November 16, 2018

Faux apologies don’t make amends for big lies from the Davis Imam and Islamic Center

Readers of Jewish newspapers and also conservative media outlets—though not the mainstream national press with the belated exception of the Washington Post— have learned something about deplorable story of anti-Semitism by Muslim preachers in the university towns of UC Davis and UC Riverside.

In the pages of the Jewish Journal, Wiesenthal Center Rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein have urged the Department of Homeland Security to act against the perpetrators of genocidal libels. At Islamic Center in Davis this July, Imam Ammar Shahin delivered two sermons, one of which (translated into English by the Middle East Research Institute MEMRI) reads: “Oh, Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews. . . . Oh, Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. . . . Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this. Oh Allah, let us support them in words and in deeds.”

For a week, we witnessed stonewalling, doubling down, slander of MEMRI as “an extremist driven organization,” hemming and hawing, apologetics, and obfuscation from Imam Shahin and the Davis Islamic Center about whether one Arabic word should be translated as “destroy” rather than “annihilate,” and another Arabic phrase as “defilement of the Jews” rather than “filth of the Jews.”

Syrian-born Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush of the Riverside Islamic Center remains defiant and unrepentant for propagating the libels that world Jewry is plotting to take over Mecca and Medina and that “a naked woman walking into the holy mosque under the occupation forces, just to insult more and more the psyche, honor, and dignity of the Muslims.” But after a week came an apology of sorts from Imam Shahin (who still hasn’t been fired) and the Davis’ Islamic Center.” It’s very sad to hear that people are taking your words and they are twisting it around, but I know there are people who are out there just waiting for that to make the news. . . . I do understand how my words were hurtful, and I am sorry. . . . I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts, for this, I truly apologize,” stated the 31 year-old Egyptian-born, partly American-educated Ammar Shahin who added that “as a young religious leader, this has humbled me.”

Ammar Shahin was born in Cairo, and educated at theAl-Forqan Institute. He came to the U.S.  where he received a B.S. in Computer Engineering before returning to Egypt for advanced study at  Al-Azhar University. Then he began his permanent career at mosques near American college campuses.

Should we take Imam Shahin’s apology and that from the Davis Islamic Center as “case closed” and politely move on? Credulous souls among pro-BDS Jewish activists at UC Davis may accept at face value Imam Shahin apology and decry that “the edited publication of Imam Shahin’s sermon was done with islamophobic intent.” I disagree.

From The Sayings of the Fathers as well as the sayings of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we are told that “justice delayed is justice denied.” I would say the same of apologies, reluctantly and ungraciously given. We can learn a lot more by unpacking this faux apology emanating from Davis’ influential Muslim voices.

Another venerable Jewish parable—about how hard it is retract malicious gossip—relates how a rabbi tells the repentant gossiper to take a pillow, cut it open, disperse the feathers from a rooftop into the wind, and then try to collect every feather in order to repair the damage. This parable (popularized in a Hollywood film) may have originated as a cautionary tale about neighborhood gossip, but lying—especially theologically-freighted, politically-fraught publically-disseminated lying—is much more pernicious and prolific than feathers of malice spread from a rooftop.

Here is what Imam Shahin claimed, and the Davis’ Islamic Center embraced before disavowing, in polar opposition to tolerance and truth:

  • Imam Shahin and the Davis Center ignored the murder of two Jewish policemen on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that ignited the current crisis.
  • Imam Shahin not only called for the annihilation or destruction of Israelis allegedly responsible the Temple Mount crisis, but invoked a genocidal hadith or “Saying of the Prophet” which reads in part: “The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah’ . . . The Prophet Muhammad says that their time will come, the Last Hour will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews.” This same hadith was quoted as gospel in Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda distributed throughout the Muslim world during World War II by Hitler ally, Jerusalem Grand Mufti (and Yasser Arafat cousin) Mohammed Amin al-Husseini. It also forms a central plank of Hamas’ Founding 1988 Charter.
  • The Davis’ Islamic Center initially issued a highly tendentious statement offering a bowdlerized translation of Imam Shahin’s inflammatory statements. It also misleadingly explaining away Muhammed’s hadith as if it related, not to Jews, but to the final apocalyptic battle of Jesus (Isa in Arabic) against the forces of the Antichrist (Dajjal in Arabic). Conveniently elided over in this apologetic version is the truth that, in anti-Semitic Muslim apocalyptic theology (both Sunni and Shia) the Antichrist-Dajjal leads an army of 70,000 Jews!

