July 21, 2019

Pamela Geller, You’re No Charlie Hebdo

What is my problem with Pamela Geller?

It doesn’t seem fair, at first glance, that I would support Charlie Hebdo and attack Geller.

Geller is the Long Island Jewish housewife-turned-anti-Muslim activist behind the Muhammad drawing contest in Texas that ended in violence this week. Two Muslim men, ostensibly with links to ISIS, opened fire outside the exhibit’s building and were shot dead by a security guard.

I’m not sorry for their loss. As dangerous and deluded as I think Geller is, nothing justifies the men’s violent reaction. In a civilized society, we scorn and mock people like Geller; we don’t shoot them.

When Islamic terrorists burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and shot dead its cartoonists and staff, I was appalled. The Jewish Journal that week changed its masthead to “Jewish Hebdo,” and we eagerly printed examples of the offensive Hebdo covers of the Prophet Muhammad in print and online. In a free society, people have the right to offend and to be offended. They don’t have the right to kill others for giving offense, or to intimidate them into silence. Taking a stand for free speech, even speech I don’t agree with, was a no brainer.

So why not defend Geller?

Because she is a radical hatemonger. Her aim is not to defend freedom. In Texas, she just happened to frost her poisonous ideology with some free-speech icing. But don’t let fools fool you: Her entire newfound career as the circus clown of Islamophobia is based on inciting mindless masses to hate and to attack those who disagree with her. It began with her incendiary campaign to ban a perfectly legal place of worship, an Islamic center, near the site of the World Trade Center. But she didn’t stop there:

• Last year, Geller called “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart a “Judenrat” who “would have been first on line to turn over his fellow Jews in Poland and Germany” to the Nazis to be put to death. (Literally, Judenrat refers to the Jewish councils organized by the Nazis, but Geller assumed it was German for “Jewish rat.” No one has ever accused her of over-researching.)

• In January 2015, Geller launched a campaign against the New Israel Fund, the premier American-Israeli progressive rights group, calling it a “sickness in the soul of American Jewry.”

• While she was at it, she called the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Leichtag Foundation — two major sources for Jewish educational funding — “united against Israel.”

• In 2014, Geller ran a public service announcement campaign on 100 New York City buses and subways that even the New York Daily News described as being part of a “shocking anti-Islam ad campaign.” The posters were the MTA equivalent of Der Sturmer cartoons, attacking all of Islam as fanatical and bloodthirsty.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Geller the “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” who “has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists” in order to demonize Muslims.

Of course, Islam has a problem — we all know that. Our in-depth cover essay this week, by Sunni Muslim scholar Hussein Aboubakr Mansour, outlines thoughtful ways the religion can stop its ideological extremism and move into the modern age. 

But Geller is no Charlie Hebdo. Her goal is not a free society of mutual tolerance. Her goal is an intolerant America where those who disagree with her — Muslim, Jewish or otherwise — are demeaned, disparaged and intimidated. First, people like Geller go after Muslims. Then they come after us.

Why is that? You might think it odd that a middle-aged Jewish woman from Long island would become bigotry’s pinup girl. But Eric Hoffer, my guide to all things fanatical, predicted just such a phenomenon in his seminal 1951 book, “The True Believer.”

“Boredom accounts for the almost invariable presence of …middle-aged women at the birth of mass movements,” Hoffer wrote.

“Even in the case of Islam and the Nazi movement, which frowned upon feminine activity outside the home, we find women of a certain type playing an important role in the early stage of their development. … By embracing a holy cause and dedicating their energies and substance to its advancement, they find a new life full of purpose and meaning. Hitler made full use of  ‘the society ladies thirsting for adventure, sick of their empty lives, no longer getting a “kick” out of love affairs.’ He was financed by the wives of some of the great industrialists long before their husbands had heard of him.”

Putting aside the pre-feminist chauvinism in Hoffer’s writing, you can’t deny he’s onto something. Geller has found something more important to her than a cause; she has found attention.

Good for her — now the rest of us just have to pay the price.