On the Islamophobia Train: The Rabbi and the Imam
by Phyllis Chesler and Fern Sidman
As Islamist terrorists are being arrested in Baku for a plot to attack both the American and Israeli Embassies; as Muslims torture, murder, and exile Christians from their native Arab lands; as Hamas constantly bombards Israeli civilians with rockets launched from Gaza; even as Iran is threatening to send many "caravans of tens of thousands" of hostile Iranians to march on Jerusalem—guess what subject drew 225 eager audience members and the media to an upper west side Jewish Community Center?
The subject du jour was:"Combating Islamophobia," which featured panelists Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali. The moderator: None other than former First Daughter, Chelsea Clinton.
Why are Jews confusing "Islamophobia" with anti-Semitism? One understands why Muslims who are used to feeling superior to all other religions, would want to assume whatever remains of Jewish victimhood and make it their own in order to gain sympathy for real and imaginary slights and for terrorist aggression—but why are Jews enabling them to do so?
In 2008, the FBI found that 66.1% of religious hate crimes in America targeted Jews, but only 7.5% of religious hate crimes targeted Muslims. Another 2011 study shows that religious bias crimes against Muslim Americans have remained relatively low, with a downward trend since 2001, and are significantly less than the numbers of bias crimes against Jewish victims.
Nevertheless, Islamists claim that Muslims are suffering far more than Jews in America.
Are Rabbi Schneier and his partner,, Imam Shamsi Ali, the leaders we need?
Rabbi Schneier is quite the man about town. He has landed in the media many times both for his interfaith work. He runs a very popular synagogue in Westhampton Beach on Long Island, which offers non-stop entertainment, lectures, films, gatherings, communal hot lunches and dinners, as well as religious services. He is also the son of Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the long-time rabbi of Park East Synagogue, who began the tradition of having politicians and celebrities address his congregants.
Rabbi Marc Schneier is listed as the Principal Officer of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. According to its 2010 tax returns, the Foundation reported gross receipts of $825,638.00 for 2010; and receipts totaling nearly 3.7 million dollars for the period between 2006 and 2010. Rabbi Schneier is listed as the President/Principal Officer; among others, Russell Simmons and Alexander Machkevitch are listed as Directors. Machkevitch is a well-known billionaire from Kyrgyzstan and Israel, so he may have funded some of the work of this Foundation.
What about Schneier's media partner?
Imam Shamsi Ali replaced Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha, the Imam for the Cultural Center at the time of the September 11th attacks, who blamed Jews for the attack: "Only Jews" could have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and "if it became known to the American people, they would have done to Jews what Hitler did.".
One wonders whether the congregation has since forsaken its radical stance, became more tolerant, and less Jew-hating under the leadership of Imam Shamsi Ali. If so, the Imam is indeed a miracle worker. He is Indonesian. On videos, his voice and manner are unassuming, soft, non-threatening, modest. The fact that he is not a bombastic anger-fueled Arab allows his statements about "Islam being a religion of peace" to sound eminently believable.
In person, the Imam is very likeable and charming. However, his stances on key issues are less so.
I arrived at the Jewish Community Center and found that a protest organized by Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Christian activists was in progress. Banners held aloft read: "What Are Muslims Doing for Peace? Burning Churches, Honor Murdering Women. Where is the Muslim Protest?" "Since 9/11, Radical Islamists Committed 11,961 Attacks, Killed 75,038, Injured 115,255."
Inside, the panelists tip-toed through the tulips and landmines, with a well-meaning, well-practiced display of earnestness, "goodness," love, mutual admiration, and perhaps some self-admiration as well. There was no mention of terrorism, Islamism, or Islamic gender and religious apartheid.
Ms. Clinton, poised and unruffled, noted that "We are being protested against" which she considers a "positive sign. That means we are talking about something important."
Rabbi Schneier's manner was stiffer.
"Seven years ago, my friend, Russell Simmons, challenged me to close the divide, narrow the chasm between Muslims and Jews. And now, we are the international address for Muslim-Jewish relations."
Imam Shamsi Ali radiated warmth and good-natured humor. He defined 'Islamophobia" as "fear of Islam based on ignorance. People are fearful for no reason. Islam has been portrayed very badly in the media."
Rabbi Schneier defined "Islamophobia" as "anti-Muslim discrimination." "As a Jew, and as rabbi, I have a responsibility to speak out. I expect my Muslim brothers and sisters to do the same, to speak out about anti-Semitism."
The Rabbi and the Imam elicited laughter as they each explained that the Muslims are the "best" people (to follow God's right path) and the Jews are the "chosen" people--chosen to behave ethically.
Imam Shamsi Ali urged Muslims to reinterpret the Qu'ran. "Taking a camel to Mecca in our age, does not mean a camel. A jumbo jet is more like it."
Jumbo jet? Are they actually, finally, going to discuss the jumbo jets of 9/11?
No such candor.
Imam Shamsi Ali suggested that the word "jihad" needs to be re-interpreted. "We, the rabbi and I, are doing a jihad for peace. This is a big part of my jihad."
During the panel discussion, Rabbi Schneier proudly reminded us of their joint protest against the Peter King hearing. The Rabbi viewed his Foundation's "I Am A Muslim" Times Square event as a landmark, a benchmark, for Muslim-Jewish relations. He said: "We have to stand in the streets."
Proudly, Rabbi Schneier discussed a phone call he received from Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. He talked about Ellison getting together ten Muslim leaders who, for the first time, wrote to the head of Hamas about releasing Israeli captive Gilad Shalit. And then, they got ten more Muslim religious leaders from France to do likewise. Schneier said:
"Shalit's father told me: Rabbi, don't underestimate what this means."
I was stunned. How many well-fed terrorists did Israel have to return in order to receive that poor, undernourished, practically concentration camp- skinny Israeli soldier? It was 1,027.
The Rabbi and the Imam spoke about their "twinning" programs which pair a synagogue with a mosque. This is hopeful and interesting idea. Such programs takes place only one a year but on many continents: North America, Europe, and upcoming, South America.
They did not mention such programs in the Arab Middle East or in Muslim Asia. Nor did they discuss the colossal failure of their Buffalo "twinning" program where a Jew-hating radical Sheikh blindsided a group of well-intentioned Rabbis.
Ultimately, the evening was disappointing. It was really boring because too much was avoided. Too much "feel good" Kool-aid was passed around. Everyone seemed to be drinking it. What was not said was far more important than what was said.
The Imam was very sweet, modest. He always referred to the Qu'ran as the "holy Qu'ran." He was proud to be in America where people can so freely engage with each other.
The Rabbi quoted Burke, Neimoller, and towards the end, Maimonides.
Rabbi Schneier is a Court Jew, who is profiting from the gravy train of the "interfaith" business. He is fiddling while Israel and the world burn. He is part of a grand taqqiya effort to present Muslims in a time of Islamism as peaceful partners. He is on a mission to persuade Jews to become agreeable dhimmis "for their own good;" otherwise, things will go badly for them and for other infidels. He thinks of himself as a great man. We have seen this sort of thing before.
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