In the midst of the political currents confronting Israel, it is bizarre to hear an “Orthodox” rabbi blessing the head of the Palestinian Authority for his dubious statement regarding the Holocaust and castigating our Prime Minister for finding “difficulty [to respond to him] with positive statements”.
Rabbi Mark Schneier’s embrace of Mahmoud Abbas is the culmination of a long series of counterproductive “interfaith” initiatives he has instigated.
For Abbas this occasion represented manna from heaven as Schneier praised and embraced his statement condemning the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime of modern history” as “sincere and authentic” and “very heartfelt, very genuine”.
Normally, such a statement from a Palestinian or Arab leader would be welcomed. But in this case it leaves us queasy. Abbas has not negated his Moscow doctorate which asserts that Zionists conspired with the Nazis to perpetrate the Holocaust and insists that the number of Jews who perished was vastly exaggerated – a clear example of sophisticated Holocaust denial.
Moreover, his statement was released at a time while the PA’s incitement against Jews is increasing, released murderers are being sanctified and rewarded with stipends and PA TV gleefully broadcasts the gory details of the brutal murders they committed.
To top off the hypocrisy, in the same week as his Holocaust statement, Abbas announced that the PA would merge with Hamas, whose Nazi-like charter explicitly calls on its followers to murder Jews wherever they encounter them.
Alas, Rabbi Schneier failed to query Abbas on these and other issues, including his pledge that not a single Jew would reside in a Palestinian state and his repeated denials of Jewish links to Eretz Yisrael.
Instead, Schneier restricted himself to interfaith activities such as ritual slaughter and an appeal to twin mosques with synagogues. He said “I’m a great believer that a Muslim Jewish reconciliation worldwide transcends [sic!] the Israeli Palestinian process”, stating in a somewhat self-serving egoistical manner, “I will leave the political peace process to the politicians and political leaders. But in developing the spiritual peace process bringing the children of Abraham together, we are in the vanguard of that worldwide”. He ‘modestly’ claimed that by coming to Ramallah, he had succeeded in “branding a whole new paradigm of Muslim Jewish understanding.”
Needless to say, such restricted ‘interfaith dialogue’ only serves to obfuscate the evil challenges that Islamic fundamentalism poses not only to Israel but to the world at large.
Rabbi Schneier is somewhat of an elusive personality and stands out as a uniquely American Jewish phenomenon.
His principal pastoral success was his development of an opulent and dynamic synagogue and cultural center in the Hamptons, the renowned resort area. Having been a weekend guest at his synagogue, I can personally testify to his success and ability to attract many affluent non-Orthodox Jews, who are mesmerized by his flair and organizational skills.
But he has had his share of personal problems. The Rabbinical Council of America had initiated an investigation for allegedly breaching the code of ethics and engaging in behavior unfit for a Rabbi but was unable to proceed for legal reasons.
His political activities in the “Foundation for Ethnic Understanding”, heavily supported financially by Russell Simmons, head of the “Hip-Hop Summit Action Network”, provided him with national exposure and led Newsweek to name him as one the 50 most influential rabbis in America in 2007.
He persuaded former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to appoint him head of Kadima USA, an initiative which foundered when his deputy Mark Mishaan was exposed as being a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to grand larceny. Kadima USA finally disappeared after it was disclosed that its policy platform had been plagiarized from the Texas Democratic Party website.
From an early stage, Rabbi Schneier recognized that interfaith activity with Muslim groups would endear him to the American liberal media and to Jewish liberals desperate to propel themselves to the forefront of the campaign against Islamophobia, even to the detriment of their own people.
It must be noted that, in general, dialogue with other faiths has in fact been productive, in particular with the Catholic Church after Pope John XXlll’s condemnation of anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council. Needless to say, this was based on the willingness of both parties to indulge in open discussion rather than mouthing platitudes or employing empty rhetoric to cover up differences.
Unfortunately, from the outset of his activities with Muslim groups, Schneier frequently associated with hostile anti-Israeli Islamic fundamentalist groups who were happy to share a platform with him without being obliged to respond to Islamic anti-Semitism or feral anti-Israel hostility.
Schneier enjoyed photo opportunities and extraordinary media exposure, providing legitimacy and respectability to groups hostile to Israel which granted additional clout to their anti-Israel lobbying. By patronizing or honoring extremist bodies, he also undermines the remaining beleaguered genuine moderate Muslim elements.
For example, amongst others, Schneier associates with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the principal umbrella Islamic body in North America, whose founders were exposed by the FBI as having had ties with the Moslem Brotherhood–Hamas network.
Four years ago, Schneier endorsed an “interfaith” gathering headed by Louis Farrakhan, the most notorious African-American anti-Semite who describes Judaism as “a gutter religion” and praises Hitler as “a great man”. Speaking to 50,000 followers, Farrakhan promoted the sale of viciously anti-Semitic books. The assembly was also addressed by satellite by the genocidal president of Sudan, Omar-al Bashir, a wanted war criminal.
In 2008, Schneier participated in the “interfaith” dialogue sponsored by Saudi King Abdullah in Madrid – equivalent to an anti-Semite like David Duke holding a global kumbaya extolling the virtues of racial equality. To their shame, Jews attending that conference failed to raise the issue of Islamic anti-Semitism.
In the course of his activities, Schneier repeats absurd mantras such as “Islam is a religion of peace”. When the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee held sessions on the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community, Schneier proclaimed in protest, “today, I’m a Muslim too.”
The reality is that all religions incorporate texts which religious leaders can exploit or distort at random to justify violence, cruelty and intolerance. The rivers of blood that flowed in the name of Christianity are testimony to this. But today the mainstreams of Judaism and Christianity oppose violence and bigotry.
There are many variations of Islam, but it is indisputable that the dominant religious forces in the Muslim Middle Eastern states cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be designated as promoting a religion of peace. Indeed, political Islam in the Arab world with its unique jihadism unquestionably represents a violent doctrine.
It is thus incumbent on those promoting equal rights for Muslims in Western countries to condemn the persecution, murder, religious cleansing and denial of human rights prevalent in Islamic states. We should also protest at Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism which indoctrinates Muslims in Western countries with hatred and sanctifies violence and martyrdom.
With the current tsunami of violent anti-Semitism, largely fueled by Islamic countries and Muslim minorities, it is sickening to observe Jews condemning exaggerated allegations of Islamophobia, whilst failing to give priority to combating the violence motivated by anti-Semitism, often initiated by Muslims. Unlike synagogues, mosques in Western countries rarely require armed guards.
We must demand reciprocity. We cannot co-operate or provide respectability to Muslim groups who refuse to expressly condemn the anti-Semitic incitement which emanates from Islamic countries or who are unwilling to explicitly condone global terrorism. Muslims in Western countries must join our efforts to overcome anti-Semitism.
Nor should we become party to supporting Islamic global efforts to suppress any criticism of Islam whatsoever in the name of ‘tolerance’. Jews who are sensitive to the demonization of religious practice must oppose this or we will not even be able to speak publicly about Islamic extremism.
We should seek out the limited number of Muslim groups and leaders courageous enough to speak out and condemn the excesses of Islamic extremism. For an example of this I commend the Turkish scholar Sinem Tezyapar’s insightful essay “The Abuse of Islam as Part of the Demonization of Israel” (click here for link).
This is being undermined by the activities of Jews like Rabbi Marc Schneier who grovel to Islamic extremists, as exemplified in his embrace and failure to challenge the Jew hatred promoted in the PA administration headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom