In what reality-bending hall of mirrors does an armed gunman take 4 Jews hostage thinking that’s how to secure the release of an imprisoned Al-Qaeda agent?
Of course, much will be learned about the Colleyville, Texas hostage crisis in the days ahead. But we will probably never fully understand, in rational terms, perpetrator Malik Faisal Akram’s logic. It seems connected to the delusion – like that of the Al Qaeda agent – that Jews control the levers of world power, including the (literal) keys to Aafia Siddiqui’s freedom.
Where in this 21st Century world, other than the deep, dark, spooky web, would such a foolish notion be circulated? And if the disinfectant of public exposure was shed on such foolishness, wouldn’t the condemnations be swift, unequivocal, and nearly universal?
Well, as evidenced recently, the answers to those questions would be 1) Chicago, Illinois, and; 2) no, unfortunately, they wouldn’t.
The hateful, inflammatory rhetoric was promoted just two months ago over Thanksgiving weekend at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Chicago. The setting was the annual convention of the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). Three-thousand people attended.
Two highlights of that convention provided incendiary fodder to those susceptible to the demonization of American Jews and supporters of the Jewish State of Israel.
First, released in conjunction with the convention and a theme struck throughout, was the AMP’s McCarthy-era like “Report on Working with Zionist Organizations.”
Referring explicitly to “Jewish” groups, the report provides “the rationale for which it is necessary to avoid working with these organizations.” It proceeds to characterize most Jewish groups, especially those committed to promoting interfaith dialogue, especially with Muslims – like Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas—as, literally, “bad.”
What crime does the report allege is being committed by these Jewish interfaith engagements? “Creeping normalcy,” which is a “trojan horse” that “rather than building understanding between various faith-based communities” are used “as a vehicle to further their agenda with regards to Israel …”
AMP’s report urges that “the American Muslim community must avoid falling into this trap” being set by “organizations [that] often cloak themselves as simply Jewish organizations or representing Judaism,” but hide “their underlying purposes.”
“When Muslims cooperate with these [Jewish] organizations …[it] provides them with legitimacy. It is a well-documented fact that the Israeli government and particularly the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates through “front groups” who work to whitewash Israeli crimes and human rights abuses.”
The name-calling of “bad” Jews and “bad” Muslims, the paranoia-filled conspiracies, and the attempted marginalization of 90+ percent of the American Jewish community go on for 14-footnoted pages. Condemned are such mainstream Jewish groups as ADL, Jewish Federations, and campus Hillels, and the leaders of organizations dedicated to publicly exposing such incitement are labeled “vehement fascists.”
It is a perversion of liberal society that some minority groups, in this case, American Muslims, can demonize another, in this case, American Jews, but when called out will defend themselves with the discussion-stifling accusation of “Islamophobia.” Too many civic, non-Jewish religious groups and some Jewish groups, as well as the media, give a free pass to such behavior. It is a distorted form of “privilege.”
The second lowlight of the AMP conference was remarks by Zahra Billoo, the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco office. That she would deliver fireworks was no surprise: her notorious track record of antisemitism led to her being booted – in 2017 – from the national board of the National Women’s March.
Billoo directly, shamelessly linked Israel and her Jewish supporters to every imaginable problem plaguing our country, including police killing of innocent black and brown Americans. She asserted most mainstream Jewish organizations and synagogues “are your enemies” and peddled conspiracy theories on “the connection between Islamophobia and Zionism.” Channeling the AMP report, she cautioned the crowd to be wary of “polite Zionists” whose charitable and interfaith work masks an Islamophobic agenda. Her list of “good and bad” Jewish and Muslim groups mirrored AMP’s.
She also said those Jews “will stab you in the back at the first opportunity,” an antisemitic trope popularized by Hitler to explain Germany’s WWI loss. More recently – and perhaps more relevantly – it was invoked by none other than Aafia Siddiqui, the Al Qaeda agent whose freedom the synagogue hostage-taker sought to secure. (AMP and CAIR, which held rallies on her behalf as recently as last fall, also advocate for her release.)
When Biloo’s remarks were made public, CAIR defended their employee, her arguments and went on to attack the groups who brought her remarks to the public’s attention. AMP also rallied to her side and doubled down on her arguments. But her remarks, the criticism and the criticism of the criticism played out in the echo chambers of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian social media platforms. Even after the Colleyville, Texas hostage crisis, that remains so.
Words matter. Promulgated via an authoritative, academic-like report or the speaker’s podium of a national convention, words can inspire action…good or bad. Jew-baiting, thinly veiled antisemitic words never have good outcomes. And while every suspect and even convicted felon, including Al Qaeda agents, are entitled to every measure of justice our legal systems affords, it is revealing when groups like CAIR and AMP choose to focus their prisoner advocacy on someone like Aafia Siddiqui.
Strong democracies endure bad speech, but must not shy away from criticizing it, even when it emanates from a minority community itself the target all-too-often of bad speech.
According to AMP and CAIR, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and Colleyville, Texas’ Congregation Beth Israel are “polite Zionists,” “enemies” who engage in “Trojan horse” deceptions, and “who will stab you in the back at the first opportunity…”
We don’t know if Malik Faisal Akram heard, read, or was influenced by those dangerous, despicable words. It must not take another synagogue hostage crisis to get them publicly aired and denounced.
These topsy-turvy times aren’t conducive to optimism. More natural is the cynicism born of convicted Al Qaeda agent Aafia Siddiqui, who was given financial aid to attend Brandeis University, calling Jews “backstabbers.” Perhaps we are the ones disoriented by the reality-bending hall of mirrors.