Monday Morning Thoughts: Response to Imam Unnecessarily Divisive and Inflammatory

Imam Shahin speaking in late July at the press conference

Earlier this week, Steve Cohan of Bet Haverim put out a perfectly reasonable statement asking, I think, a question that increasingly needs to be asked, given the Imam’s apology in late July – why are things still a problem?

He writes: “These are welcome positive statements, so why is it then that many of us in the Jewish community and beyond are not satisfied?”

He answers that very clearly: “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.”

I think the Imam needs to do more and I am critical that he has let the ball drop in that regard, even though I am supportive of Bet Haverim’s thrust.  Many are frustrated by the lack of a more clear apology and by the lack of publicly visible follow-up on the part of the Imam.

As I have pointed out numerous times since August, this is largely self-inflicted.

At the same time, the response from some has been ugly and divisive.  Rather than look to solutions, it has been hyper-critical and has at times bordered on conspiratorial hysteria.

In her Saturday response to the Bet Haverim piece, Gail Rubin quotes Steve Cohan stating, “He has publicly taken a clear anti-violence stance, and has rejected genocide against any people.”

Here she takes his comment out of context, by failing to note the second paragraph which posits why the Jewish community is not satisfied with the lack of clear rejection.

Thus taking only the first comment and ignoring the second part of the statement, she then builds on the out-of-context quote with an Alice in Wonderland reference.

Ms. Ruben continued: “The statement issued by Bet Haverim is based on magical thinking. What Imam Shahin has said publicly (taqiyya) does not match the facts. He has called for genocide. He has called for incitement against the Jewish people.”

But the statement by Bet Haverim did not claim otherwise.  Instead, Mr. Cohan builds on the apology and talks about the work that has been done in the community – often outside of the public limelight – that it views as positive.  Nowhere in the statement is a defense of the Imam’s words.

Ms. Rubin goes too far when she attacks the Muslim Hands group.  She writes: “Well-meaning people speak highly of the ‘Muslim Hands’ group that embraced the congregants at Bet Haverim. But who are they? Do they embrace pluralism and democratic values? Muslim Hands is a Hamas-front charity raising money for Jihad. Hamas seeks to eliminate secular democracies and replace them with a radical Islamic state.”

But the evidence for that is at best indirect.  Indeed, the two sites she refers to (moneyjihad and discoverthenetworks) are not evidence that Muslim Hands is a Hamas-front charity, but they are instead right-wing conspiracy groups.

Moreover, there is no necessary nexus between Muslim Hands and the group Davis Muslim Hands.  The group describes itself: “Davis Muslim Hands is an independent organization of Muslims in Davis.”

So even if Muslim Hands is as the site claims, there is no necessary connection between Muslim Hands and Davis Muslim Hands.

This is a disgraceful attack on Hamza El-Nakhal, a man who many in this community deeply admire.  In fact, it was Hamza who was the first person in the Muslim community to condemn the Imam’s words.  He has been a longtime resident in our community and did not deserve such vile words of hatred directed towards him.

Ironically, while the Imam has been criticized for his tepid response, Davis Muslim Hands in early August completely repudiated the statement from the Imam.

They stated in a letter to “Our Jewish Friends”:  “Davis Muslim Hands publicly states that we strongly repudiate the hurtful and inexcusable anti-Semitic words that were delivered July 21 in the sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis. 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. We can only imagine how terrifying it must feel for a community that faced genocide to hear such vitriolic and dangerous words.”

Isn’t that the statement we want to hear?  Is Ms. Rubin arguing that this is a ploy by the local group to somehow trick us into complacence?

Unfortunately, Ms. Rubin’s piece does little but serve to divide us with hateful rhetoric, and is ironically little better than the sermon that she rightly condemns.

This the problem that we face, as we are so divided – the Imam said horrible things and I agree with many that he has not done nearly enough to rectify them or even repudiate them.  However, at the same time, dividing the community does not serve any of us well.

A lot of people in this community remain deeply upset by the Imam’s words.  That is perfectly understandable.  But the question really at this point is how we can move forward.

