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The American Jewish Preoccupation with Islamophobia

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This past week, 155 American Jewish Organizations signed a statement decrying Islamophobia, issued in the wake of the tragic murder of a Palestinian child in Chicago by his family’s landlord, Joseph Czuba. I might have thought differently about it had the statement — drafted by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) — been released in a vacuum. But it was not. The context, of course, was the horrific events that have rocked Israel over the past couple weeks. Here are the specific reasons for my objection to the statement’s timing, orientation and tone:

  1. Under the circumstances, I believe the letter makes the Jewish community appear extremely defensive for no justifiable reason. Though names and looks can be deceiving, Joseph Czuba’s name and mug shot suggest that he is not Jewish (thank God!). And though mug shots are rarely flattering, Czuba’s suggests that – whether Jewish or not — he might be emotionally disturbed. We must await further details, but the horrible murder of this child seems to have been an aberrant psychotic event. To suggest that the killer was actually prompted to take the child’s life by his profound sympathy for suffering Jews defies human nature.  To think others like him will be dissuaded from committing such a crime by the JCPA’s plea insults intelligence.
  2. Though we certainly condemn the murder of a six-year-old whose perpetrator, according to the JCPA letter “reportedly (emphasis mine) espoused anti-Muslim hate” — there is absolutely no moral equivalence to the massive, government-sponsored and internationally financed blood-fest against Israel that has taken place since October 7. The JCPA’s statement falls into the trap of moral equivalence.
  3. The FBI’s annual report on hate crimes, released just last week, demonstrates that levels of antisemitism in America continue to far outstrip levels of Islamophobia or any other form of religious hatred. In fact, consistent with the longstanding pattern, there were more crimes committed against Jews last year than those committed against all of the other thirteen listed religious groups combined! The JCPA statement leaves the distinct impression that antisemitism and Islamophobia are essentially equivalent phenomena in magnitude and kind.  They are not.
  4. The utter refusal of Arab and Islamic nations, significant Islamic religious leaders, and even the American Muslim community to unequivocally condemn Hamas atrocities and endorse Israel’s right to defend itself cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. The Arab and Muslim worlds should have been mortified by the depravity of their brethren and co-religionists. They were not. All too many were exhilarated by it — including some on American college campuses. We deceive ourselves by believing that a Jewish statement against Islamophobia will elicit a broad-based, heartfelt, and meaningful response from the Arab/Muslim community.
  5. It should come as no surprise that many of the co-signing groups on the JCPA statement are known for their left-of-center views on Israel; and that not one significant Orthodox group is represented.  The broad Jewish community, of course, needn’t constantly look over its right shoulder for a political or religious hekhsher (approval). But character may be measured by the company one keeps.  The JCPA statement seems oblivious to the absence of Orthodox co-signers and unbothered by the presence of organizations that regularly undermine the Israeli consensus.
  6. Had American Jewry’s leadership determined that a national statement needed to be issued in light of the tragic murder in Chicago, one representative organizational leader could have been delegated to handle it. A rare, if not unprecedented, proclamation co-signed by scores of Jewish organizations, was manifestly excessive. A simple litmus test: Was there a statement issued by the same array of American Jewish groups condemning the Hamas atrocities, decrying Arab/Muslim silence, calling for a ban of anti-Semitic hate groups on American college campuses, and endorsing Israel’s objective to utterly destroy the terror regime that rules Gaza?  If so, I haven’t seen it.  Where is the American Jewish organizational world’s order of priorities?  Where is its sense of proportion?

We Jews are, of course, against all forms of hatred.  We would never want anyone – whether deranged or hopelessly bigoted — to exploit overwhelming Jewish suffering as a pretext to hurt, let alone murder, another human being.  But the JCPA’s statement, over the names of 155 American Jewish organizations, unwittingly lends credence to false narratives exploited by our mortal enemies.  For all its ostensibly good intentions, it sends the wrong message at this time, feeding into the pernicious myths of shared victimhood, moral equivalence and “cycles of violence.”

About the Author
Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, NY. A product of Boston University, New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, he holds a doctorate in Hebrew literature. Known for his decades-old activism on behalf of Israel, Soviet Jewry, and intra/interfaith cooperation, he has served both as president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis and as president of the Union for Traditional Judaism. His essays have appeared in Newsday, the Christian Science Monitor, the Jerusalem Report, and other publications. He and his wife, Rachel, moved to Israel in the summer of 2022.