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How Pro-Israel Forces Drove Two Virulent Anti-Muslim Campaigns

Right-wing Islamophobes used Israel as a cudgel to attack the legitimacy of a Boston mosque and Brooklyn school.

A demonstrator warns of Islamic law during a protest against the construction of the Park 51 Islamic center in lower Manhattan.
Photo Credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons


In the years since the 9/11 attacks, attempts to open a mosque, a Muslim cultural center, or an Arabic-themed public school have resulted in full-fledged, sometimes well-coordinated, Islamophobic campaigns that have lasted months or even years and have struck at Muslim and Arab communities in different parts of the country. Some of these anti-Muslim campaigns make it into the national news, but many do not. Yet all have national significance, because they involve attempts by mainstream groups and anti-Islam ideologues to dehumanize and demonize Muslims, portray them as a threat to the country, and undercut their basic civil, religious, and human rights.

Two post-9/11 campaigns are prominent examples of this type of Islamophobia in action. The first was the organized attempt to block construction of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) Cultural Center in Roxbury (2002-2007). Until recently, the controversy over its opening appeared to have largely died down. In the aftermath of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the same individuals and groups that had led the drive to stop the ISB Cultural Center seized the opportunity to once again malign the ISB. The second campaign opposed New York City’s Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), the country’s first Arabic dual language public school, and attacked its founding principal, Debbie Almontaser (2007-2010).

These campaigns have much in common with each other and with other anti-Muslim campaigns across the country. Hardline pro-Israel members of what the Center for American Progress has called “the Islamophobia Network in America” played important roles in these two crusades—fear-mongering, providing misinformation, and using the right-wing media and blogosphere—and they continue to foment anti-Islam sentiment. [1]  Most disturbingly, the Islamophobia comes not only from people viewed as fringe or from those who commit hate crimes, but also, significantly, from the mainstream, those with the power of government and other institutions behind them. 

The campaigns against the ISB Cultural Center and KGIA also illustrate how, when Israel enters the equation, many Jewish groups, public figures, and institutions (including those that claim to oppose Islamophobia) take positions based on their implacable commitment to Israeli policies. [2]  Israel politics were pivotal to each of the two campaigns.

1. The Campaign against the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center: 2002-2007

The campaign against the ISB Cultural Center began more than a decade ago. The Center opened in 2009 and now serves much of the Boston-area Muslim community. In the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, key individuals who had precipitated the multi-year anti-mosque campaign surfaced once again to drag the ISB into the national spotlight. To understand the earlier campaign in the context of more recent events, we begin here with the post-Marathon events and then return to the beginning of the anti-mosque campaign.

Almost as soon as the news broke about the Marathon bombings, anti-Muslim ideologues, in the absence of any evidence, made allegations linking those acts with Muslims and Arabs. Steven Emerson claimed erroneously on C-SPAN that he had been “privy” to “certain classified information" indicating a Saudi man was responsible for the bombings. [3]  Emerson had also provided misinformation during the long Boston anti-mosque campaign. [4]

Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), a group whose origins are rooted in vehemently pro-Israel and anti-Muslim/anti-Arab politics joined Emerson in the anti-Muslim charge following the Marathon bombings. [5]  APT is the most recent incarnation of Citizens for Peace and Tolerance (CPT), formed in 2004 to help spearhead the Boston campaign against the ISB Cultural Center. [6]  Charles Jacobs, the central figure, helped form CPT and now leads APT. Jacobs co-founded CAMERA, the right-wing Israel watchdog group, and founded the David Project, a pro-Israel hasbara (propaganda) group. [7]  

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