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entries tagged with: Yossi Klein Halevi


Will the real Imam Rauf please stand up?

Who is Feisel Abdul Rauf?

Initially the controversy over building a $100-million Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero was about location, location, location. Increasingly, however, attention has turned to the 61-year-old Sufi imam behind the project.

Depending on whom you ask, Rauf — currently in the Middle East as part of a U.S.-funded outreach program to the Muslim world — is a dedicated interfaith activist, a stealth apologist for Islamist terrorism, or something else.

Those looking to defend Rauf in Jewish circles have a new card to play: It turns out that the imam delivered a moving speech at the 2003 memorial service held in a Manhattan synagogue for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan.

Invoking Pearl’s final words before his beheading, Rauf declared: “If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul, ‘Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad — hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,’ not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one.”

Supporters and detractors are debating whether Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf is a dedicated interfaith activist, a stealth apologist for Islamist terrorism, or something else.

The speech was cited last week by Jeffrey Goldberg on his influential blog, and then mentioned on one of journalism’s biggest stages: Frank Rich’s lengthy Sunday column in the Week in Review section of The New York Times.

On his blog, Goldberg called Rauf “a moderate, forward-leaning Muslim,” and said the imam’s words showed courage because “any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says ‘I am a Jew’ is placing his life in danger.”

Rauf’s other supporters note that he is a frequent participant in interfaith dialogues, who condemns terrorism and fanaticism.

His critics, however, paint a different picture, accusing Rauf of paying lip service to such sentiments, while either failing to offer strong criticism — by name — of foreign governments and organizations engaged in terrorism, or making common cause with anti-American Islamists.

The critics come armed with their own set of quotes: Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the imam told “60 Minutes” that “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened; but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a radio interview in June with WABC’s Aaron Klein, Rauf described himself as a “supporter of Israel,” but declined to label Hamas as a terrorist group, saying, “I do not want to be placed nor will I accept a position where I am the target of one side or another.” And, this week, his detractors are trumpeting a 2005 speech in Adelaide, Australia, in which he cited the impact of U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq and asserted that “we tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.”

The stakes are high in the battle to define Rauf as an interfaith leader or terrorist sympathizer, as the controversy over the proposed Islamic center has quickly turned him into the most famous imam in America. How he is perceived by the wider public could play a key role not only in how Americans feel about the project — polls continue to show large majorities opposed — but also in influencing U.S. attitudes toward Islam in the years to come.

So far on his State Department-funded trip to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, Rauf reportedly has avoided answering questions about the controversial project, stressing instead his efforts to “Americanize” Islam and find a formula for Muslims to stay to true to their faith while assimilating into Western societies. The Bush administration sent him on a similar trip.

In an interview Sunday with ABC, Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, connected these efforts to the drive to build the Islamic center. She also said that her husband’s comment in 2001 about the United States being an “accessory” to the World Trade Center attacks was a reference to support that the United States provided to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in the 1980s. Regarding Hamas, the website of Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative states: “Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. When Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror, those actions should be condemned. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic.”

Khan appeared on “This Week With Christiane Amanpour” with Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of the JCC in Manhattan. Both women said that Levitt and the JCC have been advising the effort to build the Islamic center. Levitt said that the JCC had invited Khan and her husband to speak at the JCC in September, and called on other Jewish and Christian community centers to do likewise “because clearly what this whole controversy has unleashed is a tremendous amount of misinformation, lack of knowledge about Islam that we need to address.”

Such appearances seem unlikely to sway at least one opponent of building an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero at this time — Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father and a computer science professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Pearl told JTA that while he was “touched” by Rauf’s appearance and speech at his son’s memorial, “many Muslim leaders offered their condolences at the time.” More to the point, Pearl said he is discouraged that the Muslim leadership has not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death.

“At the time, I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism,” said Pearl, who engages in public conversations with Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University, on behalf of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The established Muslim leadership in the United States, Pearl said, “has had nine years to build up trust by proactively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger, and entitlement. Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were not too successful in this endeavor.”

He views the controversy to be a vote of no confidence in the organized Muslim leadership, not specifically against Rauf.

“If I were [New York] Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” he said. “Public reaction tells us that it is not the right time, and that it will create further animosity and division in this country.”

Israeli scholar Yossi Klein Halevi is another journalist throwing his hat in the imam’s bio ring.

He met Rauf in September 2001 at Drew University in Madison at a symposium for “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden,” Halevi’s chronicle of the year he spent learning about the three Abrahamic faiths.

Rauf was, Halevi told JTA, “one of the very few Muslim leaders who responded positively to my book and was willing to endorse it publicly even though it was written by an Israeli and from a Zionist perspective.”

Halevi called the stance “generous and kind,” and added “if he is not a dialogue partner for us then there is virtually no one with whom we can speak in the Muslim world.”

That said, Halevi, too, is opposed to the Ground Zero mosque, saying it is “not an effective way of bringing Islam into the mainstream, and mainstreaming Islam in America is Rauf’s goal.”

A better idea, he said, would be an interfaith center that would include a church, a mosque, and a synagogue as well as a common space for people of all faiths and none.

Like Pearl, Halevi believes focusing on the imam’s personality is misplaced.

