What at first appeared to be a protest organized locally now appears to be a little different. I wasn’t at the protest on Wednesday evening along 5th Street near the Davis Farmer’s Market. Instead, a citizen, friendly to the Vanguard, snapped some photos as I was getting home from my vacation.
We were able to track down the organizing email which complained that “no member of the DIC’s board of directors, nor its congregants, have come out asking for his resignation.
“No Christian, Jewish, or Muslim clergy who preaches murder of any minority group should be tolerated. Such speech leads to violence and murder. It simply has no place in a civilized society,” they wrote.
We had received an email claiming the event was organized by a single member of Bet Haverim. That turned out to be erroneous information.
However, what was interesting were the posts from a Victor Styrsky. A letter writer fills us in that Mr. Styrsky is not a local resident but rather a full time and professional organizer for a group call CUFI, or Christians United for Israel.
He currently resides in Stockton. That’s fine, but this is no longer a local reaction that is upset about the Imam’s comments.
As our letter writer indicates, “I believe this protest was not about Peace and Reconciliation in Davis, but about defending Israel at all costs.”
Another resident wrote to me to describe his encounter with the protest or, as some have called, “silent vigil.”
I am told the resident asked why the protesters were there and their response was “to support Israel.” What struck the resident as odd were the “carefully prepared signs that were printed and kept in special storage bins.” It appeared to the resident that the protesters were “clearly working with a kit that was set up again and again,” and now at the end of the protest “he is methodically putting the signs in storage to be ready for the next event.”
Not everyone was from out of town. Someone on our Facebook page posted a photo of themselves holding a clearly handmade sign and saying that they were from Davis. So it is important not to paint this with a broader brush than need be.
For his part, Mr. Styrsky wrote a comment on the Vanguard last night stating that he did not organize the protest, but acknowledged “I did call some friends who like you ‘were concerned.’”
He writes, “The greatest thing about the response concerning the soon to be fired Imam was from a strong, female Sufi Muslim leader who is demanding he be removed and she has started a petition to be certain it happens.”
It is not clear where this is headed. The whole situation appeared to be slowly winding down. But the protest followed an op-ed from a couple of retired professors who pushed back and defended the Israeli defense posturing at the Temple Mount – which incited much of the Imam’s sermon and led to protests that eventually caused even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to back down.
In their op-ed in the local paper they dismissed the Imam’s apology, calling it “a public ‘apology’ of sorts, apparently with the intent of keeping the interfaith relations so valued by Davisites intact.”
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.”
The reality they cite is in fact their own personal view of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
My reaction here is one of uncertainty. Following the controversy, there was a well-orchestrated but also heartfelt apology offered by the Imam. It appeared that the Jewish community in Davis was accepting of that apology even as Facebook posts and letters suggested otherwise.
Now we see a bigger picture creeping into play. These are all voices of dissension in our community or outside our community, trying to use this unfortunate incident to stir things up.
Instead, we should focus on the positive steps that have emerged.
The words of Davis Muslim Hands resonate, who wrote to “strongly repudiate the hurtful and inexcusable anti-Semitic words that were delivered July 21 in the sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis.”
They write, “Our hearts go out to the Jewish community here and worldwide for the deep pain this sermon has caused you, your family, and your friends.”
And there are the words of Joy Cohan who relayed how Davis Muslim Hands, “disgusted and outraged by the hateful, anti-Semitic words of the Imam’s recent sermons” came to the Shabbat services at Bet Haverim with heartfelt words and gifts that helped to bridge the gulf between the two communities.
There are forces out there that want to divide our community, but there are forces which will not let that happen. Those are the voices we need to listen to now.
—David M. Greenwald reporting