Commentary: Unhelpful Column on the Sermon Seeks to Inflame Middle Eastern Political Debate

Imam Ammar Shahin

While not everyone has the same reaction to the Imam’s sermon and subsequent apology, for the most part cooler heads have prevailed and the interfaith community has worked hard to restore the trust and cooperation that existed prior to the July 21 sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis and its subsequent disclosure.

But two retired UC Davis faculty members, Al Sokolow and George Rooks, throw a can of gas on the first that is likely to only inflame the situation.

They incorrectly state that the “controversy over the egregiously anti-Semitic sermon delivered by Imam Ammar Shahin at the Islamic Center of Davis on July 21 has concluded insofar as some in the community are concerned.”

They further inflame the situation by calling it “a public ‘apology’ of sorts, apparently with the intent of keeping the interfaith relations so valued by Davisites intact.”

What I saw was a carefully crafted statement, but a sincerely delivered message.  Reasonable people can disagree, although the two professors do not really explain why they consider it insincere other than by digging up previous sermons, as where they claim “on July 14 in which Shahin exhorted Allah to make Jerusalem and Palestine ‘the graveyard of the Jews.’”

They continue that the Imam claims his comments on July 21 were motivated by his anger at Israel’s security actions at the Temple Mount.  Writes Mr. Sokolow and Mr. Rooks, “He urges the public to believe that he was so incensed by the recent placement of metal detectors and security cameras outside three Muslim-access gates to the Mount that he felt compelled to call for the destruction of the Jews.”

Instead they argue, “In fact, Shahin’s claims and those of others ignore reality.”

They then launch into a full defense of Israeli policy.  After spending the bulk of their column defending Israeli policy, they argue “it must be emphasized that these realities are ignored by critics of Israel.

“The current furor over security arrangements at the Temple Mount is just the latest in the ongoing pattern of outrage and hype, stimulated whenever Israel takes strong action to protect its citizens. The tendency is to blame Israel for every imagined offense regardless of the facts,” they write.

Then they add, “At the heart of the matter is the ongoing refusal of the Palestinians and much of the Muslim world to accept the historical and religious connections of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy site — connections that predate the Muslim arrival in Jerusalem by some 1,600 years. Until this changes, there will be no resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

The question I have – is this helpful?

First of all, part of the strength of the interfaith community in Davis is the ability to get past the points of conflict.  Different sides may disagree on policy matters, but find ways to work together toward common goals.

From my standpoint there is no shortage of blame to go around, but Israeli policy risked greatly inflaming tensions.

Furthermore, it is not just Muslims who disagree with the Israeli response to an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Is it possible to condemn the terrorist attack on the Israelis while also condemning the Israeli response?

That is where I find myself coming down.

The Israelis made the mistake of imposing new security, including installing metal detectors and security cameras at the Muslim holy site.

Palestinians saw this as an attack on their religious freedom and a sign of further aggression from the Israeli government. The remarkable thing is that protests by the Palestinians convinced even the hardline government of Israel to back down.

This had the ability to become a whole new conflict. Israel and the Netanyahu government claimed that by placing metal detectors and cameras at the entrance to Al-Aqsa they were solely focused on it as a security measure, but Palestinians saw it as a bold, public expression of Israeli sovereignty in the heart of an occupied city they hope to make a future capital.

It is definitely surprising to see the hardline Netanyahu government back down, but they did the right thing from not only a moral standpoint but also a political one, even if rival hardline groups are denouncing it.

This incident was the flashpoint for the Imam’s incendiary sermon, but I think a lot of Muslims in our community would be surprised that many of the more progressive Jews in this community agree with them and are opposed to the Netanyahu government.

Unfortunately, not only do Mr. Sokolow and Mr. Rooks attempt to undo any agreement, they risk politicizing the entire Mosque issue by further inflaming the Israeli-Palestinian divide rather than sticking to ground where we can all agree – whether we agree with the Imam or not on Israeli policy, his response to that policy was unnecessary and hurtful to people in the community who have long considered themselves allies.

Injecting highly controversial and volatile politics into the mix is not the recipe for understanding.  Mr. Sokolow and Mr. Rooks want acceptance that the Jewish people have just as much of a stake to the holy site as the Palestinians do – then this is not the way to gain that understanding.

Their approach is likely to trigger more debate on Israeli policy which will only serve to divide us – but perhaps that is exactly what they want.

—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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7 Comments

  1. Keith O

    They incorrectly state that the controversy “controversy over the egregiously anti-Semitic sermon delivered by Imam Ammar Shahin at the Islamic Center of Davis on July 21 has concluded insofar as some in the community are concerned.”

    Please explain how this is an incorrect statement?

      1. Keith O

        Then you should say you believe that…………….

        I think you’re wrong though, I totally believe that many in our community believe this whole ugly incident has concluded.

  2. Todd Edelman

    I am not sure if it’s a fully conscious effort of these two gentlemen, but keeping the “Israeli-Palestinian” thing hot is in the interest of anyone who owns shares in the arms manufacturers who profit from it. The religion part is important but it’s mostly simply lubrication for this horrid machine of death. The elites on all sides use the situation to stay in power, but the primary responsibility still lies with the policies of Western governments’ – this includes Israel whether or not right-wing people like Netanyahu are in power – in the Levant for the last 120 years or so…

  3. Noreen Mazelis

    “Their approach is likely to trigger more debate on Israeli policy which will only serve to divide us – but perhaps that is exactly what they want.”

    I certainly hope that the op-ed by Drs. Rooks and Sokolow will trigger more debate on Israeli policy (and Palestinian lies). But . . . will it be any more “divisive” than the imam’s call for annihilation of the Jews and the “liberal”, craven response to same?

     

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