“The question of building a mosque at Ground Zero is traumatic enough,” Halevi said. “We don’t need to create an artificial issue around the man behind it.”



Hartman scholars come to north Jersey

Yossi Klein Halevi, Rachel Korazim bring perspectives on Israel

Joanne PalmerLocal | World
Published: 25 October 2012

Israel seems to be on everyone’s mind right now.

We heard that clearly in the presidential debates. But dig just a bit below the surface, below the fireworks and bellowing smoke of presidential politics, and you learn that younger Jews increasingly care less about the Jewish state.

That’s why the Hartman program, iEngage, is trying to advance Americans’ understanding of the country, on the theory that you can more truly love what you more fully understand.

Many Jewish institutions across the area are using the iEngage program, which is funded by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, and some are adding their own speakers and programs to it. That group includes Temple Emanu-El of Closter, which will host two speakers in residence over the next two Shabbatot, among many other people and programs.

Yossi Klein Halevi, a well-known and highly accomplished journalist, writer, and speaker who made aliyah about 30 years ago, also is a senior scholar at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He will be scholar-in-residence this Shabbat, and he will talk, he said, about the current crisis in Israel. That, he pointed out in a phone interview, is a title that would always apply to Israel, now matter what the crisis might be.

The crisis now, though, he said, is dire.

“We’re really at an extraordinary moment,” he said. “On the one hand, the external threats haven’t been as acute as they are now at any time since 1967. Not even in 1973,” which was the year of the Yom Kippur War. That, he said, is because the war started and ended quickly. The situation today — he’s talking about Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, “and everything else we’re facing” — has built up over many years.

On the other hand, he continued, “many Israelis’ attention is on internal issues.

“That’s counterintuitive. We’ve always deferred dealing with domestic issues because of what we call hamatzav — the situation — but now the external situation is really acute, and Israelis are focused elsewhere. That may be a useful survival technique, or maybe there’s an element of denial about it.”

Israel’s elections are scheduled for early in 2013 — its parliamentary system demands that dates be penciled rather than chiseled onto calendars — and the question of the price of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s genuinely achieved stability will be raised, Halevi said. “On Israeli radio these days, the interesting thing is that the left-winger will begin by saying that there is no denying the fact that as the region is roiling and the world economy is shaking, Natanyahu has brought stability. That’s from the left! On the right, you hear that Israelis are hurting and people are wondering about the future.”

Halevi worries that “there is an emerging liberal narrative of Israel that is partly true, and because it’s partly true it’s fundamentally distorted. There are ugly snapshots that are indicative of certain trends in Israel” — here, he was talking specifically about the arrest of the Women of the Wall’s leader, Anat Hoffman, for saying the Sh’ma out loud in the women’s section of the Kotel — “but if those become the totality of how liberal Jews think of Israel, then it will be as distorting as your parents’ view of Israel as being Ari Ben-Canaan.” (Ari Ben-Canaan was the hero of Leon Uris’s novel “Exodus”; he was as lion-hearted as his first name demanded, and because he was played by Paul Newman in the movie, his name evokes visions of lean, blond, blue-eyed wiry glamor.)

“American Jews finally began to look at Israel more closely, which is something that should have happened years ago,” Halevi said. “But the lens they’re using is so narrow, and in some senses so self-referential, that liberal American Jews will end up making the same mistake their parents did, in the other direction.

“There is an anti-Leon Uris narrative emerging that is as distorting as the original.

“That is not to underestimate what happened to the Women of the Wall,” he added. “There is an outrageous lack of respect for the non-Orthodox denominations from the top. But if one understands that there is no one Israel but a multitude of Israels, which reflect the reality of the ingathering of dozens of Jewish communities around the world, then one would relate to Israel in a more expansive and nuanced way.

“Israel is a wonderfully chaotic, anarchic society,” he said. “How wide a lens will you use to look at it?” It should be a very wide lens, he suggested.

Dr. Rachel Korazim, who followed a career in the Jewish Agency with her new life as a freelance educator with a part-time connection to the Hartman Institute, will be at Emanu-El the next Shabbat, which begins Nov. 2. In a Skype interview from Israel, she said that an assumption underlying much of her work is that the old paradigms governing the way we see Israel no longer work. One classical paradigm is made clear in the lament, “By the waters of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion,” from Psalm 137. The other is apparent in Judah Halevi’s early 12th century poem that begins “My heart is in the East, and I am at the edge of the West.” In the first paradigm, we are in exile; in the second, we are living in beauty but Jerusalem is in ruins. “But for the last 60-odd years, both exiles and Jerusalem are doing fine,” she said.

Jerusalem certainly is not trouble-free, but it is flourishing, and Jews in exile live very well and have built fulfilling and actively Jewish lives. “We have to create a paradigm that allows for two success stories,” Korazim said.

At Emanu-El, she will teach a series that she thinks of as providing windows into Israeli society through literature.

“When you live outside Israel, there are various platforms or ways to get to know Israel,” she said. “It can be the Israel of the synagogue, or the Israel of fund-raising, or the Israel of the media. When you come to Israel often you take a tour, and it will show the highlights, but not necessarily the heart. When you are invited into the literature, you are invited into the intimate discourse of Israelis.”

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