There is no longer any doubt about whether anti-Semitism exists in America and on California college and university campuses. Even before the racist, white supremacist violence of mid-August in Charlottesville, regents of the University of California recognized this, declaring unanimously last year that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at (UC).”
It’s possible that statement and the call for individual campus chancellors to create rules tamping down on anti-Jewish hate speech and actions caused the 2016-17 academic year’s relative quietude on this front.
But even with things a bit more civil on UC campuses, five of them ranked among America’s top 10 for anti-Semitic incidents in a study last spring by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative.
Although campuses saw less outright anti-Semitic rhetoric, incendiary speech and advocacy of violence against Jews became prominent this summer at major mosques near UC campuses, mosques where many Muslim students worship. This was weeks before Charlottesville.
The California hate speech outbreak came less than a week after three Israeli Arabs shot two Israeli Druse Muslim border guards just outside a gate to Jerusalem’s landmark Temple Mount (known in Islam as the Noble Sanctuary), site of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque. Jews revere the hilltop compound as the site of their ancient Temple, burned by Roman occupiers; it’s also the location of legendary episodes in the lives of the Biblical Abraham and the prophet Mohammad. Christians know it as the place where Jesus overturned the tables of money changers.
Israel set up metal detectors at the gate after the shootings, sparking a non-violent Muslim protest seeing worshippers refuse to enter the area so long as there was added security.
In reacting, imams at mosques near UC Davis and UC Riverside launched anti-Semitic tirades, going far beyond criticism of Israel and its actions.
In the Islamic Center of Davis, directly across a street from the city’s UC campus, Imam Ammar Shahin prayed for Allah to “liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.” That’s a call for killing Jews everywhere, not only in Israel. Of course, no Jews occupied the mosque. If students in Shahin’s audience were to act this fall against Jewish students at Davis, should anyone be surprised?
The Davis mosque quickly pulled footage of Shahin’s polemic from YouTube, but left up a video of the 30-year-old Egyptian-born cleric smiling as he taught a UC Davis class on Muslim marriages.
At almost the same time Shahin preached hate in Davis, Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside, near UC Riverside, also preached a hateful, factually false sermon. First he claimed a plot between World Wars I and II to steal land in Palestine from Muslims through “killing, crime and massacres.”
He added that Jews are now trying to extend the Israel-Arab conflict to “most of the Middle East, and even…to Mecca and Medina.” He ended with a call for Allah to “destroy them and rend them asunder and turn them…into the hands of the Muslims.” Like Shahin, he did not target Israeli government policy, but used historically false libels in his call for destruction of all Jews.
Both imams’ Arabic-language comments were translated by the authoritative Middle East Media Research Institute; both later apologized. Shahin said he let emotion “cloud my better judgment” and that he understands “speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this I truly apologize.”
Said Harmoush, “All life is sacred and every person has a sacred right to respect, safety and liberty.”
Which words from these men will most influence students in their congregations?
No one knows, but the founder of one organization tracking campus anti-Semitism said, “Our studies show the more anti-Semitic rhetoric, the more anti-Semitic actions on campuses…”
While these two sermons were clearly anti-Semitic, no one outside their organizations knows how often the imams have spoken similarly. None of this occurred on campuses, so it doesn’t fall under UC’s anti-discrimination policies. But UC and other institutions where both imams have taught clearly would be wise to keep both imams out of publicly-funded classrooms in the future.