Legitimizing Extremist Groups in U.S.
I wish to respond to two points in Daniel Lapin's article, "The Politics of Broad Alliances," in the Forward's Aug. 24 issue, in which the author justifies his staying on the board of the Alliance for Marriage despite the presence on that board of Aly Abuzaakuk, executive director of the American Muslim Council.
Rabbi Lapin writes that the AMC is "doing valuable work on behalf of religious freedom and other worthy causes." I disagree with this characterization. Far from being interested in religious freedom, the AMC stands on the forefront of efforts of religious repression. AMC has assaulted the responsible discussions of Islam in such publications as the Atlantic Monthly and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A speaker at AMC's 1999 convention, Aneesa Abdul Fattah, stated, "I do not like democracy, I like Islamism." Most recently, on August 3, AMC viciously attacked Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat of California) because he had the temerity to mention (accurately) an event in early Islamic history. Worse, AMC went on to characterize Lantos's remarks as "the work of the pro-Israeli lobby in order to present a false image of Islamic history and to slander the Prophet." Sound like "valuable work on behalf of religious freedom"? Not to me.
Second, Rabbi Lapin argues that American Jews need to watch out for their own interests and not "let the Middle East consume all our efforts in domestic politics." Fair enough. But precisely for this reason, American Jews (indeed, all Americans) need to worry about the legitimation of an extremist organization like the AMC which – as the above examples suggest – promotes ideas and practices deeply antithetical to American life. In other words, AMC and its ilk represent less a threat in the Middle East than right here in the United States.
Middle East Forum
By Daniel Lapin
August 24, 2001
As a Jew and an American, I recently had to make a painful choice. I am the president of a national coalition of Jews and Christians devoted to promoting Torah values in the political arena. I also advise a number of organizations with complementary missions. One of those is the Alliance for Marriage, which has made news by organizing a racially and religiously diverse campaign for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman and not as one between two persons of the same sex.
As the nation debated the proposed amendment, I received anguished phone calls from fellow Jews. They wanted to know how I, an Orthodox rabbi, could in good conscience sit on the group's advisory board with Aly Abuzaakuk, executive director of the American Muslim Council.
The AMC, it turns out, while doing valuable work on behalf of religious freedom and other worthy causes, has gotten too close for comfort to individuals associated with the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Officially, the AMC condemns political violence of the type practiced by, for instance, Palestinian militants. But Mr. Abuzaakuk, the organization's executive director, once endorsed Hamas as a "freedom-fighting organization," and some disquieting personalities from the world of terrorism and its financial supporters show up at AMC conferences.
Now, apart from my general concern for the security of Jews in the land of Israel, I also have a daughter studying in Jerusalem whose life I fear for each time CNN reports the suicide bombing of an Israeli cafe. So it troubles me to share an institutional affiliation with Mr. Abuzaakuk, who keeps the company he does.
Soon the press highlighted the AFM/AMC connection. The Forward reported that the Washington representative of a major Jewish group, the Orthodox Union, had resigned from the board of the AFM, while still favoring the marriage amendment, because of the AMC's involvement in the alliance.
I respect his reasoning, which finds Mr. Abuzaakuk's presence in the alliance to be morally unpalatable. However, I believe this is a situation in which one good — moral hygiene — is outbalanced by another good.
This competing consideration turns on the fact that Jewish political influence may not always be what it is now. Jews make up a shrinking part of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, thanks to recent immigration laws, Muslim numbers are burgeoning. Today, Jews are 2% of all Americans, while Muslims are 1.4%. By 2010 the advantage will have reversed, with Jews standing at 1.4% and Muslims at 2%. Muslim power will grow accordingly, while Jewish influence will wane.
This analysis suggests that Jewish leaders are setting a risky precedent by trying to dictate the terms under which they will join political coalitions. At present, Jews are just barely in a position to tell non-Jewish organizations they must choose between Muslim groups and us. (I asked an activist who was pressing me to quit the AFM if any Muslim group at all would make an acceptable coalition partner. He couldn't think of one.) Soon, however, it could be Muslim leaders dictating the same ultimatum: "It's got be us or those Zionists; you can't have both."
So as not to hasten that day, I decided not to resign my place on the advisory board of the Alliance for Marriage. Taking a stand against support for terrorism is commendable, but I also want my children to have the same opportunities to participate in the American democratic process as I have had.
In this, I can take comfort that American history is on my side. A wonderful thing about our country is that people from Europe and elsewhere have long immigrated here and left behind the roiling hatreds of the Old World: Catholic against Protestant, Irish against English, Greek against Turk and so on.
American Jews must do everything legally and morally permissible to help Israel, but that doesn't mean we should let the Middle East consume all our efforts in domestic politics. The home front is important, too. When my mood is darkest, I worry about Arab youngsters carrying the Arab-Israeli conflict to the sidewalks of Detroit suburbs where elderly Jews are walking home from synagogue.
That is why I chose to say that in sitting on a board with Mr. Abuzaakuk, I am not supporting his ideas about Middle Eastern affairs. Rather, he is supporting my ideas about American marriage. It was a painful choice, but I think the best one.
Rabbi Lapin is the president of Toward Tradition and the author most recently of "Buried Treasures: Hidden Wisdom from the Hebrew Language" (Multnomah).
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