Monthly Archives: August 2010

The “12 Commandments” of the Israel Lobby

The following article is a guest post by Lawrence Swaim, the executive director of the California-based Interfaith Freedom Foundation.  It first appeared in the August issue of InFocus News, a Muslim newspaper published in Los Angeles.

By Lawrence Swaim

Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania is the latest to take heat from the Israel Lobby, mainly because he once attended a meeting with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and also refused to sign a letter written by AIPAC. So they created a TV ad that tries to tie him to terrorism. Never mind the fact that Sestak acted on his conscience in both instances—anybody who flaunts the dictates of the Israel Lobby has to be punished.

The people who are promoting this latest experiment in intimidation are pretty open about what they’re doing, and why. “We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” exults neo-con godfather William Kristol. So here’s the crazy part—we’re not supposed to acknowledge that there’s an Israel Lobby, even though its main players talk openly about their activities! No, as Abraham Foxman pointed out in his book “The Deadliest Lies,” the existence of an Israel Lobby is a scurrilous falsehood made up by anti-Semites.

Got that? There’s no Lobby, but you’d better do what the Lobby says.

To help readers with this Orwellian dilemma, I offer these “12 Commandments of the Israel Lobby,” to be memorized if possible in a venue featuring the theme song of “The Twilight Zone” in the background.

1.      The Israel Lobby does not exist. In those cases where it does exist, its conclusions cannot be questioned.

2.      All criticisms of Israel are false. They are invented by anti-Semites, self-hating Jews, and terrorists. Also by crypto-Nazis, apostates and liars.

3.      All critics of Israel must be punished by extracting a public apology. Some offenders may be required to apologize more than once, if they do not grovel sufficiently the first time around.

4.      Those who criticize Israel and do not publicly apologize must be endlessly harassed, and fired from their jobs if possible. In academia they must be denied tenure.

5.      Any Arab or Muslim that criticizes Israel is a terrorist, and deserves to die.

6.      To praise anybody who ever criticized Israel is the same thing as criticizing Israel. Just as all things Israeli are good, anybody that criticizes Israel is bad.

7.      In any conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis are always the victims. If an Israeli hurts a Palestinian, the Israeli is still the victim because the Palestinian is trying to make the Israeli feel bad.

8.      Israel/Palestine is never debated. That implies another side to the issue, and there is only one side. Therefore debate is suppressed or disrupted.

9.      The United Nations, the World Court, the various UN agencies, every human rights organization and non-governmental organization in the world that isn’t approved by the NGO Monitor [an Israeli screening operation] is anti-Semitic. That is because these organizations are likely to criticize Israel’s human rights record—and as any fool knows, that means they’re anti-Semitic.

10.  The interests of the US are exactly the same as the interests of Israel. If they aren’t, the interests of Israel take precedence.

11.  Any war that the US is likely to be involved in must be evaluated from the point of view of its helpfulness to the current government of Israel.

12.  Anybody who threatens to make sense while criticizing Israel must be immediately shouted down. If shouting doesn’t work, screaming and crying are recommended. As a last resort, one must declare that criticisms of Israel are making one feel “unsafe.”

These rules, while meant to be humorous, reflect a reality that is petty, tiresome and essentially undemocratic. Thereore let us answer them by answering the call from Palestinian civil society for international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israeli apartheid. The purpose is to end the longest and most brutal military occupation of our time, and in so doing resolve the one issue most likely to cause religious war. But there is another reason to support BDS. The Israel Lobby operates as a thought police, spending millions of dollars to stop anybody in public life who would have a candid discussion of American interests in the Middle East. For this reason, we must counter the intimidation of the Israel Lobby in order to restore free speech and freedom of association to American discourse.

IFN is circulated nationally, and is the largest Muslim newspaper in the US.

Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation.  His column addresses current affairs from an American Christian and Interfaith perspective. The Interfaith Freedom Foundation can be contacted at P.O. Box 6862, Napa CA 94581, and is a public-interest nonprofit that advocates civil rights for religious minorities, and religious liberty for all.

Unchallenged violence and intimidation, coming soon to a mosque near you

Reading accounts of the far-right English Defense League’s (EDL) recent anti-Muslim rally in Bradford, England is disturbing.  EDL members, shouting slogans that state that Allah is a “pedophile” and that they “love the floods” currently devastating Pakistan, clashed with riot police during a rally held last Saturday in a city with a significant Muslim presence.

More disturbingly, recent events here don’t seem to be far from what Muslims in England have experienced.  And no one in power is doing anything to stop it.

