Andrea Elliott has written a detailed description of the the shameful campaign against Debbie Almontaser and her dream to open an Arabic culture school in today’s New York Times. Click on photo for NYT video coverage of the story, including an interview with Daniel Pipes, a frequent “guest” in these pages, who too easily plays the villain.
(Go here to see our prior coverage of the campaign against Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy.)
To re-state for the umpteenth time, the so-called culture wars in the United States between Islam and Arabs and the West are in many ways a proxy war for what’s happening in Israel and Palestine. Typically right-wing supporters of a “greater” Israel have deliberately conflated the struggle over Palestinian land and self-determination with Bush’s “war on terror.” To the extent that US citizens can be kept afraid of any Arab or Muslim who may be hiding behind a door, they will, it is understood, provide unconditional support for Israeli settlement expansion and militarism.
In other words, the campaign of invisibility thrust upon Palestinians has meant deliberately erasing any legitimate claims they may have to land, freedom, and security, and replacing them with the myth that Palestinians simply hate Jews/Westerners because of who we are. To that end, any whipping up of fears of Muslims and Arabs here in the US serves the interests of groups like Campus Watch and the David Project, and right-wing politicians who want to preserve the status quo.
That many of the civil society groups here in the US who push this agenda of fear-mongering are led by Jews, who have thousands of years of intimate understanding of the consequences of such demonization, is unconscionable. Obviously, Jews have a special responsibility to stand up and say, “Enough!”
And many of them have.
Here’s an important letter from Jewish leaders, organized by our friends at the NY-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, about the treatment of Debbie Almontaser, a moderate by any definition who took pains to unite and speak to all corners of a divided community.
Open Letter to the Jewish CommunityAt this time of Passover, when we gather as families at our seder tables, it
is an auspicious time to remember that our “family” extends outward to all
of God’s creation and therefore to all members of the human family. Every
act we undertake to bridge differences and enhance the dignity of other
human beings brings all of closer to the liberation and redemption that we
celebrate during these eight glorious days. Building friendships across
borders of religion and culture is a powerful lesson of the Pesach holiday.
Walking through uncharted territory with sometimes threatening waters on
both sides of us is in the spirit of our celebration and commemoration.
In this spirit we seek your support and respect for a colleague and friend
who has suffered and continues to suffer from a disturbing and growing
prejudice in our midst. You are certain to have heard of her, but may not
be fully aware of her goodness, competence, and openness to all people. We
are speaking of Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of the Khalil
Gibran International Academy, NYC’s first Arabic language public school.
Many of us know Debbie personally, others from a distance. But we all
respect and admire her and we believe that she has been wronged. In the
spirit of Passover we ask your support to right this wrong and your help in
achieving her reinstatement at the Academy. As Jews, we have experienced
Debbie’s friendship to us. We are certain that her return to her children
will only bring greater peace and understanding between people of all faiths
in our educational system and in our city as a whole.
Rabbi Marcelo R. Bronstein, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
*Rabbi Rachel Cowan*, Institute for Jewish Spirituality**
*Rabbi Anne Ebersman*, Abraham Joshua Heschel School
*Leonard Fein*, writer
*Rabbi Michael Feinberg*, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
*Peter Geffen*, Founder, Abraham Joshua Heschel School
*Susannah Heschel*, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College
*Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz* Visiting Professor, Jewish Studies, Comparative
Literature, & History, Queen’s College/.CUNY
*Rabbi Irwin Kula*, CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and
*Rabbi Ellen Lippmann*, Kolot Chayenu
*Rabbi J, Rolando Matalon*, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
*Marilyn Neimark, Co-founder*, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
*Donna Nevel*, Co-founder, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
*Letty Cottin Pogrebin*, writer and activist
*Dara Silverman*, Director, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
*Rabbi Felicia Sol*, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
*Alisa Solomon*, writer
Rabbi Mychal Springer, Jewish Theological Seminary
*Aaron J. Hahn Tapper*, Co-executive Director, Abraham’s Vision
*Rabbi Burton L. Vizotsky*, Jewish Theological Seminary
*Rabbi Melissa Weintraub*, Encounter
*Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub*, LCSW, Brooklyn
*Rabbi Arthur Waskow*, The Shalom Center
*affiliations for identification purposes