The protests outside of a Stoughton synagogue and the debates that have ensued reflect the divisive nature of the recent election. When word spread that Ahavath Torah Congregation (ATC) in Stoughton would be hosting a dinner and discussion with three speakers, considered by some as critics of Islam, over 100 Boston-area interfaith leaders responded with a letter calling upon the congregation to revoke the invitation to those individuals.
“We are living in a particularly tense and divisive moment in American life, and in this challenging moment it’s all the more important that we treat one another with dignity and respect,” said Rabbi Or Rose, Director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning and Leadership at Hebrew College. When Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, reached out for support from interfaith colleagues, Rose felt the need to review the letter and sign it. “I did so because the three speakers that were featured in last week’s event in Stoughton have all made discriminatory and outlandish statements about Islam and Muslims,” said Rose.
Rose was one among 99 other interfaith leaders who signed the clergy statement. Another signator was the president of the Mass. Council of Rabbis, Rabbi David Lerner. “I was disappointed in that the November 2 event took place. Quite frankly, I am embarrassed that a synagogue hosted it,” said Lerner.
Others include major figures from the Catholic Churches of New England, a host of activist groups, and many rabbis, including those from Hebrew College, Temple Israel of Boston, Temple Sinai of Brookline, Temple Shalom of Newton, Temple Emunah of Lexington and Temple Beth Avodah of Newton.
The program, titled “National Security Chaos: Are We Passing the Tipping Point?” held on November 2, featured William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a retired U.S. lieutenant general and former deputy undersecretary of defense, Frank Gaffney Jr., founder of the Center for Security Policy, and Tom Trento, founder of the Florida-based group The United West. They are described in the letter as “anti-Muslim extremists or hate group leaders.”
But whether or not they are anti-Muslim extremists is still being debated in the community. In fact, two of the speakers were honored by Christians and Jews United for Israel with the Genesis award, Gaffney in 2010 and Trento in 2015. “As anyone who attended could confirm, no hate was spread in ATC nor has it ever been. We spent an evening discussing national security, which included the threats from radical Islam,” said Rabbi Jonathan Housman of ATC in a statement he released exclusively to the Journal.
Yet Rose isn’t alone in considering the rhetoric of these speakers to be both insulting and dangerous. “These are people who are listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center alongside the Ku Klux Klan, alongside Neo-Nazi groups, alongside extreme far right militant organizations as hate group leaders,” said John Robbins, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Committee of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties advocacy group.
“Frank Gaffney is especially well-known as one of the leading Islamophobic conspiracy theory perpetrators in the country,” said Robbins. Gaffney is also on record, according to Robbins, as saying that all of the prominent Muslim organizations in the U.S. are friend groups for the Muslim brotherhood, and that it’s not a religion, it’s a totalitarian way of life.
The president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, Dr. Charles Jacobs, holds an equally adamant, yet opposite, position. “The speakers there are very impressive, prominent and respected people,” said Jacobs. He continued to describe General Boykin as a war hero and a Purple Heart recipient. “Contrary to the rumors about them, none of them, of course, said anything hateful, dismissive or disparaging about Muslims,” said Jacobs. The three guests said that this country needs “good Muslim moderates” to counter the “radical Islamists” who are, according to Jacobs, in charge of many of the Muslim institutions in America.
“The rabbi at the synagogue refused to condemn it, he refused to disinvite these people for the sake of decency,” said Robbins. In response to the event, the Massachusetts chapter of CAIR held a peaceful counter-event outside the venue, during which they gave out free doughnuts and hugs. Local Muslim teachers, lawyers, doctors, police officers and veterans attended the peaceful protest to send a message. “We wanted to show the people of Stoughton and the people at that event who their Muslim neighbors really are,” said Robbins.
“These are the people who got the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis plus liberal Christian clergies to join them and condemn the speakers,” said Jacobs. In Jacobs’ mind, the board of rabbis went against their fellow Jews and put the synagogue in danger by supporting CAIR and attacking the program. “Here you have, basically, Hamas in America picketing a Jewish synagogue with the help of the board of rabbis.” Jacobs believes the Mass.board of rabbis should issue a formal apology to the Jewish community. “The people outside protesting may be giving you hugs and doughnuts out there for the press, but they’re really wolves in sheep’s clothing,” said Jacobs.
Statement by Rabbi Jonathan H. Hausman
Jonathan Hausman is the rabbi of Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, where the forum on National Security was held last week. He is also a Vice President of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts and serves on the Board of Governors for the Va’ad HaKashruth. Rabbi Hausman is a member of the American Association of Rabbis.