Again – I would like to see more publicly from the Imam and I cannot state that more clearly.

At the same time, I think we have to put our faith in the work of community leaders who have been looking to forge unity out of a moment of hatred, anger and distrust.

I support the work of Davis Muslim Hands, of Bet Haverim, and of the Interfaith community.  I will put my faith, so to speak, in their hands to lead us in the right direction.

—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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  1. Keith O

     However, at the same, time, dividing community is does not serve any of us well.

    Once again, I hope the Vanguard remembers that was written here and practices what it preaches in all future Vanguard writings about race relations.

  2. Keith O

    Indeed, the two sites she refers to (moneyjihad and discoverthenetworks) are not evidence that Muslim Hands is a Hamas-front charity, but they are instead right-wing conspiracy groups.

    Funny, but that’s what was said about the MEMRI organization who first disclosed the Imam’s words.


  3. Susan George

    As someone who lives about an hour from Davis, I have watched these events unfold with great interest since Imam Shahin’s hateful, genocide-invoking sermon.

    I’ve watched as the Islamic Center of Davis first blamed a right wing website of taking the imam’s calling Jews  “filth” and calling for their “annihilation” out of context.

    I’ve watched as the imam issued a carefully crafted, staged apology at an organized “interfaith” press conference where no questions were allowed.

    I watched again at a follow up “interfaith” walk and gathering more recently where Imam Shahin again denied that he called for genocide of the Jewish people or for violence.

    What is the “interfaith” community waiting for to realize that Shahin and the Islamic Center  are still not acting in good faith?

    Imam Shahin and the Davis Islamic Center are purveyors of hatred, violence, and the worst kind of denial. And this paper’s editor wishes to accuse people like Gail Rubin for being “divisive”? That is nothing short of victim blaming.

    The responsibility is squarely on Imam Shahin and the Islamic Center of Davis. This “religious” institution also preaches hatred against LGBTQ people where another imam in January of 2017 said that gays deserve the death penalty. Thanks to people like Gail Rubin, we now know this to be a fact. But where  is the outrage from the Davis “interfaith” community and this editor on such hate speech and divisive homophobia in the name of “religion”?

    No. The problem is that the “interfaith” community along with the Davis mayor and city council did not insist that Imam Shahin be fired for his violent words. And only after then can the healing begin.

    Given the ongoing weak response to Shahin’s hateful and dangerous words, it is no wonder that UC Davis is on record as one of the top ten anti-Semitic campuses in the country.



    1. David Greenwald

      “And this paper’s editor wishes to accuse people like Gail Rubin for being “divisive”? That is nothing short of victim blaming.”

      First of all, she’s not a victim.

      Second, if she had said, “The Imam needs to do more” – my response would have been – I agree.

      Had she said, the Islamic Center need to do more – I agree.

      Instead, she comes with this convoluted conspiracy theory.  She attacks a good man in Hamza who is actually the first Muslim to have spoken out against the Imam in the first place and wraps up everything in this broad conspiracy.

      So yes – I stand by my criticism.  It’s not either/ or – I blame more than one side here.

      1. Susan George

        If I were Jewish, I would have certainly felt not only victimized but traumatized by Shahin’s hateful, genocidal words. I cannot even imagine how chilling that would be. I also know that Gail does not feel safe in her own community anymore. Who is to blame for that? It’s not Gail Rubin, certainly.

        Rubin made a number of very salient points with evidence in her article and you give no credence to any of them except the one that you disagree with.

        I don’t think that’s fair and shows your bias.

        1. David Greenwald

          Since I’m Jewish, not sure what my bias is.  I consider myself a moderate on this but I see fault with the Imam but the tying of Davis Muslim Hands and Hamza to national stuff of iffy character is questionable

        2. David Greenwald

          After some reflection, I think instead of saying that she wasn’t a victim, what I should have pointed out is that being a victim doesn’t give license to do what she did in her article without criticism.

    2. aaahirsch8


      It’s hard to judge what is in peoples hearts, such a feeling of being Victimized.


