I always felt so badly for my Southern and American Baptist friends. They always looked so sheepish when we talked about the Westboro Baptist Church. Could it truly be that "Baptists" started a church which claimed "God Hates Fags" and protested at the funerals of American soldiers?
Today is my day to feel sheepish as an otherwise proud American Jew. I am not only embarrassed but outraged and outright humiliated that people calling themselves Jews would in any way be associated with -- much less co-sponsor -- such hurtful protests against a fundraiser being held by a Muslim community organization in California. The protesters, as depicted on video, chanted "go home," "why don't you go home and beat your wife" and "Muhammad was a pervert." Astoundingly, Jews -- and even a rabbi -- took part in protesting the gathering and were among the other, religiously diverse, voices of hate.
According to the Islamic Circle of North America, whose event fell victim to these outrageous voices of hate, Rabbi David Eliezrie of Chabad Yorba Linda and Pamela Geller, head of the infamous group "Stop the Islamization of America" were among those co-sponsoring the event.
While Rabbi David Eliezrie provides a different rendition of his involvement in the protests, Pamela Geller does not. In fact, it seems that she is working to build her career on the notion that Muslims are dangerous terrorists, singling them out much the way the Westboro Baptist Church blames gays for all of America's woes. Both unoriginal and unpersuasive, this view has landed her prime-time television spots and fame in a way that casts doubt on the wellbeing of American society.
Somehow, someway, she manages to relate her views to Judaism.
Take, for example, her interview last September with the New York Jewish Week in which she compares Islam and Judaism:
"It's not like Judaism, where you have these different levels of observance," Geller said. "Islam is Islam. ... There's no way you can be a devout Muslim and not support jihad."
Like the leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church, she calls out in a faux prophetic voice, warning others of the impending doom of America -- in this case due to the presence of Muslims rather than gays.
Geller also shrouds her Manichean worldview in religious terms and relates events in America and the Middle East in implausible ways. Among other claims (which she relates to Muslims) she suggests that there are no settlers in the West Bank ("Judea" and "Samaria") so much as Jews living on Jewish land. How she gets from "Islamization" of America to events in the West Bank, I do not know. Yet she makes the connection explicit and then harangues anyone who disagrees.
I love Israel -- I consider myself a Zionist -- but the West Bank is not a part of the state that I love. Yet, according to Pamela Geller, I would probably just be considered another "Kapo," as she already said of J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council -- an analogy that would equate me to a Jewish accessory to the Nazis. Come protest my synagogue, Ms. Geller. (Or rather, stop protesting altogether!)
While Geller may not have the training to become a rabbi, she is creating an edifice of hate all unto her own and building a congregation of hate-filled followers online and in person. Not all, or even most of her followers are Jewish, but her motivations for creating the congregation may be inexplicably related to her religious affiliation. A prime mover in this fall's controversy over the "Ground Zero Mosque," which managed to spark venomous debates over the Park51 community center -- and its menacing plans for a gym, dining facility, prayer space and recreation area -- she is a Jewish voice for hate who, worse still, actively identifies her sense of urgency with her Jewish roots.
Muslim-Americans are overwhelmingly honest, hard-working, loving people and proud Americans: doctors, lawyers, taxi drivers, teachers, friends, family members, people we know and spend time with. But to Machiavellians with political agendas (sadly including those Jews who have not risen above the fray, as their religion would command), they are convenient targets for diatribes and campaigns.
We saw this happen in the unfounded debates over the use of private property in Lower Manhattan and the absurdly labeled "Ground Zero Mosque" (as though private property were up for debate -- this is America!).
We continue to see this happen as people falsely claim that Barack Obama is Muslim (and act as though it would be the end of the world if he were!).
We see this happen in Congressional hearings dedicated to investigating the supposed "radicalization" of Muslims, singling them out and setting them up for haranguing in the media.
This we see. But what I cannot see is why any of my coreligionists are joining in any numbers with the chorus of hate.
We, as Jews, comprise a religious community that knows what it is like to be on the outs, hated as new immigrants, hated for our religion. We are a community that loves equality and fairness -- one that marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sent so many young people on Freedom Rides to desegregate interstate transportation that Greyhound Buses began to look like Jewish summer camps.
We are a community whose rabbinic sages have attributed the destruction of our two sacred Temples in Jerusalem to sinat chinam (acts of senseless hatred) within our community, and we know what it feels like to have our sanctuaries around the world burnt to the ground in the sinat chinam of others.
I can only pray that Pamela Geller's hatred, so egregiously carried out in association with the name of my religion, is recognized for the blasphemy that it is -- and do everything in my power to organize fellow Jews against her vitriol. Pamela Geller is a voice of hate who does not merit in any capacity use of the good name of Judaism. The institution she may seek to build is an embarrassment to the tradition she claims to be her own.
Follow Rabbi Joshua Stanton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoshuaMZStanton