Emerson on Madrid, and a Critique of his essay

[Steve Emerson is a bitter critic of Islam whose attacks on it are full of half-truths and three-quarter lies, but who is often quoted as if he were a dispassionate scholar. We are posting his attack on the Madrid Global Interfaith Dialogue and on the American Muslims and Jews who took part in it, together with my own critique of just a few of the misstatements in it.

[Though we thought twice about the danger of further spreading the lashon hara ("evil tongue") in this statement of his, we concluded it is important to show from first-hand knowledge of a Madrid participant (me) how he (who was not there) has twisted the truth about Madrid and various participants. – ED, Rabbi Arthur Waskow]

More Perils of Interfaith Dialogue
By Steven Emerson

News reports indicate that the recent World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid ended with something less than the Kumbaya atmosphere both organizers and attendees had envisioned.

According to the reports, a presidential advisor from the United Arab
Emirates urged attendees to "to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism,"
adding "I can speak to pacifists but not bellicists, who are in favor of

Rabbi Marc Schneier, chairman of the World Jewish Congress in North America,
responded, saying "Israel is not a political issue... If you want to
understand Judaism, then you need to understand that Israel is a core issue
of our religion."

Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel in Lawrence, N.Y., went further, telling a
New York Sun reporter that the comments were anti-Semitic, representing "the
same old rhetoric that has led to more hatred and the building of a wall
between the Jews and the Muslims for the last 60 years."

Here's hoping that the episode opens more eyes than just Rosenbaum's. After
all, if Jewish leaders such as Schneier, David Rosen of the American Jewish
Committee legitimize these meetings with their presence, how can
representatives of any other faith challenge their wisdom? The same holds
true for interfaith dialogue back home in America.

The Madrid conference is the latest in a long line of so-called interfaith
dialogue initiatives between various leaders of Islam, Christianity and
Judaism. It was sponsored by the Saudi monarch and organized by a man who
justifies Palestinian suicide bombings and is alleged to have links to a
senior Al Qaeda financier. (See "Organizer's Past Raises Questions About
Madrid Interfaith Conference" for background.)

Now come new disclosures that the principal partner in domestic outreach,
the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), is rooted in the Muslim
Brotherhood, the 80-year-old Egyptian society from which virtually all Sunni
terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, emerge. The Brotherhood's long range
goal is to make Islam dominant throughout the world, not to seek a path to
mutual understanding.

The time for ignoring these links or blaming the messenger has passed. It is
a time for pointed questions, answered publicly. Those Jewish leaders, ever
desperate to forge any common ground with self-styled mainstream Muslim
organizations, must examine these new disclosures and explain why they
believe in continued dialogue with people who are blatantly deceiving them.

They must challenge their outreach partners for credible explanations. At a
time when Sami Al-Arian admits he was in the Muslim Brotherhood when ISNA
was created, and that he co-founded ISNA, as the Investigative Project on
Terrorism reported Tuesday, it's time to stop the "dialogue" and demand real

Schneier, a participant at the aforementioned Madrid conference, and Eric
Yoffie of the Union of Reform Judaism, are cases in point. Both have bent
over backward to whitewash ISNA, currently named an unindicted
co-conspirator by the government in a HAMAS financing trial in Dallas
against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF).

As reported in the New York Sun, on the topic of ISNA, the major Muslim
Brotherhood umbrella group in the U.S.:

"People do evolve," says Rabbi Schneier, who told us that he has worked
with the Islamic Society of North America to prepare a public service
announcement with rabbis and imams jointly warning against anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia, and also to plan joint activities between synagogues and
mosques that are set for November.

Evolve? ISNA denies having anything from which it has to evolve. And this is
Schneier at the Madrid Conference opening:

Rabbi Marc Schneier, North American chairman of the World Jewish Congress,
said King Abdullah was reaching out to other faiths to counter extremists
and fanatics within Islam.

"What I heard from him is that 'I represent Islam, and I am the voice of
moderation'," said Schneier.

So the leading exporter of Wahabbi Islam, who refused to invite any Israelis
(the one rabbi with Israeli citizenship at the conference, the AJC's David
Rosen, was listed on the program as an American), let alone have the
conference on Saudi soil, is somehow a voice of moderation. Adding to his
"moderate" credentials, Abdullah invited a radical, pro-Islamist Jewish
leader who attended the Iranian president's 2006 Holocaust denial

Some other Jewish officials invited to the conference are more controversial, including Rabbi David Weiss, whose group, Neturei Karta, objects to the creation of Israel on the grounds that it violates Jewish religious law.

At a 2006 gathering in Tehran hosted by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Weiss made headlines by saying the number of Jews said to have been killed in the Holocaust was inflated.

Given that, how surprising is it to learn that the Madrid conference featured former neo-Nazi leader William Baker? There is no report of any protest for Baker's inclusion. The Associated Press quoted Rosen after the conference opened:

"What is historic about this is that it is organized by the king of Saudi
Arabia," he told the Associated Press. "To hear the king of Saudi Arabia
talk about tolerance, moderation and cooperation between the religions to
address contemporary challenges is quite something."

When asked what he hoped to get out of the three-day gathering, Rosen

"The significance of this event is the fact that it is happening. I didn't
have any great expectations with regards to the intellectual content."

Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal Tikkun magazine. Lerner wrote a fairly
glowing assessment of the conference's opening, acknowledging dramatic
change could take years, but finding the Madrid meeting a key step in the
right direction:

" I came away from this direct time with the Saudis with the distinct impression that I had helped foster more positive notions about who Americans are, who Jews are, and what Israelis are about. I believe that this happened in many other conversations that took place in the hallways between the 20 or so Jews at the conference and the hundreds of Muslims and Christians.

"While some of those Jews probably conveyed the same stuckness and stubbornness that Israel and the American Jewish establishment always conveys, there were fresh thinkers like Rabbi Michael Paley, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Marc Gopin, Rabbi Scott Sperling and Rabbi David Rosen who each have creative and exciting ideas on how to continue this dialogue.

"For that, as for many other aspects of this set of conversations, I give thanks to God for the
opportunity that I have had to serve the causes of peace and reconciliation!

In an email to Lerner shared with the IPT, Ali Alyami, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, told the rabbi's his high hopes were not warranted:

The Madrid Conference has two objectives: One is to spread the deadly Wahhabi ideology and the other to silence critics of Saudi gross violations of basic human rights and hate for non-Muslims. With due you respect, you missed the point completely. According to the secretariat of the Muslim World League (the extremist organizer of the conference you praise profusely) "The conference does not aim to unite religions or to reconcile between them. The differences are there through God's wisdom and will. The objective of the conference is to spread knowledge {Wahhabism} and encourage cooperation in hope of attaining positive coexistence."

The Saudis fed you a lot of false information and you bought it. This is tragic. (emphasis

Meanwhile, Yoffie, who spoke at ISNA's convention in Chicago last summer and has a history of partnering with ISNA, has said, in a statement posted on ISNA's website:

We chose ISNA as our partner because it is the closest equivalent to the Union within the American Muslim community. It has issued a strong and unequivocal condemnation of terror, including a specific condemnation of Hizbollah and Hamas terror against Jews and Israelis.

True, one can find this statement, "ISNA rejects all acts of terrorism, including those perpetrated by HAMAS, Hizbullah and any other group that claims Islam as their inspiration" on ISNA's website. ISNA rather slyly only generally "rejects" the violent acts: its officials refuse to condemn both groups, will not label either as terrorist organizations, but instead refer to HAMAS favorably as the "democratically-elected Palestinian government."[1] ISNA studiously ignores the HAMAS Charter, a virulently anti-Semitic tract which states that, "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it" and the fact that violent jihad is a core principal of HAMAS and Hezbollah. More on this below, as ISNA's own website contains similar anti-Jewish sentiments.

And unfortunately for Schneier and Yoffie, their timing on ISNA's alleged
evolution and condemnation of terrorist groups, respectively, could not have
been worse. Just last week, in documents presented in the HLF case, federal
prosecutors said of ISNA:

HLF raised money and supported HAMAS through a bank account it held with
ISNA as NAIT [the North American Islamic Trust]. Indeed, HLF (under its
former name, OLF) operated from within ISNA, in Plainfield, Indiana. ISNA
checks deposited into the ISNA/NAIT account for the HLF were often made
payable to "the Palestinian Mujahadeen," the original name for the HAMAS
military wing. From that ISNA/NAIT account, the HLF sent hundreds of
thousands of dollars to HAMAS leader Mousa Abu Marzook, Nadia Elashi
(defendant Ghassan Elashi's cousin and Marzook's wife), Sheikh Ahmed
Yassin's Islamic Center of Gaza, the Islamic University and a number of
other individuals associated with HAMAS.

As I have previously reported, ISNA's support of HAMAS is not merely
financial, but the group was also a vocal supporter of HAMAS leader Mousa
Abu Marzook, using the pages of its magazine, Islamic Horizons, to both
whitewash HAMAS' bloody history and engage in thinly veiled anti-Semitism.
For example, in the November/December 1995 issue of Islamic Horizons, almost
a full year after HAMAS was officially designated as a terrorist
organization by the U.S. government, an article titled "Muslim Leader
Hostage to Israeli Interests" characterized Marzook as:

[a] member of the political wing of Hamas, disliked by the Zionist entity
for its Islamic orientation, continues to be held hostage in the U.S. at the
whims of his Zionist accusers.

And, more than two years after HAMAS' designation as a terrorist group, in
the September/October 1997 issue, Islamic Horizons published an article
describing Marzook as:

[j]ailed without trial in New York for-months for alleged ties to
organizations seeking Palestinian rights.

This is an almost unbelievable contention, if not for the fact that it was
uttered by the house organ of a major Muslim Brotherhood front organization.

Now, despite the documented evidence, ISNA says it has no connection - and
indeed that it never had any connection - to the Muslim Brotherhood. And
apparently Rabbi Schneier not only takes the group's word - again, in face
of the actual evidence - but claims that ISNA has somehow "evolved." Since
ISNA unabashedly claims no connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, it is true
the group has evolved, just not in the way Schneier suggests, since the
transparent lies of ISNA's leadership have grown even bolder, which is an
evolution of sorts.

And ISNA's ties to the most virulent anti-Israel terrorist groups are hardly
the only complication when it comes to "interfaith dialogue," especially
with Jews, despite Rabbi Yoffie's assurances to the contrary.

A cursory look at the "library" page on ISNA's website includes the
following passages about Jews (as well as four other, similar in nature to
those in the HAMAS Charter) used to justify extremist violence against both
Israelis and Jews around the world by the most radical of Islamist

Book 41, Number 6985:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying:
The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews
and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind
a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of
Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad
would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

Perhaps Schneier and Yoffie are unaware of ISNA's invocation of this
Hadith - which plainly states that Muslims need to kill the Jews to bring
about the end of times. Or perhaps they are aware, but choose to look the
other way. Either way, pining for the mass slaughter of Jews by Muslims to
usher in paradise should be a disqualifier for any sort of interfaith
dialogue between Muslims and Jews.

Schneier, who has a history of failed outreach efforts, should know better.
In November 2006, he attempted "interfaith dialogue" with a leader of the
largest mosque in New York, with less than optimum results:

One of the last widely publicized Jewish outreach efforts to Muslims was
made last November by Rabbi Marc Schneier, spiritual leader of the New York
Synagogue. But it backfired when Imam Omar Abu Namous of the Islamic
Cultural Center, who was invited to the rabbi's synagogue for a dialogue,
unleashed a barrage of criticism of Israel - even questioning its
legitimacy - as a stunned congregation watched. Rabbi Schneier said later
that the incident "opened my eyes to the reality that we have a long way to

Actual constructive interfaith dialogue can only come when Islamist groups
own up to their past and present support for terrorist groups. For ISNA's
part, only after a sort of "truth and reconciliation" construct, in which
the group's leadership admits its history of support for HAMAS, former
U.S.-based HAMAS leader Mousa Abu Marzook, and various and sundry other
Palestinian and Islamist terror organizations (all documented by federal
prosecutors, by the way) should the organization begin to earn trust.

Indeed, the various Jewish representatives who overlook these ties in the
name of "interfaith dialogue," themselves are engaged in a huge disservice
to everyone who deplores Islamist terrorism and extremism, and have no place
as religious or community leaders.

COMMENT BY Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Steve Emerson is not an expert in facts, or truths, but in three-quarter lies. I will take up just three of the many revealed in his long diatribe:

1. Yes, as Emerson reported, the Saudis originally invited as a speaker Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta, who opposes the existence of the State of Israel as a mistaken and dangerous effort to "force the time" -- that is, act as if Mashiach were already here without and despite God's will -- and was willing to cooperate with Ahmedinejad's conference-full of Holocaust deniers, though not one himself.

But Emerson does not grok the point that it was not just "an American imam" but the leader of the very organization he slanders, the Islamic Society of North America, who worked with American Jews to squash the invitation to Weiss- and it was the Saudi leadership who recognized that having Weiss as a speaker would make it impossible for dialogue to happen, and disinvited him.

"Tshuvah" does not mean never making an ethical mistake. It means that when someone makes such a mistake, s/he corrects it, makes amends, and chooses a different future path. The Saudi organizers corrected their misdeed. The whole tone of the conference - which indeed Emerson did not attend -- suggested that its organizers are striving to change direction. (Their response to the criticism about having no women speakers was similarly swift and strong.)

No one is pretending they have not come from a place that ignores many aspects of our own worldview. No one is pretending there are not internal tensions and disagreements within the Saudi leadership. What vision of the future wins will depend partly on their internal struggle and partly on how we respond.

2. Yes, as Emerson says, one speaker both tried to distinguish Judaism from Zionism as two absolutely distinct strands of Jewish thought, and came close to denying the possibility of any Muslim-Jewish dialogue with anyone in the "Zionist" strand. Emerson does not accurately report what happened next.

Rabbi Marc Schneier spoke instantly to the claim of no dialogue, describing dialogues that were already under way in the US, and was immediately backed up by five or six Muslims who described Jewish-Muslim dialogues in their own countries, and by me, describing The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah. In doing so, I was able also to make the point about process in the Tent, which focuses on face-to-face sharing of our spiritual journeys rather than "serial monologues" by speakers to audiences -- to urge that future Saudi-sponsored conferences include this approach - and to point out that it was a woman's wisdom (Rabbi Phyllis Berman's) that shaped this approach in the Tent - and that it would be important for the Madrid planners to include women in planning and speaking roles.

Then Rabbi David Rosen took up the slur on Zionism as merely political, not "religious." (Emerson can't even get the facts straight about who did this - he says it was Schneier.) Rosen calmly but forcefully said that dialogue requires understanding the dialogue-partner's way of understanding him/her/it-self, and that almost every one in the Jewish world believes there is a religious connection between the People Israel and the Land of Israel -- even while often criticizing particular political positions of the government of the State of Israel.

I was able to follow Rosen by adding that in the process of dialogue, not only is it necessary to understand the Other; it sometimes happens that the process stimulates change in one's self. I reminded us all that the Quran itself sees a special relationship between the land of Israel/Falastin and the Jewish people, and I reported that among some Jews there is a growing willingness to affirm that God gave connection to that Land to both families of Abraham, not just one. All this - Rosen's, Schneier's, my, and the Muslim responses received applause from the participants, including many Muslims.

The point is that Emerson ignores, omits, and distorts the truth that there was a vigorous and public response to the statements he deplores.

3. It is true, as Emerson says, that ISNA was named an "unindicted co-conspirator" by the Ashcroft-Gonzales Dept of Justice in a case they brought against the largest Muslim-rooted charity in America, charging the Holy Land Foundation (not ISNA) with channeling charitable money to social-welfare organizations in Gaza allegedly controlled by Hamas. (No one was charged with directly supporting a terrorist action.) ISNA was named by the prosecutors -- not even by a grand jury -- not as assisting Hamas but as working with the Holy Land Foundation.

What Emerson does NOT mention that in the trial in Dallas, after years of government preparation of the prosecution and weeks of trial, not a single one of the defendants was convicted. Most were acquitted of the multitude of charges against them,; on some charges against some defendants, the jury was hung.

Emerson also does not say that the status of "unindicted co-conspirator" is simply alleged by the government. It is a clever and disgusting way of trying to smear a person or group- because there is not even a grand jury decision that there is "probable cause" for an indictment, let alone guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- and there is no way for a jury to acquit an "unindicted co-conspirator." The whole category is bogus, and the jury found even the official govt indictments not supported by the evidence. (By the way, I attended the last ISNA convention as a speaker and listener. The FBI took supportive ads in the convention program. Does Emerson think the FBI is also part of a "radical Muslim terrorist conspiracy?")

Emerson is not a reliable reporter on any matter involving Islam, and should be read as the ideologue he is, ready to distort and ignore facts in the service of a crusade against Islam. I am sorry to have had to take this amount of space on the Website and this amount of time from my more fruitful work to refute the smears and falsehoods put forward by Emerson. When the fires of lashon hara are lit among us, it is necessary to douse them at once, lest the flames burn their way into us, and become part of our own beliefs. Would they had never been lit in the first place!

With blessings that we keep moving toward emet, tzedek, and shalom -- truth, justice, and peace -- for all these are, as the Rabbis taught, one, in service of the One.

Shalom, salaam, peace - Arthur

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