Yaman Salahi was criticized by Rabbi Shmully Hecht on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog for Salahi’s earlier piece on Islamophobia at a conference on Anti-Semitism at Yale. Salahi responds ably, and in much fuller detail in the same site.
I was particularly struck by his admonition against explaining the actions of contemporary people purely in terms of their religion.
We should not look either exclusively or primarily to Islamic scriptures to understand Palestinians, Palestinian politics, or Palestinian resistance to Israel for the same reason that we do not look to the Torah, the Talmud, and the work of Maimonides in order to explain Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement expansion plans. We should not look there even to explain former Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef’s recent call for the death of the entire Palestinian people and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. I do not think so poorly of millennia of Jewish tradition, practice, and co-existence with Muslims as to attribute either Israeli policy or Rabbi Yosef’s genocidal remarks to Judaism. I would, therefore, understand if Rabbi Hecht took offense to aggressive and unwarranted requests for him to condemn violent and racist statements and policies for which I have no reason to hold him responsible merely on the basis of his shared religion.
However, there is a reason why many people choose to adopt this methodology: it provides an excuse to ignore the legitimate grievances of people afflicted by violence or oppression. Take, for example, the recent statement by Martin Peretz, the neoconservative editor of The New Republic, that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims” as he wonders aloud whether American Muslims deserve First Amendment Rights. These unfounded and deeply offensive notions are part of a political agenda that focuses selectively on Muslims. Relying on stereotypes, selective quotations, and misinformation, it seeks to obscure the role of powerful political, economic, and social forces in shaping the identity, beliefs, and politics of Arabs and Muslims around the world.
I do occasionally encounter someone who is convinced the Torah and other Jewish texts are the most important cause of Israeli policy today, which strikes me about as insightful as those who would use the Bible as a real estate deed. I am indebted to Salahi for pointing out that doing so for Palestinians is equally absurd.
Salahi closes his piece by pointing out how such bigoted proponents actually hinder the cause of understanding Anti-Semitism.
On a final note, I must make it emphatically clear that I do not wish, as Rabbi Hecht alleges, to censor the study of Jewish persecution. Anti-Semitism is for not only Jews, but all people to study. Indeed, in light of rising anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incitement in the United States, Europe, and Israel, there is certainly a great deal left for the world to learn about the horrors of anti-Semitism. If the purpose, however, of studying anti-Semitism at Yale or anywhere else is to justify or distract from Israel’s own racist laws and policies, or from anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States and the unpopularity of US policies abroad, then we have certainly missed the point – and that is a tragedy indeed.
The juxtaposition between this thoughtful argument and Hecht’s “Condemn Hamas?” piece as well as Marty Peretz’s ignorant pronouncements couldn’t be greater.
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