This article was written by Charles Jacobs and Ilya Feoktistov, President and Research Director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance. It originally appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate on February 11, 2010.
Just last week we saw a Newsweek article
describing a national “twinning project” that had brought together 100 American synagogues and mosques for interfaith programming. The writer was Rabbi Marc Schneier, whose Foundation for Ethnic Understanding runs the program.
As a prime example of his success, Rabbi Schneier presented the twinning program in Buffalo, N.Y. As it turns out, we have been working for months with community members there who fear that Jews are being deceived by Islamic radicals posing as “moderates.” Unfortunately, our research shows that some Jewish leaders in Buffalo seem to have acted naively, substituting wishful thinking for fact-based judgment.
The Buffalo twinning was conceived and coordinated by doctors Robert Stall and Othman Shibly – a Jewish geriatrician and a Muslim dentist who had together attended a medical conference in Damascus, Syria. At a mosque there, Shibly introduced Stall to a Syrian cleric, Sheikh Rajab Deeb, who is a top disciple of the dentist’s own spiritual mentor, the recently deceased Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro.
Stall promoted Shibly and his Syrian spiritual leaders to Buffalo Jews as moderate and peaceloving men of faith. Writing to a community member, Stall said, “Dr. Shibly’s efforts to improve the world are … to a large extent based on the teachings of Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, a Syrian imam who was in many ways ahead of his time.”
Buffalo’s Jewish twinners must have been persuaded: They invited Sheikh Deeb to address the interfaith participants through an interpreter – via the Internet phone service Skype.
Unfortunately, nobody in Jewish leadership seems to have performed due diligence: While Sheikh Kuftaro’s English-language Web sites are full of clichés about interfaith spirituality, the Arab-language sections reek with Jew-hatred.
Some research findings, based on a 30- minute Web search:
- On Kuftaro’s own Web site, one finds: Jews are “the killers of prophets”; “Israel is a dagger in the heart of the Muslim nation”; “All Muslims are obligated to do jihad upon the Zionists.”
- A video on his site shows Kuftaro turning over his pulpit to Louis Farrakhan, visiting his mosque as an honored guest; another shows him giving the same honor to the neo-Nazi preacher William Baker.
- On Sheikh Deeb’s site: Alongside the sermon he presented to the Buffalo twinning event is a 2005 sermon: “Jerusalem is Ours,” where he preaches that Jews “want to remove and destroy every trace except for their footsteps and pollute every creed except their faith, and eradicate every race except their race, and they claim to be G-d’s Chosen People ….”
None of this is surprising: Deeb and Kuftaro have served as top clerics in Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad’s totalitarian government, known for spreading virulent Jew-hatred.
Closer to home, Shibly’s son Hassan and his wife, Sawsan Tabbaa, were detained at the US-Canadian border after returning from an Islamic conference in Toronto, about which the Department of Homeland Security said
: “… we had credible intelligence that conferences similar to the one from which these individuals were leaving were being used by terrorist organizations to fundraise and to hide the travel of terrorists themselves.”
Finding this information was not all that hard. So, then, how is it possible that the Jews taking part in Buffalo interfaith efforts were so easily bamboozled? Our answer: Many liberal Jewish communities are so blinded by their strong desire for peaceful coexistence that they succumb to multicultural fantasy: “It just can’t be true that Islamic radicals would try to take advantage of our good will. Surely once they see our goodness and noble intentions, they will reciprocate. Only a racist Islamophobe would think otherwise.” We used to think about radical Islamists getting a “key to the city” as the prize for deceiving its Jews – what other group, after all, would suspect them if the Jews gave them a pass? We identified this as among the most serious consequences of naive Jewish leaders being taken in by radicals posing as moderates. But in Buffalo we have seen another consequence: Once “dialogue” is established, radical Islamists can pressure Jewish communities not to defend Israel.
In Buffalo, Shibly denounced a Hillel-sponsored speech by Israeli General Effie Eitam at the University of Buffalo, and hinted strongly that the twinning project was being put in jeopardy. Writing to the event organizers, Dr. Shibly said: “It is so sad as we are trying to bring our communities together and make a historical step to join the national efforts of twinning mosques and synagogues projects for common good, we get a slap in our face.”
Shibly was writing in support of the Western New York Peace Center, a group dominated by vicious anti-Israel sentiment. Evidently, then, Jews in Buffalo threaten to disrupt inter-communal peace by bringing a decorated (though admittedly controversial) Israeli war hero. Jewish leadership has a duty to act responsibly and rationally in protecting the community. A leadership that relies on wishful thinking instead of facts is a failed leadership. A twinning program may be a worthy effort, but only if it partners with truly moderate Muslims.
Charles Jacobs and Ilya Feoktistov are president and research director, respectively, of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.
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