Islamophobic attitudes are rampant in both Europe and the United States. A recent TIME magazine poll found “that many Americans harbor lingering animosity toward Muslims. Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President.”

Public expressions of hate against Muslims is on the rise.  In Connecticut, as Hailey Woldt, who worked as a researcher to find out “what it meant to be Muslim in post-9/11 America,” highlighted, “a group of children leaving a Bridgeport, Connecticut mosque last week, as reported by the Connecticut Post, had to brace themselves as they walked past a group of about a dozen Christian protestors yelling ‘Islam is a lie’ and ‘Jesus hates Muslims.'”  During the August 22 rally near Ground Zero, anti-community center protesters surrounded a black man, apparently thinking he was Muslim, and forcefully confronted him.  A fire at a Tennessee mosque was ruled to be an arson, and there were reports of gunshots being fired nearby. Today, Talking Points Memo highlights how the armed group the Minutemen are now taking up the anti-Muslim mantle, warning of border-crossing terrorists.  And we can’t forget the stabbing of Ahmed Sharif, a Muslim cabdriver in New York City.

The Islamophobic thread running through Europe and the United States doesn’t end there, and Israel/Palestine plays an important role.  Pamela Geller, the far-right anti-Muslim blogger who is leading the anti-Muslim crusade here, has defended and made common cause with the EDL, as Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball reported.

Geller and the EDL are part of the alliance between far-right groups, who see the Israel-Palestine conflict as a key battle in the fight to end “Islamism,”and right-wing Zionists like Geller.

Far-right groups keen on using violence, implicitly or overtly, are not new to the United States.  The real danger today lies in the spinelessness of American politicians, who are aiding the hate or tacitly sitting by while attacks against Muslims continue.  And it also lies in the complicity of some American Jews, like the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman and neo-conservatives like William Kristol, who are strong supporters of Israel and have come out against the Islamic community center near Ground Zero because, as MJ Rosenberg put it, “they believe that the more acceptance there is of Muslims here at home, the less reflexive hatred there will be for Muslims abroad. And that, in their view, reduces America’s sympathy for Israel.”

The horror that Muslim children in Bridgeport, CT felt when protesters shouted “Jesus hates Muslims” at them; the fear of the Muslim community in Tennessee after a fire at a mosque and reported gunshots; the blood that gushed from Ahmed Sharif; all of these incidents are not operating in a vacuum.  Expect similar stories in the future, though–our politicians are aiding and abetting this dangerous trend.

Anti-Defamation League Condemns ‘Anti-Muslim Sentiment’ to which it Contributes

A month after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the “nation’s premier civil rights” agency (in their words), came out against building an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero because “building [it] in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain,” the ADL is now condemning the anti-Muslim stabbing that occurred in New York City Aug. 25.

The ADL statement condemned the attack “in the strongest terms,” saying that the incident was “especially disturbing” because it occurred “amid an atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy.”

When the ADL came out against the proposed Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, it took pains to say that the group “categorically reject[s] appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion.”  But no matter the ADL’s intent, their statement against the Muslim center contributed to the very same “elevated anti-Muslim sentiment” that is no doubt connected to the stabbing of Ahmed Sharif, a New York City taxi driver.  The ADL should look in the mirror before it begins to lecture others on anti-Muslim sentiment.

It’s true that the ADL statement against the Park51 project was mild compared to the hateful rhetoric coming from the likes of Pamela Geller, Newt Gingrich and Rick Lazio.  However, the ADL’s statement can only be read as holding the whole of Islam and Muslims as somehow responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.  The only reason why the proposed center would “offend” the sensitivities of the victims of 9/11 is if the ADL concludes that Islam attacked the United States on that day.

It is the height of hypocrisy for the ADL to condemn the stabbing of Sharif and the general hate of Muslims engulfing the United States without looking at their statement against Park51 again and realizing that they have played a central role in legitimizing that anti-Muslim sentiment.  Their gentile opposition to the project has emboldened the hate-mongers on the right that are aiming to shut this project, and proposals to build mosques around the country, down.

Direct ‘peace talks’: Will it lead to disastrous Obama-imposed solution?

The big news over the weekend was that the Netanyahu government in Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to “direct talks” to be held in Washington, D.C. for the first time since late 2008.  Both Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu are invited to appear at the White House in September to “re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues which we believe we can complete in one year,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

These latest round of “peace talks” are going to fail, and are going to fail miserably.  After that, what’s next?  This New York Times report hints that the Obama administration would step in:

By setting a one-year deadline for the negotiations, Mr. Obama, who met with Mr. Abbas at the White House in June, is implicitly giving the Palestinian leader the assurance that if the two sides cannot make progress soon, the United States will step in with its own proposal outlining what a peace deal should look like.

