Philadelphia, PA (March 31, 2015) – This week, following a long court battle, SEPTA will begin running the latest in a nation-wide series of shockingly bigoted anti-Islam ad campaigns paid for by the far-right American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). The ads, which SEPTA initially rejected as defamatory, suggest that Muslims are Nazis and that anti-Semitism is inherent to Islamic theology. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the sponsoring organization a "hate group" and its founder, Pamela Geller, was identified by the Center for American Progress as among the ringleaders of an "Islamophobia network" of right-wing funders and activists working to foment irrational hatred of Muslims across the country.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) - Philadelphia stands in steadfast opposition to this dangerous wave of hate speech, as have JVP chapters across the country when AFDI ads have appeared in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle.
The ugly message of Geller’s advertisement is factually inaccurate and offensive in its misuse and trivialization of Holocaust memory. Alongside a banner reading “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran” is a photograph of Adolph Hitler meeting with Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a Nazi collaborator and one-time Mufti of Jerusalem, with a caption labeling Husseini “the leader of the Muslim world.” In reality, Husseini was a British-appointed functionary with a limited following in Jerusalem, much less the entire Muslim world. But for Geller, historical accuracy is less important than exploiting the Jewish people’s ultimate tragedy to defame Muslims and sow prejudice.
While American norms of religious tolerance have so far checked the rise of European-style anti-Muslim mass movements, Geller's Islamophobia network has nonetheless helped create an environment conducive to "lone wolf" attacks on Muslim individuals and institutions. Last month, three visibly Muslim college students were executed in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina apartment by a neighbor with documented animus towards religion and an obsession with firearms. Several days later, an arson attack destroyed an Islamic center in Houston, Texas. According to the Washington Post, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes has increased five-fold since 9/11, and 6% of Muslim Americans polled in 2011—more than 150,000 people total—report having been victimized.
It is therefore encouraging that a consortium of Philadelphia’s mainstream religious leaders—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—has come together to unequivocally denounce the AFDI campaign. In a statement issued by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia last October, clergymen and women “condemn[ed] inflammatory messages that serve to divide, stigmatize, and incite prejudice.” Today, that consortium, including the Jewish Federation, will gather at 1pm in Love Park to reaffirm its repudiation of Pamela Geller’s hateful agenda. We at Jewish Voice for Peace – Philadelphia proudly and loudly join the chorus of condemnation. On this important issue, we stand with the mainstream Jewish community in rejecting Islamophobia.
Still, we would be remiss in our responsibility as progressive Jews if we did not highlight the role Islamophobia plays in much right-wing “pro-Israel” discourse. Indeed, Pamela Geller is best known for her New York subway advertisements calling Muslims “savages” and encouraging readers to “Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.” The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), whose influence in the Philadelphia area is outsized, is the only major Jewish organization willing to host Geller and other nationally prominent Islamophobes. And the Center for American Progress has documented numerous linkages between “pro-Israel” foundations and anti-Muslim hate groups.
At Jewish Voice for Peace - Philadelphia, we believe it is both possible and necessary to affirm the right of Israelis and Palestinians to security and freedom without resorting to racism, and we express deep concern that Islamophobic groups like the ZOA continue to be embraced by the mainstream Jewish community.
More resources from Jewish Voice for Peace:
Philadelphia public transport adverts linking Islam with Adolf Hitler spark outrage, April 3, 2015. International Business Times.
Rabbi's guerrilla war against anti-Islam bus ads, April 29, 2015. Philly.com