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How the Jewish Establishment's Litmus Test on Israel Fuels Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Islamophobic assumptions are at the core of the “good Muslim-bad Muslim” paradigm.

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Rabbi Paley was, as the  Forward noted, “speaking from experience.” In 2007, his employer, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), had ”ordered him not to speak on the issue anymore” after he had publicly defended Debbie Almontaser, principal of the country’s first Arabic dual language public school, when she and the fledgling school she helped found were under attack by Islamophobes. Those campaigning against her tried to link her with “Intifada NYC” T-shirts made by members of an Arab young women’s group—a connection her opponents fabricated and that even anti-Islam ideologue Daniel Pipes admitted was “most tenuous.” Islamophobes who had already attacked the proposed Arabic dual language school as an attempt, as Frank Gaffney said, to establish an Islamist “beachhead in Brooklyn” stepped up their smear campaign when a New York Post interviewer distorted Almontaser’s response to a question about “the origin of the word ‘intifada.’” Almontaser was forced to resign in 2007 after public officials, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later determined, "succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel...."

Explicit or not, the “good Muslim-bad Muslim” construct is, along with Israel politics, intertwined with issues of funding. We learned about one such instance in our September 2011 interview with Rabbi Joseph Berman, who, as a rabbinical student, was a member of Jews Support the Mosque, one of the Jewish groups that stood up to opponents of a mosque in Boston. The David Project, a Jewish group that supports right-wing Israeli politics and targets those critical of Israeli policies, led a campaign (together with other hard-line pro-Israel groups and individuals) against the proposed mosque. This campaign, also supported by the local Jewish Community Relations Council, Combined Jewish Philanthropy, and Anti-Defamation League, had as its centerpiece allegations that current or past local Muslim leaders included “bad Muslims,” whom other Jews should oppose. People were afraid to support the mosque, Rabbi Berman said, because they feared that the David Project would “go after them” by persuading Jewish philanthropists that they were supporting the “bad Muslims” and should, therefore, stop funding their organizations.

Similarly, some Jewish funders set guidelines designed to prevent activism they consider anti-Israel and to deter groups, including those challenging Islamophobia, from working with individuals or organizations that the funders don’t consider “kosher.” In 2010, for instance, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation issued new funding guidelines for the Bay Area stating that the Federation won’t fund organizations that through “their mission, activities or partnerships, endorse or promote anti-Semitism, other forms of bigotry, violence or other extremist views” or “advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state.” The Federation suggests that groups check with the Jewish Community Relations Council about “potentially controversial programs.” (According to the Center for American Progress, the Federation gave $75,000 between 2008 and 2009 to the Clarion Fund, which was a major force behind the distribution in 2008 of the virulently anti-Muslim film, Obsession, which links Nazis to both Palestinians and Muslims.)

The Federation clearly instituted its guidelines to target groups organizing for justice for the Palestinian people and to prevent their political work. In doing so, these guidelines encourage organizations to conflate anti-Semitism with particular political positions on Israel/Palestine. As a result, the Federation is doing something quite different from refusing to support groups that promote anti-Semitism (or racism or other forms of oppression). In this context, Jewish groups that are trying to get funding—perhaps to co-sponsor a Muslim-Jewish film series, to partner with groups in support of proposed mosque construction, or to speak about Islamophobia at a Shabbat service—are expected to apply an Israel-related litmus test to identify the Muslims considered “appropriate” to work with. In the Bay Area, Jewish groups might find that working with “bad Muslims”—or with Jews who support them—can have a steep financial cost.

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