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Dozens Show Up at Public Comment to Protest Imam’s Speech, Call for Council Action

Rabbi Yitzhak Haberstein representing the Simon Wiesenthal Center

On Tuesday, with Mayor Robb Davis in Spokane, Washington, for the NACOLE (National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement) Convention, Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee got to run his first meeting.  He was greeted by dozens of public commenters on both the issue of Picnic Day as well as that of the Imam.

While the Imam made an apology back in late July, since then the silence of the Imam and the Islamic Center of Davis has allowed anger and frustration to take root again.  That was on display on Tuesday, and mostly Jews from around the state came to Davis to express their concern with his sermon, and the perceived inadequate apology. And the lack of action in the community.

It was a broad group of people, with some from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A. joining longtime local residents – there were progressive Jews and more radical Zionist Jews, all delivering the message that Jews feel unsafe in this community and even in this state.

Rabbi Yitzhak Haberstein, representing the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke on Tuesday.  He said that tomorrow night in Los Angeles they are co-hosting a dinner for the first ruler of an Arab Country who will sign a major declaration on religious tolerance and against religious extremism.

“We’re no stranger to interfaith activity,” he said.   “This city is no stranger to social justice issues.  It has a well-deserved reputation for being at the forefront of good progressivism.  That said, there is something that happened here a number of weeks ago that’s important enough for us to want to come up here and make a statement.”

He said that any other religious leader in America who would get up in front of their congregation and “label another group fifth and call for their annihilation – all hell would break loose.   There would be no easy way out.”  He said, “There has been an unfortunate kind of double standard that has come from this community.  It shouldn’t be.

“When you consider the importance of the preachings of Jihadist movement in mosques across the world, the bloody trail that it’s left behind,” he said.  “These are not influences that can be poo-pooed or simply wished away.”

The Rabbi called it “an apology that was no apology.  It did not take back the basis for the statement.  The call through religious tradition, to call, three times repeated, we ask Allah that we should be part of this in word and in deed.”

Professor Emeritus Alex Groth, a retired Political Science Professor at UC Davis and a Holocaust survivor, spoke as well.  He is a 54-year resident of the city of Davis.  He said he is one of the few former inmates of the Warsaw Ghetto.

“I have seen words of hate translated into mass murder in World War II Europe,” he said.  He said he has spoken about this subject in numerous community forums and in academic publications.  “In all of my time here in Davis, I never thought even once that a time would come, when a religious leader in our city would publicly call for the destruction of the Jews with the apparent tacit consent and approval of most if not all of his congregation.

“To the best of my knowledge, the purveyor of the killing message delivered in July is still at the helm of the Davis Mosque and this is happening 72 years after the conclusion of the Second World War and 72 years after the conclusion of the Holocaust,” he said.

Several people would later complain that the mayor pro tem cut off a man who survived the Holocaust after his three minutes expired.  “You can cut me off at three minutes, you can listen to a man who survived the Holocaust,” the next speaker said.  Later, another speaker pointed out that, as the next generation of Jews, we have precious few left who can personally attest to the Holocaust.

Jonathan Zachariou, Pastor at Davis Christian Assembly for the last 26 years, said he is not looking to suppress free speech.  And he noted that the freedom of religion is mentioned before even that of speech in the First Amendment.

“I am not looking to suppress anything with regards to the freedom of religio[n], but I am here to call on this city council to formally distance themselves or to categorically say that the message that was brought by this Imam has nothing to do with the Davis community at all,” he said.

Pastor Zachariou said, “I do not doubt the Imam’s credentials.”  He noted that he teaches at the university in Medina.  He also teaches at UC Davis.  “He knows the Quran.  He knows what he’s talking about.  So when he expresses the things he expressed, he’s talking about what the Quran is talking about.  He did not make a mistake in his message.  His message is true.

“Some Muslims will disagree with his interpretation,” he said.  “But he has credentials which he’s backing up his hate speech.”

Edward Rabin, a longtime resident of Davis, said, “I want to emphasize the enormity of what has happened in the last month or two.”  He made the point, “No anti-Semite in the history of this country has ever said anything remotely like what this Imam said twice to his congregation and then posted on the internet.”

He said not David Duke, not the KKK, not Father Caughlin or “any other of the reprehensible bigots that we’ve had to put up with.”  In fact, he made the point that even Hitler himself was not so brazen as to openly talk about such plans.

David Kadosh, Executive Director of the Zionist Organization of America in the Western Region, said it was founded by former Supreme Court Justice Luis Brandeis 120 years ago.  Much of his work has been to identify anti-Semitism in schools and university.

He said that we have seen time and again how hatred has fueled atrocities and “this evil is happening here, across the street from the university.”  He read from the sermon which called on the destruction of the Jews, one by one, and not sparing a single one.  “Notice how Imam Shahin prays for the death of Jews.  We Jews have heard this both.  The same rhetoric calling for our extermination was used by the Nazis 70 years ago.”

“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it,” Gail Rubin said, quoting Albert Einstein.  She said she is a Jew and an 18-year resident of Davis.  “A mile away from my house, someone wants me and my family dead.

“Just 16 years after 9/11 we continue to hear the call and see the acts of Jihad,” she said.  “Words can kill,” she argued.  “Just imagine if ‘kill every Jew’ were replaced by kill every Muslim or kill every black.  Would we be so quiescent in talking only about hurt feelings?”

She said that, following the statement, “[t]he Imam said sorry for hurt feelings but he did not retract his radical ideology.  Did any Mosque board member or congregant denounce Shahin or walk out?  No.”

She argued, “This is not just a local issue.  The incitement to Genocide is illegal under state law.”  She asked for law enforcement to all take action.

She concluded, “The sorry is simply not enough.  I no longer feel safe in Davis.  After 18 years here, I am moving away.”

Matthew Finklestein, an activist standing with progressive Zionists, said, “Jews are unsafe in Davis but Jews are unsafe all over the state of California, all over America, and all over the world.  Being unsafe for Jews is not a new story for Jews.

“It is when Jews become really unsafe is when Jews do what they have done through the ages, they become the historical canary in the coal mine,” he said.  “This is your canary in the coal mine moment and it has landed right here at your door step in Davis and what I am looking at is leadership that is wide-eyed and unsure of what to do.

“If you think it is just Jews who are unsafe, you’re wrong,” he said.  “What’s happening in the Islamic Center in Davis is really clear to me and I want to make it really clear to you.  This is a regional power play.  I want you to start thinking about it this way.”

He said the message is to every Jihadist and Wahhabiest and “is that Davis is a place that is going to stand by you no matter how bad you screw up.  We’re going to apologize and cover for you.  And you can still retain your position with us.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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52 thoughts on “Dozens Show Up at Public Comment to Protest Imam’s Speech, Call for Council Action”

  1. Jim Hoch

    Was there a specific “ask”? What was the CC supposed to do? Did they offer us a statue?

    The headline does say ” Call For Council Action” but what action?

    1. Eric Gelber

      I can’t speak to what those who spoke were asking for. I can only speak for myself. There have been plenty of statements of repudiation and condemnation. By resolution the Council could formally urge the leadership of the mosque do more than simply stand by silently while the Imam issues his non-apology apology. Allowing the Imam to remain in his position is a tacit endorsement of his views. And the longer it takes the leadership and congregation to disassociate themselves from the Imam, the more coerced and disingenuous any such action will appear.

      1. Robin W.

        As a journalist, you should do a much better job with your facts, David. Israel did not close the Temple Mount. It installed metal detectors after two police officers were shot by “worshippers” who smuggled in guns. The Muslim religious leadership then called for Muslims not to pray at the Temple Mount because of the metal detectors.

    1. Paul Thober

      Ms. Kirk-Coehlo is a private citizen representing and leading no organization who broke some windows and distributed some pork. She was arrested and spent significant time in jail and remains on probation.