The idea of an Obama-imposed “peace plan” was first floated last April.  I’m not going to repeat what I said back then; I’ll just link to two pieces of mine that appeared in Mondoweiss on why an Obama-imposed solution would be disastrous:

Obama imposed ‘peace plan’ would deny basic Palestinian rights

Right of return and international law–why the Clinton Parameters are a problem

And one last bit of analysis on the potential of an Obama administration-imposed “plan,” from my interview last month with Australian blogger and journalist Antony Loewenstein:

Antony Loewenstein: One of the things that I fear during the Obama administration, whether it’s three more years or seven more years, is an imposition of a two-state solution.  I worried about this, in fact, during the Bush years, believe it or not.  I thought it was conceivable that George W. Bush would simply say, “here’s a Palestinian state.”  I mean, the truth is, with the power of the U.S. and the international community, nothing stops them from declaring a Palestinian state tomorrow.  It wouldn’t be viable; I’m not suggesting it would be a good thing, but nothing stops them from actually doing it.  You have a complicit Palestinian Authority who are more than willing to accept the largesse and the support of the U.S. and Israel.  They are being built up as wonderfully effective colonial masters.  I just read a few days ago in Ha’aretz that Israel’s top security officer increasingly spends time with West Bank security forces, the way in which the PA and Israel works together, i.e. silencing dissent from Hamas and others.  So the fear that I have, potentially, is a two-state solution is declared, and it would not be viable, and it would not be a pleasant thing for Palestinians, it would not be with East Jerusalem as its capital.  It would not be anything that honest Palestinians would want, in the diaspora or in Palestine itself.  So that’s something I think which is possible, and I worry about it, and I think that it needs to be more talked about, Ali Abunimah in particular has talked about that and I praise him for that, the fear that this may be happening.

Bigot or Colorful Activist? Washington Post is Neutral on Islamophobes

This piece originally appeared at the FAIR blog:

The Washington Post (8/18/10) profiles some of the “conservative writers and bloggers critical of Islam” that have been fueling the national uproar over the proposed Muslim community center that would sit two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero.

Michelle Boorstein looks at figures such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, and reports that “while some have dismissed them as bigoted attention-seekers, their attacks on the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan have gained currency in recent weeks among some Republican leaders. And their influence appears to be growing.” So are they bigots? The Post never says.

Here’s Boorstein’s description of Pamela Geller, who publishes Islamophobic rants about Barack Obama and Muslims on her blog Atlas Shrugs daily:

The most colorful — and perhaps most visible activist at the moment — is Pam Geller, a former New York Observer publisher who has appeared in a bikini and a super-tight Superman costume challenging Islam.

Through her blog, Atlas Shrugs, television interviews and appearances at political and civic rallies, Geller has become one of the chief organizers of opposition to the Ground Zero mosque as well as efforts to build other Muslim prayer centers around the country…

Geller has become a prominent voice in the debate despite the fact that she once promoted the view that Obama is Malcolm X’s love child. She frequently warns that Muslims are trying to impose repressive sharia law on the United States, refers to the president’s holiday message to Muslims as “Obama Ramadamadingdong” and promotes a Web site, Religion of Peace, that claims to tally the number of people killed around the world by Muslim extremists.

Geller has also said (Media Matters, 7/14/10) that “it is well known that Obama allegedly was involved with a crack whore in his youth” and has called for the removal of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of the most holy sites for Muslims. Geller said: “The dome has got to go. It is sitting atop the great Jewish temple. The dome has got to go. It’s time to push back and stop indulging evil. Evil is made possible by the sanction you give it.” Would the Post describe someone as a “colorful” activist if they had called for the destruction of a Jewish holy site, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?

Geller has also posted on her website (Atlas Shrugs, 5/20/10) a picture that replaced the Prophet Muhammad’s face with that of a pig (, 8/4/10). When she was questioned on why that picture was on her site by a host on the English-language Russia TV, Geller responded by saying, “Who cares? What difference does it make?”

Boorstein also writes that “Geller often partners with Robert Spencer, a best-selling writer who is less flamboyant but perhaps more influential.” Spencer publishes Jihad Watch, which has been described as a “notoriously Islamophobic website” (Guardian, 2/7/06). Spencer has compared the Islamic holy book, the Quran, to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Human Events, 12/7/05), and thinks that Islam is “innately extremist and violent” (FAIR Smearcasters Report).

But only some people and Muslim-American leaders “accuse the bloggers of fueling religious hatred.” They’re just accusations, of course. Who knows what’s true?