      – victims are usually “innocent”, not combatants.
      – Victim usually show some fear and take defensive action.
      – They don’t proactively search out & attack enemies.

      So, while I have no insight about what is in Gail or Susans hearts…we can factually note:

      Gail Rubin is a activists in the Israel-Palestine debate and has long been at ease using her free speach rights to attack Muslims.

      Susan M. George seems to be a <professional?> blogger and BDS fighter with international Times of Israel, which most consider to have a right-wing bias:

      I note the following on the  Times of Israeli from Israeli Newspaper Haaretz:  “The American billionaire who cofounded The Times of Israel website has given more than $1.5 million through his foundation to Camera, a right-wing media watchdog that routinely attacks news outlets over their coverage of Israel, Haaretz has learned. Camera publishes – and widely disseminates – criticism of Israeli and foreign news outlets, but does not disclose that it receives donations from owners of media outlets.”





      1. aaahirsch8

        Identify is not the same as discredit.

        What is wrong with being a right-wing Jewish Vanguard poster and long time combatant in the Israel/Palestine debate?


        1. Susan George

          I’m about as far away from right wing as you can get. My blogging with Times of Israel is strictly voluntary. It is a means to share my views and thoughts in matters I consider important. I was a delegate for Bernie Sanders to the Democratic National Convention and am currently a delegate to the California Democratic Party for my assembly district not too far from Davis. My bio in the Times of Israel is very clear that I am on the left side of the political spectrum. And Camera does some good work on campuses. I see bias with Democracy Now and The Real News as well. What is important is to fact check what you read and hold it up to a healthy scrutiny whether it is left, right, or center. However, being a delegate to Bernie Sanders opened my eyes to rampant ignorance and hatred of Israel on the left. That was one of the reasons I chose to write a blog. The imam’s fueling of hatred of Jews and Israel is very, very harmful. Anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidences are on the rise disproportionately. And now there is antisemitism on the right as well as the left side of the spectrum and I don’t believe it is getting enough attention.

          1. David Greenwald

            “The imam’s fueling of hatred of Jews and Israel is very, very harmful.”

            i AGREE. But there are other harmful things as well. One is insisting that government officials demand a religious leader be removed. Another is relying on innuendo and association to besmirch people. In the end, the reason I wrote this response is not that I think Gale was wrong about the Imam, but rather because I believe she was wrong in how she chose to approach the subject.

    3. Tia Will

      The problem is that the “interfaith” community along with the Davis mayor and city council did not insist that Imam Shahin be fired for his violent words. And only after then can the healing begin.”

      I myself advocate for the removal from office of those who I believe engage in hate speech and the promotion of violence. I am politically and economically active for those I support and against those I oppose. But I believe that it is both naive and disingenuous to believe that the mayor and or city council can “insist” upon the removal of a clergy due to words spoken to a congregation. We still honor the principle of separation of church and state. Our electeds have no right to make private employment decisions and we should hope that this always holds true.


    1. Alan Miller

      ” UC Davis is on record as one of the top ten anti-Semitic campuses in the country.”

      And I’ll bet, thanks to the Imam across the street and the UCD student sign woman, Davis ranks #1 next year.

      . . . and to quote from Fiddler on the Roof . . .  ” . . . it’s no great honor either!”

  4. Howard P

    Don’t know where to put this…

    On TV, they’re reporting the murder of over 260 worshipers in a Mosque in Egypt… on a Friday!

    Moslem believers, worshipping on a day of ‘observance’, at their mosque, apparently perpetrated by Moslems affiliated with ISIS.

    Perhaps the Iman may want to reflect on whether he may wish to change his degree of apology for his previous remarks… it was, not just insensitive, inappropriate, etc., but potentially fratricidal for anyone of the faith of Islam, to advocate/condone any sort of violence.  Period.

    Perhaps he should examine his very faith and soul, imagining if some Iman who may be affiliated with ISIS, were to use similar words to incite their congregation, to callously murder their Islamic brethren for any reason., particularly in a Mosque, on Friday…

    My prayers go out to those who believe in Islam, for this tragic loss of Moslem lives, in a house of worship, particularly on a Friday.

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