      Mr. Shahin is the spiritual leader of a large religious congregation who used reprehensible terminology to refer to members of another religious congregation and called for the destruction of all of them. He has not suffered any consequences for his actions whatsoever.

      Who has gotten the free ride?

      1. John Hobbs

        ” spent significant time in jail”

        No.

        “Who has gotten the free ride?”

        The only one convicted of a crime.

        The imam, as reprehensible as his speech may be, has not committed a crime.

        The consequences of his actions are rebuke and scorn from the larger community, whether that has any meaning to him or not.

        Religion has its place and that is in the believers’ hearts and homes, not in public and most certainly not in politics.

         

        1. Howard P

          Clearly, if one listened to the recorded address, the context was the Israeli security forces handling of the place(s) of worship.  That was the obvious ‘trigger’… the ‘driver’ likely comes from what is inside the ‘heart’ and mind of the speaker.

          Same as in Charlottesville… the proposed removal of the statue of Lee was a ‘trigger’… it was not the ‘driver’ for the folk who organized the main “protest”.

        2. Todd Edelman

          Howard P., the actions of both of the imam and the white supremacists and fascists are absolutely without justification, but the triggers and drivers you mention are in no way a mirror of each other.  The action of the Israeli security forces is simply a continuation of what is arguably a limited genocide in the Levant, whereas the hate driver in Charlottesville was and is completely irrational.

           

        3. Todd Edelman

          The genocide was and is primarily directed against non-Israeli and non-Jewish people of Arab ethnicity living in the “… eastern Mediterranean” areas that are formally part of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Israeli-occupied and Hamas/Palestinian Authority-controlled Palestine, and Syria.

          It is limited in that it is exhibits a range of effects, from de-facto discrimination – speaking-generally of course — there’s a lot more equality in certain areas of Israel – against Palestinians with an Israel passport (many of whom are identified and some of whom self-identify as “Israeli Arabs”) to more or less permanent exclusion in that there’s no right of return for nearly all Palestinians. Stuffing this pita are a variety of fillings, from intermittent extremely disproportionate attacks on Gaza to a ban on visits from individual progressive Ashkenazi people who mouth off in regional media internet outlets in the USA. It is limited in that not all in the group I’ve described above was or is targeted for exclusion or extermination.

           

        4. John Hobbs

          In Davis the desire for justice is considered an obsession if it means criminals serving appropriate sentences, but then you guys want convicted murderers placed in resort spas and told how worthwhile they are. As far as the assault on our mayor, your hypocrisy is laughable. I seriously considered hiring a pie hit on David at his next public function, to record his first reaction, but he’d hire  a lawyer to sue me for my public pension.

    2. Alan Miller

      Yeah it’s his obsession with Kirk-Coehlo just like his obsession with getting the pie man.

      Similar to JH’s obsession with the destruction of Rancho Yolo.

  2. Tia Will

    Allowing the Imam to remain in his position is a tacit endorsement of his views. “

    As appalling as I found the Imam’s words to be, I think it is very important to tread carefully here. It is not up to the City Council to “allow the Imam to remain in his position” or even to advocate his removal. This would be an egregious breech of the separation of church and state. Certainly the CC could make a statement of condemnation of this particular hate speech and I believe perhaps they should. But more than that, they should not do, lest tomorrow some other religious or secular faction will be demanding the removal of a Jewish leader or a Christian preacher because of words that they find “hateful”. I am not an adherent to any organized religion. I will give personal examples. I am irritated, if not offended every time I hear “under God” when the pledge is spoken. I am deeply offended every time I am told by some religious leader that I have not been “chosen” or “saved” by their God. To me this is a declaration that I am somehow inferior. I am even more offended when I hear word from supposed holy men & women that I am consigned to hell because I do not believe as they do.

    We are all living at a time of great national peril. I see the much bigger issue than the words of this Imam as the relentless drive on the national level to install a white supremacist theocracy. We are being splintered and torn apart at a time when we should be seeking greater unity, not driving further wedges. This to me would seem like a perfect time to attempt a form of “restorative justice” although not a legal matter, between our local Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu ( apologies to anyone I left out) and secular communities so that all can gain a better understanding of others rather than dictating to any group how they must handle their internal affairs.

