Anti-Semitic Remarks At ISNA Conference Stir Controversy


The Jewish magazine Forward has reported on the recent controversy concerning anti-Semitic remarks made by a speaker at the recent annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. According to the report:

Efforts to bring together Jewish and Muslim communities hit another snag when an imam at a major Muslim conference gave an incendiary speech in which he said Jews were to blame for the Holocaust. The speech came during the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, which was attended by rabbis who have been trying to build closer relations between Muslims and Jews. At one of the conference’s 70 sessions, Warith Deen Umar, a New York imam, spoke critically of Jews, saying that the Holocaust happened to the Jews “because they were serially disobedient to Allah.” He also said that a small handful of Jews around President Obama “control the world.” ISNA immediately condemned the tenor of the comments. This was enough for some of the Jewish figures in attendance, but not enough for the Jewish terrorism hunter who brought the comments to light…..Umar’s speech came during a session that was named after a new book he is touting, titled “Jews for Salaam: The Straight Path to Global Peace.” Umar, the former head of the New York State prison chaplain program, is no stranger to controversy. In 2003, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy report about how Umar spread extremism within the prison system. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Umar referred to the terrorists as martyrs. He also published a book titled “Judaiology” that spoke about the “inordinacy of Jewish power” and stated that Jews “play mind games” to deceive the non-Jews. In his July speech, Umar took issue with the fact that Obama’s first choices for White House positions were Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. Both men are Jewish, though Umar wrongly described them as Israeli. “Why do this small number of people have control of the world?” he asked. He then moved to speak of the Holocaust, providing his own explanation for its cause: “These people were punished. They were punished for a reason, because they were serially disobedient to Allah.” ISNA leaders were quick to issue a statement condemning his language and stressing that it does not reflect the group’s opinion of other religions. “We would like to set the record straight and state our complete rejection of all prejudicial views and bigoted stances toward the Jewish community and any other community of faith,” ISNA’s president, Ingrid Mattson, said in a statement. Louay Safi, executive director of the group’s Leadership Development Center, told the Forward that Umar was scheduled to speak about peace and to demonstrate how Muslim and Jewish communities can live in peace. Safi said that Umar, like other speakers, was vetted based on his proposed topic, not his past. “We were very surprised when we heard about it,” Safi said, adding that the group will now look for ways to make sure that such mistakes do not occur in the future.

The article also presents background concerning dialog between ISNA and the Jewish community:

The divide comes in the context of a broader debate in the Jewish community about how far to go in dialogue with Islamic groups. One strong view has been presented by Steve Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and a skeptic when it comes to close ties between Jewish groups and the major American Muslim organizations. Emerson has argued that ISNA and other Muslim groups are not as moderate as Jewish groups would like to believe. It was Emerson’s project that released a record and transcript of Umar’s comments, and he immediately rejected ISNA’s apology. “I think they have fooled the Jewish groups,” Emerson told the Forward. “They haven’t changed.” But Rabbi Marc Schneier, president and founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a keynote speaker at the ISNA convention, said that Islamic groups are too often condemned based on extreme outliers. “When you have 99.999% of the people saying good things and one person saying other things, you shouldn’t magnify the words of that one person,” Schneier said. “It is time for the Emersons of the world to understand that the process has begun and that while there may be bumps on the road, the process has begun.” Emerson shot back that “Rabbi Schneier is involved in legitimization of extreme Islamist groups for years. He wouldn’t tell a good group from a bad one, even if he got hit on his head by jihad.” ISNA, the largest representative Muslim body in the United States, has been engaged in an active dialogue with the Union for Reform Judaism for the past two years. Leaders of both groups spoke at gatherings of their counterparts, and their joint project, Children of Abraham, formulated a guidebook on interfaith relations.

This issue has also been discussed in previous posts.

As documented in a Hudson Institute report, ISNA grew directly out of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. The organization has a long history of fundamentalism, anti-semitism, and support for terrorism and during the recent Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial, ISNA was named as an unindicted co-conspirator as a result of what the government called “ISNA’s and NAIT’s intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case.” Although it is true that recently ISNA has issued condemnations of terrorism which for the first time identify Hamas and Hezbollah by name, there is no indication that the organization has ever addressed or acknowledged its history of support for terrorism. Also, as the Hudson Institute report observes, almost all of the ISNA founders remain active in the organization and ISNA maintains close relations with all other components of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.

Several recent posts have also discussed the controversy over whether or not the FBI has has decided to use the Islamic Society of North America as its official point of contact.

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