Posted on October 17th, 2012 1 comment
Having grown up in the segregated American South with its “no Jews, no Negroes” (and sometimes adding “no dogs,”) public signage, it was a relatively easy call for me to make about where I should be standing when anti-Muslim paid advertising began appearing in the Washington DC Metro System. These ads (which have appeared in NY and apparently are coming next to Portland, Oregon) read: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The image includes a Star of David on either side of the phrases which imply that Muslims and the enemies of Israel are savages.
Having also just completed reading the week’s Torah portion from Genesis reminding us that all human beings are created in God’s image, and fearing that the hate-mongers behind these ads might associate Jews and Israel with their bigotry, I felt I had no choice but to stand physically next to the ads and promote a different message. I am proud to say thatRabbis for Human Rights-North America (of which I was the founding Chairperson) has responded vigorously with a profoundly different message, one which has been placed in public places near these disgusting posters. The RHR-NA poster reads “In the choice between love and hate CHOOSE LOVE – Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.” I stood next to the Metro ad holding a copy of the RHR-NA poster, which has not yet made it to the Metro stops in DC. This also provided me with a challenging opportunity for Rabbinic service in a unique way as I interacted with passersby, fulfilling the mitzvah ofKiddush HaShem (sanctifying God’s name publicly) in the meaning of that obligation as described in the Talmud.
We all presumably know that “savage” is a loaded, stereotypical, and denigrating term that was once used to describe African American, Native Americans and other ethnic minority groups as mentally inferior and culturally primitive with animal-like attributes. It reeks of bigotry which has been directed at religious minorities in this country including Jews and Catholics. The implication that Israel is confronted by “savages” has a provenance and a perspective that is inimical to any amelioration of the tragic conflicts that prevent a peaceful resolution for the beleaguered State of Israel. The misuse of the word “Jihad,” by its linkage with savagery as a summary description of a rich culture virtually all of whose billions of adherents oppose violent extremism, is no more appropriate than the misuse of the word Zionism to signify racism.
The ad not only demeans Islam and links Jewish symbols and Israel to bigotry, but also abuses our American freedom of speech in order to stir hatred of peace loving fellow Americans. I am proud to associate myself with remarks delivered at a press conference in DC on October 15 by Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, Jewish Community Relations Council’s Director of Social Justice and Interfaith Initiatives and President of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington: “The placing of offensive, anti-Muslim, ads in the D.C. Metro system is an important opportunity to affirm our commitment both to free speech and to a society that deplores hate and hate speech. We are all part of one community. The Muslim community is part of our wider community and our neighbors. We live in the same neighborhoods, send our kids to the same schools, and volunteer in the same homeless shelters.”