Bet Haverim Statement on the Imam Sermons

Imam Shahin speaking in late July at the press conference

by Steve Cohan

More than three months have passed since Imam Ammar Shahin delivered two sermons at the Islamic Center of Davis that contained anti-Semitic statements.  Once publicized, his sermons created fear, hurt and division within the Jewish, interfaith and secular communities.  Many in the Jewish community, in particular, were deeply affected and formed vehemently divergent opinions of interpretation and proper response.

In the face of this maelstrom, the leadership of Congregation Bet Haverim has sought to protect our community from the traumatic effects of this threat.  Other secular and faith leaders in Davis struggled to preserve existing interfaith connections long established through years of committed effort.  Countless hours have been logged in pursuit of solutions necessitated by the Imam’s unacceptable words.  We now wish to let the broader Davis community know where we stand.

In Imam Shahin’s public responses to the outcry over his sermons, he apologized for the fear and harm caused by his words.  He has publicly taken a clear anti-violence stance, and has rejected
genocide against any people.  These are welcome positive statements, so why is it then that many of us in the Jewish community and beyond are not satisfied?

It is because in his response, we did not hear a clear rejection of bigotry and anti-Semitism, unconditioned by explanations of what he meant versus what we heard.  We categorically and unequivocally reject these anti-Semitic statements.

During these stressful months, there have been points of light.  A group of Davis residents called Davis Muslim Hands came to a Shabbat (sabbath) service at Bet Haverim to expressly reject anti-Semitism and hate, and to strengthen personal relationships between the Davis Muslim and Jewish communities.  More recently, over 200 people from many different parts of the Davis community strived to increase understanding and build trust at the “Walking Our Faith” event, sponsored by the interfaith group Celebration of Abraham.  We listened, walked and ate together with peace and goodwill.

Imam Shahin’s damaging words have spurred other positive changes.  We have renewed vigilance to recognize, identify and reject anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in our community.  We understand that one hateful act may prime the environment for others if left unanswered.  The recent swastika defacement and messaging at Davis High School and Harper Junior High School, the subsequent N-word graffiti in the same location at the high school, and the vandalism at Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale are examples.

As the leadership of Bet Haverim, we reflect the plurality of views that the partners in our congregation hold, and the specifics of how we move forward will vary.  In the sum of these actions, our intention is to broaden our focus beyond Imam Shahin’s sermons to the challenges we face as a community and how to best meet them.  We want to join and move forward with other people who embrace dialog and with whom we share common ground.  In particular, we value highly many of the connections we have with like-minded members of the Muslim community.  We intend to strengthen and nurture these relationships.  We expect the rest of the Davis community to work with us toward making Davis a safe and peaceful community free of bigotry and anti-Semitism.

Steve Cohan, Co-President, Congregation Bet Haverim, on behalf of the Congregation Bet Haverim Board of Directors Davis, California, November 8, 2017

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Alan Miller

    This is a very well-worded and concise statement that I agree with.

    My only quibble would be that the other incidents mentioned are most likely dumb, drunken fools who don’t know what racism and antisemitism are and were just looking for attention — however, it’s a minor quibble, and yes, they could also be real racist incidents.  The point is the Imam’s statements cannot be seen as a slip of the tongue.

    I sat right in front of the Imam to read his every gesture, his every energy, on the day of the interfaith walk.  He struck me as a warm and gentle man at first, and I never saw anger.  His apology was along the lines of “I didn’t mean that, I would never call for the death of anyone, can we move on?”.  But he never showed a hint of empathy or understanding towards what his words meant to the Jewish people, the depth of what calling for the death of our people — metaphorically, historically or in actuality — does.  He didn’t seem to get it.

    I remain with the same conclusion:  it is not ours to call for his removal — it is up to the people at the the mosque.  I know many if not most Muslims do not condone his angry words — I met several more of them on the walk.   I don’t believe there are going to be killings of Jews in Davis by crazed followers, but I can’t say I’m absolutely sure of that.  This isn’t like he called for people to steel our hubcaps and if it turned out they actually did I’d go “damn, they got my hubcaps” — it was a call for death.  His remaining is a warning to Jews and to all to be wary.  He has tipped his cards.

  2. Gail Rubin

    If David Duke said “Kill the Blacks”,

    Would you walk with him to church and back?


    If Imam Shahin said “Kill the Jews”,

    Would you follow him to the pews?