As you may have heard or read, ATC hosted an event with three renowned speakers. The audience had an opportunity to listen to a war hero (Lt. General Jerry “Black Hawk Down” Boykin, founding member and former Commander of Delta Force, mission leader of the 1980 abortive raid to free the U.S. embassy hostages in Iran ordered by President Carter, commander of Black Hawk Down, leader of the drug wars against Manuel Noriega, former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence), a former congresswoman (Representative Michele Bachmann), and an authority on security matters who spent many years working in senior government positions (former Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney).
Two of the three speakers have been at ATC several times before without incident (Boykin and Gaffney). All of the speakers have spoken elsewhere in Greater Boston over the years, two of whom were honored by Christians and Jews United for Israel receiving CJUI’s prestigious Genesis Award (Frank Gaffney in 2010 and General Boykin in 2015). Moderator of the event was Tom Trento, co-author of the Team B II Report (CJUI Genesis Award 2009). The event was also not in support of any candidates running for office in the upcoming election.
A small crowd of protesters demonstrated outside the shul and labelled the speakers as hateful.
As anyone who attended could confirm, no hate was spread in ATC nor has it ever been. We spent an evening discussing national security, which included the threats from radical Islam. Speakers again and again expressed the idea that we are not against Muslims, but radical Islam. In fact, the speakers have a history of pledged support for moderate Muslims who believe that radical Islamist movements and ideas must be opposed.
For others to protest a discussion about a belief system is completely contrary to the beliefs of this country’s founders. From its very beginning, America has afforded its citizens freedom from ideological imposition and dogma. Those who live here have both the right to pray or to ridicule the idea of prayer. It is a dangerous step when Islamist organizations – documented to be spreading radicalism and hatred – can gather support, without challenge from much of the media or religious communities, to protest the discussion of ideas.
To justify their demonstration, the protesters cited a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which described the speakers as “anti-Muslim extremists.” That same report also designated the renowned liberal Muslim reformer, Maajid Nawaz, as “anti-Muslim” along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former member of the Dutch Parliament who is under the threat of a fatwa-death sentence and who must maintain personal security every day. Ayaan is bravely fighting against the treatment of women in the Islamic world (CJUI Genesis Award 2016, who spoke at the New England Friends of the IDF Dinner 2014). For the SPLC to label her an extremist hater should indicate that their judgments of people they do not like is not to be taken seriously.
Why is it that a non-Muslim organization – once a brave civil rights movement – is now enforcing the Islamists’ notion of ‘true’ Islam? Why are they betraying traditionally moderate American Muslims working to free their faith from the grip of the actual extremists, egged by groups who protest our synagogue?
Much of the media backlash on ATC has been precipitated by the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR). The Clergy and Rabbis who back the Islamists behind these protests have been hoodwinked. Lenin would have called them “useful idiots.” Does the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, who also voiced their opposition to this event, even know that CAIR is banned as a terrorist organization in the United Arab Emirates, a pious Muslim country? They should know that CAIR was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator during the infamous 2008 Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to remove this designation on appeal. They remain on an FBI watch list. CAIR was founded by the Islamic Association of Palestine in 1995 following IAP’s prosecution for terrorism fundraising in the U.S. IAP was founded by Hamas as its fundraising arm in the United States.
Those who condemn, clergy and the greater Boston media, should know that the Obama Administration’s Justice Department has urged a ban on working with CAIR, that the Anti-Defamation League considers CAIR a key promoter of Anti-Semitism, and that CAIR-MA’s board members include Tahirah Amatul Wadud.Those who enable non-violent extremist movements such as CAIR are betraying the traditionally moderate American Muslim community. They should know better, lest continued protests outside synagogues contribute to the growing incitement of hatred against Jews. It is sad that the Mass. Board of Rabbis linked arms with groups that hate the Jewish state and spread anti-Jewish, misogynous, and anti-gay hatred.
Below are links about the organizations behind the protest:
Ahavath Torah Congregation has done some great things within the community, especially in recent years. We continue to support ALYN Hospital in Israel. We support community organizations such as SOLA (Save Our Library Association). We continue to support the Stoughton High School as we host several of the student club car washes and AP testing. We host poverty stricken families in our Shul on Christmas Eve and continue to do so. We continue to host a primarily African-American evangelical church (Faith4Life Church) in our building, an arrangement that is the talk of the country. We support the Stoughton Food Pantry and Jewish Family Table. We strive to fulfill our mission as a charitable and caring religious organization in our community. How come none of these are ever covered by the mainstream media?