    1. Eric Gelber

      To clarify–I was not suggesting that the Council suggest removing the Imam from his position or any other specific action. My reference to allowing him to remain being a tacit endorsement is my view as to the effect of the mosque’s failure to meaningfully respond to the situation. I don’t believe a Council resolution expressing disappointment at the apparent failure to take any meaningful action to address community concerns would cross church-state boundaries.

      1. Jim Hoch

        The CC has intervened when there seemed to be some desire on both parties to resolve an issue and they have facilitated to the degree possible. For them to take sides in this would be a terrible precedent and given that there is no motion to do anything, completely unnecessary.

      2. Howard P

        If the word “disappointment” was replaced with the words “significant concern”, I’d say “ditto”…

        The only time I’d be ‘disappointed’ in a group, is if I was a member of that group.

      3. Tia Will

        Hi Eric,

        Thanks for the clarification. I seem to  have taken you too literally or perhaps too specifically. One other point though.

        “I don’t believe a Council resolution expressing disappointment at the apparent failure to take any meaningful actionI don’t believe a Council resolution expressing disappointment at the apparent failure to take any meaningful action”

        I am quite concerned about who gets to decide what is “meaningful action”. In following this controversy, I have heard some call for a “true apology”. I have also heard others claiming that nothing short of the Imam losing his job will satisfy them. So who do you feel has the right to decide what is “meaningful action”, and what do you believe that action should be ?

         

        1. Howard P

          In my opinion, the answer is simple… “meaningful” should be solely in the opinion of the imam’s congregation.  I suspect he’ll be asked to move on, but not while the burners are on ‘high’… would appear to be a ‘cave’ to vox populi.

          The fact is no “crime” has been committed by the imam.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    I am glad that people have continued to press on this issue.  What the imam said was not simply “offensive,” it was outrageous and dangerous.  Tia makes a good point that the CC needs to tread carefully here, but I think there at least some room for them to condemn the speech.

  4. Alan Miller

    He said that any other religious leader in America who would get up in front of their congregation and “label another group fifth and call for their annihilation – all hell would break loose.

    Yup.

    “There has been an unfortunate kind of double standard that has come from this community.

    We, as a community, really need to discuss this thoroughly and ask why this is.  I have some theories on why this is.  But I’d really like to know what others think.

    “Just imagine if ‘kill every Jew’ were replaced by kill every Muslim or kill every black.  Would we be so quiescent in talking only about hurt feelings?”

    And again, I ask everybody, why is this?  What is this double standard?  I want your opinion.

    “I no longer feel safe in Davis.  After 18 years here, I am moving away.”

    Bad idea.  We as Jews need to stay and stand.  You are saying, “You win, you scared me away”.  We aren’t going to ward off hate by running from it, nor can you.  Hate is everywhere.  So is love, thank God.  As one speaker pointed out, “even Hitler himself was not so brazen as to openly talk about such plans.”  It may actually be safer here in Davis where it is all out in the open.  The Imam did the City a favor by being honest about his views when angry, and his congregation did us a favor by showing us how they react to such speech.  Now we know.

    “Davis is a place that is going to stand by you no matter how bad you screw up.  We’re going to apologize and cover for you.”

    I don’t think that is going to work this time.  Nor are fake apologies written by someone else, nor news conferences with photo ops for local celebs, nor Kumbaya moments.

    I’m actually rather relieved that no one stepped down, or fell on their sword, or made a seemingly ‘sincere’ apology that people believed.  Because some naive people might have thought the problem disappeared, that hate just . . .  #poof# . . . disappeared.  Like in a cartoon.

    This is no cartoon.  Hate just is.  Now we know.

    1. Roberta Millstein

      And again, I ask everybody, why is this?  What is this double standard?  I want your opinion.