  3. Alan Miller

    How do I insert photo and video clip in this section?

    Best thing is to upload the video to YouTube and post the link here.

    There’s a way to post photos here, but I’ve never figured it out.

    1. Alan Miller

      Oh, wow.  I talked to that woman.  I walked out of the mosque and was going to go over and talk to the protestors and there were people arguing out front.  Some of the protestors were trying to take a picture of the woman in the picture’s sign, and she wouldn’t unroll it show to them. They asked her why she was willing to hold it up in public, but when they approached her she wouldn’t show it to them.  She said they’d use it out of context.

      I asked her about it.  She didn’t want to show it to me.  She said it was in response to a Jewish protestor’s sign that said something like “Stop the Cover Up.  Take off the Hijab”.  She said her and her friend were driving by and saw that sign and were furious and drove back and scrawled out her sign and started holding it up.  The Jewish protestors said no one from their group had such as sign.  She said they did.  The protestors said they weren’t even on that side of the street and maybe someone else did it to inflame people.  The protestors left.

      I told her the sign she described was indeed offensive.  Then I asked her what her sign said again.  She said it said, “Take off the Dish”.  I looked puzzled, and she explained, “the yamika, in response to the ‘take off the hijab’ sign”.  I said, “Well that’s offensive, too.  How do you hope to get anywhere if you just respond in kind?”  She kind of shrugged, as if I had a point but she didn’t want to admit it.

      Note:  if you look at the sign in the picture that Gail Rubin submitted above (“Stop Worshipping Satan and Glorifying Hitler, You Jews”), the back side of the sign is easily seen in reverse and says, “Take off the Dish, Jews”.

      A woman from a Jewish student group on campus was there and engaged the woman in conversation.  We had a mostly reasonable talk at that point, in which she expressed that she wished the protestors would protest the Imam, not the mosque, to which we pointed out the signs we saw were doing just that (the Imam).  She said some signs were protesting the mosque, but again we didn’t see any.

      She said she personally didn’t agree with the Imam, but that the building wasn’t about the Imam, it was a place of worship.  I could understand that.

      Then she pulled out a cell phone and was showing us videos from a website and said that the Jews were destroying all the mosques in some area and were building Jewish temples in their places.  I didn’t really know what context this was in, so I said nothing.  At that point she said only the Jews were violent, not the muslims.

      I think both I and the woman from the Jewish student group had about enough at that point and left.  I’m willing to talk to you if are willing to talk right and wrong on both sides, but once you go to “my side is all right and your side is all evil” I’m done.

      BTW, if I’d seen the “Stop Worshipping Satan and Glorifying Hitler, You Jews” sign, I doubt I would have talked to her at all, at least not in a civil tone.

  4. Alan Miller

    Gail Rubin, I am not clear why you posted your response as a Google Doc rather than just posting it hear as text.  Many more would read it if you just copied and pasted it here.

    Also, you said you were posting a video, too.  Did I miss that or are you still working on how to do that?

    I’d suggest, since this thread is a few days old now, having your letter published as an article to the Vanguard, or maybe writing something more comprehensive, and including links to the picture (and video?).

  5. Gail Rubin

    This reply box will not seem to allow me to do a simple “cut and paste” from another document. I typed out a very long reply and then it disappeared from the screen.

    Perhaps David Greenwald can help with the logistics of how to cut and paste from either a google doc or a word doc?

    Same problem with the picture and video link. It only permits posting a link and not the actual photo.

    1. Alan Miller

      I typed out a very long reply and then it disappeared from the screen.

      Yeah I feel your pain.  That has happened to me so many times with the Vanguard.  I try to copy everything I’ve written before I hit send, but I forget sometimes and it will go to another page and lose everything I’ve written and I want to throw my laptop across the room.

  6. Gail Rubin

    Davis Imam Shahin Lies yet again about his hate. Video clip of his talk in the Davis mosque to the Children of Abraham group on Sunday Oct. 22. How can he reconcile what he said on July 14 and July 21 (and on other occasions not even reported) with what he told the C of A group in his house of worship.? Was he lying then or is he lying now?

    1. Alan Miller

      yeah I was there, and was expecting something new and exceptional and real, and this just seemed like milk toast over one of the most horrific anti-semitic things ever uttered in the U.S. before a group of people — that got out anyway.

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