New York Times’ Opinion Section Remains an Arab/Muslim-free Zone

As the national debate continues over the Islamic community center near Ground Zero, the New York Times still seems to have a policy of not allowing Arabs or Muslims to have their voices heard on issues that principally concern them.

After the deadly May 31 Israeli raid on the Gaza “Freedom Flotilla,” the New York Times ran a spate of Op-Eds in their print edition about the flotilla and, more broadly, about Israel/Palestine.  I noted then on Mondoweiss that there were zero Palestinian authors included on their Op-Ed pages in the aftermath of the attack.

The Times has ran a couple of Op-Eds on the Islamic community center–this one that ran yesterday was quite good–but no Arab or Muslim voices have been heard.

Today, the Times has a “Room for Debate” feature titled, “Is the Mosque Issue a Risk for Obama?”  Again, it seems like they didn’t ask any Arabs or Muslims to join the debate.

That’s a damn shame.

(H/T to Christian Avard, via Ali Abunimah.)

Islamophobia in New York, Redux: We Should Have Seen the Ground Zero Furor Coming


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

When the Islamophobic furor against the proposed Muslim community center two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero began to peak in mid-late July, some people wondered why it was occurring now, nine years after the 9/11 attacks.  As the New York Times recently noted, an article published in the paper “last December about the project drew little negative comment.”  Daisy Khan, the wife of the imam who is spearheading the Cordoba House, told the Times that the possibility of their project being controversial “never occurred” to them.

But there is no reason to be surprised at the anger over the community center.  While others have pointed to the economy, or to the recent surge in thwarted homegrown “terror” plots, to explain the anger over the community center, one can read what’s being played out as simply a continuation–albeit a much more intense strain–of the virulent anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment that began after the September 11 attacks.  Specifically, the concocted controversy over the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) in 2007 should have set off alarm bells about the power of Islamophobic activists whose aim is to shut Muslims and Arabs out of American public life.  The Brooklyn academy, the nation’s first dual-language Arabic public school, barely survived an onslaught of racist right-wing attacks against the school.  Unfortunately, the founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, was not spared, and fell victim to an orchestrated smear campaign not unlike the one now targeting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

There are many parallels between the controversies around the Cordoba House and KGIA: both of the project’s leaders–Rauf and Almontaser–are well-known and respected interfaith leaders in New York City; both campaigns were begun by right-wing, Islamophobic blogs and leaders and were only later picked up by mainstream media; and both campaigns smeared Islam and demonstrated a profound ignorance about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Debbie Almontaser

Imam Rauf is currently being tarred as a “radical Muslim” who supports al-Qaeda and wants to build the Muslim community center to celebrate “Islamic triumphalism.” Almontaser, too, was painted as a Muslim radical and a “9/11 denier” whose school would secretly indoctrinate students to hate America and Israel and support sharia law.  The hysteria about Rauf and Almontaser misses basic, sobering facts about the two leaders: both of them have demonstrated a profound commitment to interfaith understanding between Muslims and other groups in the U.S. after 9/11 and have sought to fight anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes.  Rauf is a Sufi Muslim leader in New York who, as Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek put it, “speaks of the need for Muslims to live peacefully with all other religions…emphasizes the commonalities among all faiths…advocates equal rights for women, and argues against laws that in any way punish non-Muslims…His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.”  Almontaser was described as “the city’s most visible Arab-American woman” in an excellent profile of her written by the New York Times’ Andrea Elliott:

After 9/11, Education Department officials had enlisted Ms. Almontaser to hold workshops on cultural sensitivity for schoolchildren. She spread the message that Islam was a peaceful religion. She told of how her own son had served as a National Guardsman in the clearing effort at ground zero. She was soon attending interfaith seminars, befriending rabbis and priests. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg honored her publicly.

But none of these facts seem to matter to the bigots who are trying to take down Rauf and the proposed community center, or who successfully forced Almontaser to resign as head of KGIA.

The current drive against the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan was started by, as Salon‘s Justin Elliott has shown, “third-tier right-wing blogs, including Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs site,” and quickly moved to the New York Post, as well as other mainstream media outlets.  Republican politicians have now taken up the cause, and it’s impossible to turn on cable news and not see a racist rant directed against Muslims in the U.S.  The anti-Cordoba House movement has now reached a fever pitch, but it has not yet invented the “smoking gun” that would mean the downfall of the initiative, as they did in the case of Almontaser.