      I think there are several reasons for this, but at least one of them is a denial that anti-semitism still exists in any robust form in the U.S. and in the world.  How people can still hold onto that view in light of recent events is beyond me, but it is a belief that I encounter frequently.
      In other words, many people simply brush off the imam’s comments and similar comments and do not take them as seriously as they should be taken.
      Again, I think there are other reasons, but I’m not in the mood to get into those just now.

    2. Tia Will

      This is no cartoon.  Hate just is.  Now we know.”

      Hate just is. But somehow we only seem to see that when our own group is affected. There is also hatred of POC, but some are not willing or able to see that. There is hatred of women, often manifested as rape and/or domestic violence, but some are not willing or able to see that. There is hatred of LGBTQ but some are not willing or able to see that.

      Personally, I would love it if we would stop judging one another ( for good or ill) by group and just consider the strengths and weaknesses of the individual before us.

       

      1. Keith O

        Personally, I would love it if we would stop judging one another ( for good or ill) by group and just consider the strengths and weaknesses of the individual before us.

        I’m so going to remember that you wrote this.

  5. Alan Miller

    Again, I think there are other reasons, but I’m not in the mood to get into those just now.

    I hope your mood changes.

    It doesn’t seem anyone wants to talk about it.  Why is that?  Why are some groups more equal than others?  Why is the calling for the death of some groups less abhorrent to our society than calling for the death of other groups?  Most especially, how is this even an issue with groups that have recently experienced attempted extermination?

    Another question — why isn’t this a national story?  I have asked Jewish relatives around the country and even in the Bay Area about this, and none of them had even heard about it.  Why is the national media not taking this story on?  Would this be the case if the head of the local house of religion X had called for the extermination of ethnic/religious group Y, “every one of them”?  Would that not be a national story?

    1. Don Shor

      It doesn’t seem anyone wants to talk about it. Why is that?

      Because if their surname is Jewish, and they don’t evince sufficient outrage and indignation, they’ll get told they are “self-loathing” (happened on the Enterprise right away). Because Islam was uniquely politicized in the last election and during the presidency of Barack Obama. Because most people don’t like conflict, and really just wish this would go away. Because perhaps they don’t think he really meant it like it sounds, because sometimes religious stuff comes out more extreme when taken literally than it’s intended.
      Take your pick.

    2. Tia Will

      Why are some groups more equal than others?  “

      Some are “more equal” because others put down or oppressed other groups. Some are “more equal” because they set themselves aside as “special”. Either “chosen”, or “saved”, or “enlightened ” on the religious side or “patriotic” or “loyal” on the political side. This is a two edged sword and needs to be seen as such. Group affiliation has strengths, but to pretend that it does not also have downsides is naive at best, and disingenuous at worst. When one elevates one’s own group, one is also by implication denigrating “the other”.

  6. Roberta Millstein

    Because if their surname is Jewish, and they don’t evince sufficient outrage and indignation, they’ll get told they are “self-loathing” 

    In certain groups, evincing too much outrage and indignation brings down just as much trouble.  And that’s all I am going to say.

    Alan, when this first broke out I thought for *sure* it would be a national story.  I’m rather shocked that it isn’t, not that I wanted it to be, because things that blow up like that rarely have productive outcomes.

  7. Ron

    Alan:  “And again, I ask everybody, why is this?  What is this double standard?  I want your opinion.”

    I think it’s primarily because some view this as an extension of the never-ending Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Combined with some “political correctness”, and a wish that such problems would just “go away” (as Don alluded to) – or ideally be successfully resolved. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be moving toward a resolution – despite the passage of time.)

    1. Howard P

      the never-ending Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

      Not the same, but somewhat akin, to the “troubles” in Ireland… between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland… an imposed partition of a land… strong religious/political ‘differences’… a lot of angry invective… a lot of violence and terrorism… lasted many years…

      Have you heard of any “troubles” in Ireland in the last 10 years?

      I reject the notion that the I/P conflict will be “never-ending”… but it will take citizens to rise up against their governments, and insist the leaders seek peace and prosperity.  One of the problems the Irish leaders had were Americans egging it on by contributions to the IRA, etc.

