In a just world, this would be unacceptable. It would elicit swift and harsh condemnation from the rest of the Muslim community leadership. Especially since this is the third time an imam has led such a call from the pulpit of a mosque in America this year.
Yet left wing darling Linda Sarsour failed to address these concerns in her recent highly-controversial speech appearance in a panel discussion about anti-Semitism at the New School. Instead both she and the other panelists used the event to argue that calling out Muslim and left-wing anti-Semitism only serves to distract from the real enemy – white supremacists and the alt-right.
This is a laughable claim. Yes the far-right remains anti-Semitic. But they simply do not enjoy the kind of political and numerical clout that Islamists do. All over the world, Islamist leaders incited their followers into public displays of rage against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for three such “days of rage.” Whatever you think of Trump’s decision (or the president in general), it is worth remembering two things: 1) the statement changed nothing on the ground and explicitly left the final borders up to a negotiated settlement between the two parties 2) the move is being used to incite hatred and violence against Jews around the world.
A kosher restaurant was smashed in Holland and in Sweden a synagogue was firebombed.
Anti-Semitism has a long pedigree in the Islamic world. For centuries Jews in Muslim countries were dhimmis, second class citizens forced to pay the humiliating jizya tax and subject to a litany of special restrictions. Islamic scholars have a long ideological history of justifying anti-Semitism. Popular culture in many Muslim-majority countries is saturated with anti-Semitic tropes, such as the blood libel that Jews kill children and drink their blood in ritual ceremonies. Saudi Arabia goes even further, teaching anti-Semitism explicitly to children in high school textbooks. In 2010, such textbooks, describing Jews as “apes and pigs” were used in Muslim schools in the UK. This is not to mention the mass expulsion of Jews from most of the Arab world in 1948.
It is impossible to separate calls to wipe out Jews in a New Jersey mosque from this broader context of ingrained systemic anti-Semitism. The logical response is not to explain it away, with reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to tackle it head on.
If anyone should be having a day of rage, it should be Jews.
But days of rage don’t really help. Throwing stones at the police is a great way to get beaten, but a poor way of effecting change. A better approach is to take that justifiable anger and focus it constructively.
The left already provides a model for doing this, in their sustained critiques of Christian hegemony, white nationalism and imperialism in Western countries. By identifying these things as systems, they avoid blaming individual white people/men for actions they have not done, while pointing out that institutions and historical cultural trends have established systems that passively work to benefit white people and men at the expense of people of color and women. In theory people from marginalized groups are then able to work alongside white people/men to deconstruct the system rather than attack the people. Obviously this works better in theory than in practice and sometimes more radical groups get a bit carried away.
In a context of Islamist anti-Semitism, this means standing up against theological arguments that dehumanize Jews and supporting Muslims to grapple constructively with their own past. It also means re-framing the conversation away from attacking Muslims as individuals who may hold anti-Jewish views, and towards dismantling a cultural system that perpetuates anti-Semitism.
If it is reasonable to call on white people to deconstruct white supremacy and for women to talk about patriarchy, Jews can and should call on Muslim leaders to tackle systemic Islamic anti-Semitism.