There was a similar trajectory in the case of Almontaser and KGIA.   As soon as plans for the school were announced in February 2007, Pamela Geller and friends begun a campaign to shut what they called a “madrassa in New York’s public school system” down.  Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative author who has made a career out of stoking fears of Muslims and Arabs in the Western world, and the so-called “Stop the Madrassa” coalition, were instrumental in the targeting of KGIA.  Soon after the school was announced, assisted by columns by Pipes that mis-characterized and lied about the school, the story migrated to the New York Sun and eventually the New York Post. Almontaser’s downfall came after the Post labeled her the “‘intifada'” principal, as I reported for the Indypendent in September 2008:

The intense media focus on KGIA peaked when the New York Post picked up the story. The DOE pressured Almontaser to agree to an interview with the Post. In an Aug. 6, 2007, article, the Post declared that Almontaser “defended” the use of the word “intifada” on a t-shirt made by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media (AWAAM), a group whose only connection to Almontaser was that she was on the board of a Yemeni-American organization that at times shared office space with AWAAM.

On Aug. 9, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, following what Almontaser says was a directive from Mayor Bloomberg, forced Almontaser to resign as KGIA principal, saying that either she or the academy had to go.

“That was the most horrendous and devastating 24 hours of my life,” Almontaser says. “To experience working with people who admired me and respected me and who believed in me, and then just to see a complete shift, basically saying that ‘you’re the problem’ … was absolutely devastating.”

The quote used by the Post to claim that Almontaser “defended” the use of the word “intifada” on a shirt was found later to have been “inaccurately reported by The Post and then misconstrued by the press,” according to a federal appeals court.  In March 2010 of this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that New York City’s Department of Education “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and asmall segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.”

The conflating of Islam with terrorism and a demonstrated ignorance about the religion is another common feature of the furor over KGIA and the Cordoba House.  The opposition to the Islamic community center can only be justified by asserting collective Muslim guilt for the attacks of September 11, despite the fact that many Muslims died during the attack and the fact that al-Qaeda has killed more Muslims that any other religious group in the world.  Furthermore–and this is not to say that other sects of Islam aren’t also peaceful– Sufi Islam, which Imam Rauf is an adherent to, “couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. [Rauf’s] videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation,” as William Dalrymple writes today in the Times.

In the case of KGIA, Pipes claimed that “Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands.”  According to Pipes, any teaching of Arabic is bound to promote Islamism–which, in Pipes’ world, is all one and the same, an ideology that promotes terrorism and al-Qaeda.

Lastly, let’s turn to the Israel-Palestine angle.  Imam Rauf has been pilloried for not condemning the Palestinian Hamas movement as a “terrorist organization,” as they are labeled by the U.S. State Department.  Rauf said, “Look, I’m not a politician.  The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.”  And he’s exactly right.  The State Dept. list of “terrorist groups” is a highly politicized grouping.  “Terrorism,” in mainstream parlance, has no real meaning besides armed struggle against the West and Israel.  If you support the U.S. or Israel, you’re not a terrorist.

To simply call Hamas a “terrorist” group is a disservice to understanding what Hamas, an Islamist movement, is.  Hamas has committed terrorist acts; but by the same token, so has the U.S. and Israel, but on a far larger scale.  Hamas is resisting a brutal occupation, whereas Israel is focused on continuing their colonization of Palestinian lands.

Almontaser attempted to explain the origin of the word “intifada,” which appeared on t-shirts made by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media.  The Post, in the article that led to Almontaser’s forced resignation, spun her explanation as “downplaying” the significance of the t-shirts and the word intifada.  The Post reported that the  “inflammatory tees boldly declare ‘Intifada NYC’ – apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple.”  Further down in the story, they quote Pamela Hall, who fought against KGIA, as saying, “Intifada is a war. Isn’t that what Arafat had?”  Intifada, as Almontaser tried to explain in that Post article, “basically means ‘shaking off.’ That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic.”  The first Palestinian intifada was largely nonviolent.  And the second intifada, as Neve Gordon pointed out in his book Israel’s Occupation, began as a nonviolent popular uprising, but only turned violent after Israel brutally suppressed the uprising, firing 1.3 million bullets into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israeli security forces were directed to “fan the flames”, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar reported in 2004.

These misunderstandings and distortions about the situation in occupied Palestine have added fuel to the Islamophobic fire.

The lesson of the KGIA controversy should have been that Islamophobes hold a disturbing amount of power in the United States and that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment needs to be combated.  So it’s no surprise that Islamophobia continues to be a potent political weapon.  Perhaps we should take this opportunity to double-down on our efforts to combat Islamophobia, so when the next furor over Islam in the U.S. comes–and it will–education and activism can successfully tamp down these dangerous games being played.  If we didn’t learn that lesson after KGIA, we better learn it now.