Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I Slam, You Slam, We All Slam Islam

“If Islam is a religion of peace, why don’t the imams challenge the murderous rhetoric of the radical Islamists who they claim are highjacking their religion?”

I hear this all the time. The implication of such talk is that if Christianity or Judaism were highjacked, priests, pastors, and rabbis would be out front attacking the radicals and their hate-filled madness. You might have wished it so, but this week has proved otherwise.

When Pope Benedict cited a 14th century Christian emperor saying that anything new taught by Mohammed (Peace be upon him) was evil and inhuman, I didn’t hear any outcry among Christians. What I heard was excuses: “The Pope didn’t say that, he was quoting the emperor.” As I mentioned the other day, this is totally disingenuous. He did not argue against what the emperor said, and by not doing so he was tacitly agreeing with it. Any silence on behalf of Christian clergy suggests that they too are in agreement.

Lest you imagine that Jews are free from such insanity and cowardice, Effi Eitam, a leader of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) aligned with the worldwide Orthodox Zionist movement called for the mass deportations of Arabs from the West Bank and the expulsion of Israeli Arabs from Israeli government.

Admittedly he may have been incensed over Arab members of the Knesset who seemed to side with Hezbollah against Israel, but this is no excuse. He said what he said. Was their widespread condemnation of Eitam? Yes, but only by the secular Jewish world. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress both condemned Eitam’s remarks, as did the political left in Israel. But where were the rabbis?

Rabbi Yosef Blau, president of the Religious Zionists of America, said that Eitam was not mainstream. Ouch. That is a stinging rebuke. Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, cautioned against sanctioning Eitam, saying that we should understand his frustration over Israeli Arabs who are anti-Israel. Rabbi Basil Herring of the Conservative Rabbinical Council of America said that he could not comment until he had spoken with his board of directors. Such courage. I have not read anything from the Reform or Reconstructionist movements so far, and I hope they will be at least as bold at our secular Jewish leaders, but the fact is that clergy are failing us worldwide.

Personally, I don’t care if Eitam was angry, worried, or had a bad day at the office; calling for the mass expulsion of Arabs from Israeli held territory and government is vicious racist madness that needs to be condemned from every synagogue pulpit in the world. Failure to do so denies rabbis any moral standing in their call to their Muslim counterparts to condemn the racist hatred spewed by their extremist coreligionists.

Religion should be a clarion call for universal justice and compassion, and religious leaders should be prophets of peace. But before I say this maybe I should check with my board of directors.


cooper said...

Of course those comments should be denounced. But how many American Jews have heard of Effi Eitan or his comments? I hadn't, and I doubt that's unusual. That's not irrelevant: the purpose of a public denunciation is to denounce something of public significance. Moreover, how much support is there for expulsion? So little, I'd guess, that it doesn't take much courage to denounce the call -- certainly not in the US. Is it possible, then, that the silence you decry among American rabbis expresses something other than timidity? . . . So go ahead and look for hypocrisy -- you'll find it -- but play fair, or you'll risk seeming as compromised by your own agenda as your opponents are by theirs.

AaronHerschel said...

Oh come. How many Americans were aware of the Holocaust when it was happening? How many were aware of the Pope's comments before the news media picked it up? How many knew about America's treatment of prisoners in Cuba before the pictures were released? The purpose of denouncing these things publicly is to create public awareness and significance.

Moreover, who needs Effi Eitan's comments to know that there is rabid anti-arabic sentiment among orthodox Zionists? The point here is not that Effi Eitan is a racist, but that Jews and Christians the world over are quick to decry the hatemongering of radical Islam, but that when it comes to their own hatemongering they waffle and prevaricate. And if you need proof of that, proof with "public significance," turn on the news. Don't worry which channel; it's the only thing on.

cooper said...

Turn on the news channels indeed: you'll find a veritable outrage industry. Denounce when some good will come of it. The good that is sought by those who call for the denunciation of violent Islamism is the delegitimization of an all-too-powerful and apparently successful violent message. Now maybe some good would come from denouncing the (to Americans, at least) obscure Eitan. Maybe in denouncing him we'd be preventing a noxious message from gaining ground: maybe there's a gathering momentum for his view. IF so, then I yield. But I'd thought that the majority view in Israel and the view of the government, not to mention the view of most American Jews, is very much opposed to his. If his message does indeed have a major or growing following, denunciation is a moral service. If it doesn't,denunciation is an exercise in moral vanity.

AaronHerschel said...

You make a good point. Eitan's comments may be obscure and there may not be much of a following for his agenda. Although if that is the case, I wonder why American Rabbi's wouldn't simply denounce him and move on--who would they offend? Nevertheless, to build Eitan up as a straw man in order to denounce him would indeed be an excercise in moral vanity.

However, I think that in the context of this article Eitan is beside the point. The lack of response to his agenda from Jewish leaders in America is a small example of a broader, and far more significant, tendency amongst religious leaders of all stripes to refuse to criticise their own people.

Whether the issue is Eitan or the Pope or what-have-you, this refusal (or, rather, reluctance) to criticise "our own" represents a failure to apply the principals of justice and compassion universally--that is, to "us" as well as "them." This, I believe, is what Rami is attacking here.