In addition to falsely accusing MEMRI of mistranslating Imam Shahin’s sermons, the Davis’ Islamic Center faulted MEMRI for failing to “contextualize” them. Context does indeed matter, but it is precisely the alarming context that the Islamic Center left out. Imam Shahin’s genocidal sermons—far from being isolated aberrations or impromptu emotional outbursts—are entirely consistent with incendiary incitement by Muslim preachers across North America:

  • With a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and the head of the Fatwa (Islamic opinion) Unit of (English website) and the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) consultant of the Shari’ah department of, Dr. Wael Shihab, of the mosque Masjid Toronto declared on YouTube in June, 2016: “O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them.”
  • In Montreal in 2016, Jordanian Sheikh Muhammad bin Musa Al-Nasr was served with an arrest warrant for willfully promoting the murder of Jews. The Canadian authorities deemed Al-Nasr’s threats “imminent” enough to warrant immediate action.
  • As far back as the 1990s, Fawaz Damra, former Imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland (in 2007 he was deported to the West Bank) posed as a promoter of interfaith dialogue even after evidence that he participated in fundraising events for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a videotape surfacing of the Imam telling Muslims that they should aim “a rifle at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews.”

These North American rhetorical hate bombs parallel the murderous prayer delivered in 2007 by Acting Speaker of the Palestinian Authority’s Legislative Council Ahmed Bahr, in a packed Palestinian Authority mosque and broadcast on an official PA-controlled television station. Bahr called Jews “the cancerous lump . . .in the heart of the Arab nation,” and predicted that “America is on its way to disappear. America is wallowing [in blood] today in Iraq and Afghanistan. America is defeated and Israel is defeated, and was defeated, in Lebanon and Palestine.” Adopting the open-palmed gesture of Islamic prayer, as did his audience, the PA official intoned: “Allah, take hold of the Jews and their allies, Allah, take hold of the Americans and their allies…. Allah, count them and kill them to the last one and don’t leave even one.” The popular prayer, from Riverside and Davis to Montreal and Toronto to Palestine, that Allah “count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one” derives from a popular du’a or supplementary Muslim prayer of supplication.

At American university campuses like UC Riverside and UC Davis, there is a troubling nexus between what adjacent though unaffiliated Islamic Centers preach and teach and the often intimidating anti-Israel activism of Muslim students.

This past March, the UC Davis Middle East/South Asian Studies and Jewish Studies programs co-hosted a student panel titled “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Anatomy of Twin Hatreds” in the Student Community Center Multi-Purpose Room. What an admirable event. Unfortunately, just a few months later Imam Shahin delivered his anti-Semitic diatribes next door to the University campus.

We should all join the Los Angeles Times in condemning the woman, caught on CCTV, draping strips of bacon were draped over the Davis’ mosque’s door handles and smashing six windows. But much less attention has been paid to the recent experience of Rabbi Shmary Cohen and his wife, Mendy Cohen, of Chabad in Sacramento who have been subjected to “cars driving by screaming ‘eff you!’.” Rabbi Cohen laments: “This is what we suffered throughout the years. We’re not going to let Davis become like the neighborhoods in Paris where police can’t go.”

In 2014 at UC Davis, a student who expressed concern about the anti-Semitic banners displayed at a pro-BDS rally was assaulted by a protestor who screamed in his face, “You are racist and you should die in hell.” In 2015, a resolution was sponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which seeks to blackball Jewish students who visit Israel from participating in campus politics, called for the University of California at Davis to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories, violating both international humanitarian law and international human rights.” The resolution was passed by the Student Senate by a vote of 8-2-2. Protesting that the divestment resolution and how it was ramrodded through was “toxic” and “damaged lives,” Jewish students and their allies staged a walkout. Muslim students shouted “Allahu Akbar” at Jewish students holding Israeli flags and leaving the meeting. The walkout received less attention than UC Davis student senate, Azka Fayyaz, exulting with a Facebook that “Hamas & Sharia law have taken over UC Davis.” At UC Davis, swastikas were found painted on the walls of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house.

In 2016, The University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved a report condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism, making UC the first public university system to condemn anti-Semitism since the emergence of the boycott, divest and sanction movement on college campuses. UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and other administrators have condemned BDS resolutions as well as denounced Imam Shahin’s hate-filled sermons. Yet not enough progress has been made on UC campuses and elsewhere curbing what was becoming a tsunami of campus anti-Semitism.

Genocidal incitement by Muslim preachers at Islamic Centers adjoining UC Riverside and UC Davis are not only dangerous in themselves, but feed a toxic campus nexus promoting anti-Semitism usually in the guise of “anti-Zionism.”

Pro forma apologies are not enough. Responsible Muslim leaders, on and off campus, must do more to repudiate those who seek to incite religious war between two of the world’s great faiths. I vote with Congressman Brad Sherman who is demanding that Imam Shahin’s employment be terminated, and that UC Davis bar him and any representative of the Islamic Center of Davis from its campus.

Historian Harold Brackman is a Consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.