U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY), who once said 85% of American Muslim community leaders are "an enemy living amongst us,” is set to hold hearings today to investigate "the extent of radicalization of American Muslims." The idea of hearings that single out one ethnic or religious group in the United States is profoundly offensive to me as a Jew, a Rabbi, an American, and a human being. These hearings come on the heels of a string of shockingly racist attacks and campaigns against Muslims in the United States including:

* Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly in Orange County, who called a fundraiser for womens’ shelters sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA(ICNA) “pure unadulterated evil” and said, “I know quite a few Marines who will be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise.”

* Efforts to stop the building of mosques and Muslim community centers around the country.

* The District Attorney’s unprecedented criminalization of Muslim students in Orange County for engaging in a garden-variety student protest.

It is painful to see some Jewish groups promoting this hatred and fear because they mistakenly believe it will help Israel. It is also deeply distressing to see this disturbing trend of scapegoating Muslim-Americans being echoed at the highest levels of our government.

Every fiber of our being, as Jews and people of good will, should vibrate with astonishment at these incidents. But if we view this spectacle with "old eyes," as Rabbi Leo Baeck observed upon witnessing the events in 1930s Germany, we must acknowledge that we know this place and time in history from our own experience.

For Jews, viewing the creation of a national narrative about Muslims as "the harmful other" reminds us of our past in Europe, in ancient Egypt, and even in early 20th Century America. By trying to assign Muslim-Americans and Islam to the role of the source of evil, they inflame passions and add enmity not only to the American discourse but also to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In this season of change in the Middle East, as people call for freedom, democracy and equality-- largely inspired by the promise of our own democracy-- we should be seeking to build bridges of understanding, not separation.


Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak
Member, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinic Council
Founder, Jews On First