      Some American Jews, American Palestinians, and/or American Muslims are doing similar things.

      Not the same, but akin.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Northern_Ireland_Troubles_and_peace_process

      1. Ron

        Howard:  “Have you heard of any “troubles” in Ireland in the last 10 years?”

        Come to think of it – no, I haven’t.  Good point.  That was certainly a big deal, not so long ago.  I wonder if there might be more “dividing” the Israelis and Palestinians, compared to the problems in Ireland (which I never made much effort to understand).  (Actually, now kind of wondering how that was resolved.)

        For sure, the world is not done with “conflicts”.  And, quite often, it’s difficult to know (or ultimately care about) who’s “right” or who’s “wrong”. (Sometimes, it’s easy – as with Hitler. There’s my Godwin’s Law statement, for the day.)

        My primary point (regarding how some view the subject of this article) is unchanged.

         

        1. Howard P

          Yes… of course it is unchanged… you obviously did not read my cite… as many don’t know the history of how Muslims, in southern France, during the Vichy period (WWII) harbored and hid Jews from the Nazis… people are basically good… the loud-mouths and governments not so much…

          In Northern Ireland, it was the mothers, both Protestant and Catholic, who had lost too many spouses, siblings, children, etc., who marched arm in arm and told the powers that be, “it is enough”… it took time and profound losses to get there.

        2. Ron

          Seems like the “zealots” often gain popularity (and ride/direct the “wind”) when a group of people are downtrodden or otherwise suffering.  Again, thinking of Germany and the rise of Hitler after WWI.  Same thing with (dare I say it) “Radical Islam” (or whatever term is more preferable).

          (Actually, I thought that the use of that term during the election last year was a non-issue, either way.)

        3. Howard P

          No disagreement on any of those points…

          My belief is that all of the presidential candidates, save one or two, maybe three, were playing to ‘groups of people who feel like they are downtrodden or otherwise suffering’… paraphrasing, not ‘quoting’ you… I happened to feel like neither… that’s why in November, I voted for someone who had no chance… was sick and tired of the rhetoric from both major party candidates.

          Historically, you are quite right as to how folk’s real or perceived fears/oppression are used by “those who would be king (or queen)”

          I, unfortunately, believe there will be total peace and brother/sisterhood in the mideast before that political reality changes… and the political reality is the greatest impediment to peace and justice…

        4. Ron

          Pretty good post, Howard.

          Perhaps the point that I see (somewhat) differently is that there are those who will try to appeal to our (everyone’s) “dark underbelly” (e.g., as referred to on the Vanguard), especially during trying times.  In other words, I view the zealots as a “result” of that dark underbelly, at times. (And, at times, there’s “legitimate” underlying reasons for anger/dissatisfaction.)

        5. Howard P

          Perhaps you are correct… yet, perhaps the zealots are the dark underbelly (cause) rather than the result (effect)… I know not, but I favor the former theory… but could completely accept that I am wrong in that assessment…

          I do not believe in Satan nor ‘the Devil’… but am struck that in English, Evil is Live spelled backwards.  Seems to fit with my life experiences… have seen much evil and much life/living in my existence… I try to focus on the latter, but the former still exists in my memories… fortunately, life/living was the major thing, in family, friends, etc.

          But I have seen things that would give you ‘night terrors’… pretty much gotten over those, but sometimes, my spouse wonders why I ‘speak out’ in my sleep… rare, but still happens… fortunately, we love one another, and get thru it… minor version of PTSD…

          Can’t imagine (and don’t want to) how it is for folk who truly have a form of PTSD that is intense and/or persistent.

  8. Ron

    Tia:  “Some are “more equal” because others put down or oppressed other groups.”

    I can’t speak for Alan, but I viewed his question as asking why some groups (or individual members of some groups) aren’t CHALLENGED (regarding hateful statements or actions) in the same way as members of other groups. (I’ve seen this same type of question asked by others, as well.)

    (Still can’t see your comments when logged in.  I guess my ID has to be reset.)

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