muslim friends to not be lumped into a stereotypical group as “terrorists,” I take courage from the great men and women of the past who challenged the groupthink of society and helped us to see the error of our ways. I speak out today against labeling and vitriol, which was on full display recently in Orange County when elected officials from the city council and House members, speaking at a rally outside a Muslim fundraiser that I and many of my Muslim friends agree did have controversial and not ideal speakers, called all Muslims terrorists, and one councilwoman actually said, “my son is a proud Marine and I know many Marines who would gladly come down here and show these terrorists a quick entry to paradise.” She issued a death threat from the dais. The event was attended by men, women and children. And they applauded and cheered. As I said, people have the right to protest anything in America, even with hate speech (the Supreme Court upheld that last week), but should elected officials be permitted to speak such vitriol with impunity? Many interfaith leaders here in Southern California are calling for this councilwoman to apologize to her district, which obviously includes many Muslims.
And that is why tonight, on the very same day these hearings are happening in the Congress, our Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative will be at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, bringing Muslims, Christians and Jews to the speak to the faculty, staff and administrators, followed by a session with the student body. We will be modeling in public the conversations that we have in private, attempting to show the students that it is possible to discuss hard issues, to disagree strongly, to express passionate viewpoints, without name calling, disrespect, intolerance or accusations. Through our work, and through the good work of many organizations around the country that are speaking out, we hope that these hearings in Congress will be exposed for the sad and twisted expression of “democracy” that they are, in the same way that their antecedents were exposed. Stereotyping was wrong in the past, Rep. King, and it is wrong today.
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