Alex Kane April 17th, 2014
What’s the ideology undergirding opposition to the construction of mosques in the United States? How are anti-Muslim groups funded? How have Jewish groups reacted when confronted with issues like the proposed construction of thePark51 Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City?
Elly Bulkin and Donna Nevel answer these questions and more in their new book Islamophobia and Israel, a sobering analysis of the Jewish establishment’s dalliance with anti-Muslim bigotry.
Based on a series of articles that I had the pleasure of editing before their initial publication on AlterNet, Bulkin and Nevel’s book takes a close look back at the summer of 2010, when the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry were fanned with vigor. It had been nine years after the September 11, 2001, attacks by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. But Islamophobia – collective animus targeting all Muslims – was still ingrained into swathes of the American body politic. And the Park51 Islamic center was exploited to bring that bigotry to the surface.
When anti-Muslim bloggers like Pamela Geller first started railing against Park51, the name of the planned mosque and community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero, not many people noticed. But in a matter of months, concern over what was dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” migrated from the fever swamps of Islamophobic blogs to Fox News. Then the rest of the mainstream press started paying attention. Ugly protests broke out. Heated debate captured the airwaves. The majority of Americans said they opposed the mosque.
The Jewish community was split on the issue. But the voice that captured the most attention was the Anti-Defamation League, a thoroughly mainstream group that calls itself the “nation’s premier civil rights” group. On July 28, 2010, the group issued a statement calling for the planned mosque to be moved away from the World Trade Center site, a rationale that only makes sense if you blame all Muslims for 9/11. With that statement, the ADL joined the likes of theSimon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier, who said that Park51 was insensitively being built at the “wrong location.”
Here were two Jewish groups, ostensibly dedicated to tolerance and civil rights for all, opposing the right of Muslims to have a mosque near the former World Trade Center site. Given the history of anti-Semitism in the U.S., it was a curious stance on its face. But read Bulkin’s and Nevel’s analysis of the role the Jewish establishment and the Israel lobby have played in fueling Islamophobia, and it makes a lot more sense.
In one chapter of the book, Bulkin and Nevel argue that the ADL’s opposition to Park51 is only the latest manifestation of the group’s Islamophobia. The group quietly opposed the building of a Boston mosque and joined in the smear campaign against Debbie Almontaser, who was forced to resign her position as founding principal of New York City’s first dual-language Arabic school after a months-long effort. The claim that Almontaser’s school would establish an Islamist beachhead would be laughable if it were not so effective.
More recently, ADL head Abe Foxman justified the New York Police Department’s blanket spy program targeting Muslims, and the ADL honored former NYPD chief Ray Kelly, who implemented the discriminatory program, in March 2014.
Fueling these positions, Bulkin and Nevel argue, is the ADL’s “staunchly pro-Israel mindset … [which] enabled it to easily incorporate an anti-Muslim worldview that has become increasingly pervasive after 9/11.”
In addition to writing on mainstream Jewish groups’ complicity in fomenting Islamophobia, Bulkin and Nevel comprehensively document the funding stream connecting some Jewish philanthropic organizations – like the Fairbrook Foundation, the Becker Foundation, and the Rosenwald Fund – to anti-Muslim groups. Some of the same Jewish philanthropists, like former AIPAC board member Nina Rosenwald (of the Rosenwald Fund) and former Washington Institute for Near East Policy trustee Aubrey Chernick (of the Fairbrook Foundation), are key funders of illegal Israeli settlements.
Given what they invest their money in, these funders seem to see support for Israel and Islamophobia as part of the same project. One aspect of that project is a tendency to view the Israel/Palestine conflict as the front line in a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. Another key part of the project is attempting to demean a key political bloc – Arabs and Muslims – who are more critical of Israel than other ethnic groups in order to shore up American support for the project of Greater Israel, which funding settlements fortifies.
It’s not often that these funders explicitly make that connection. But in December 2011, one did. Speaking to a group of young Jews on a Birthright Israel trip, billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, who helped fund an anti-Muslim film titled The Third Jihad, said: “When you return to your countries of origin, speak in support of Israel – don’t let Muslim student organizations take over the campuses.”
As Bulkin’s and Nevel’s book shows, Muslim groups and allies opposed to Islamophobia are battling a well-funded machine dedicated to right-wing Zionism and anti-Muslim bigotry. But those opposed to Islamophobia in the Jewish establishment have begun to fight back.
Bulkin and Nevel are a core part of their effort. They are both founding members of the Jews Against Islamophobiacoalition, a group composed of a few Jewish organizations that saw the need to unite. The coalition is the Jewish part of a multi-denominational effort against anti-Muslim bigotry.
Their book will be a key resource for those looking to join this struggle. By offering detailed documentation and analysis of how and why powerful members of the Jewish establishment have stoked Islamophobia, the book lights the way for activists organizing against anti-Muslim bigotry.
Alex Kane is an assistant editor at Mondoweiss.net and the World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, The Daily Beast’s “Open Zion” blog, Vice, +972 magazine, and the Electronic Intifada. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.