Mr. Obama, Speak First at Touro

Barack Obama's recent inauguration as our 44th President demonstrates the promise and progress of the unique, living American experiment in governance begun when George Washington delivered his inaugural address on April 30, 1789.

Mr. Obama's inaugural rhetoric, and symbolic granting of his first post-inauguration interview to the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiyya network, emphasized the importance of the Muslim community in the United States, and a "restored" and "respectful" relationship between America and the global Muslim umma (community). The President felt compelled to tell Hisham Melham of Al Arabiyya that it was his administration's solemn duty, " communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries." Obama reiterated  the point. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect."

As if to underscore the primacy of this outreach effort to the Islamic world, Obama characterized America itself as a country of  "Muslims, Christians, Jews" -- having in his earlier
inaugural address -- disregarding actual US demography (i.e., recent Pew Data  indicating the number of US Muslims are half, or less, the number of US Jews) -- only accorded Muslims second position, after American Christians, but before American Jews, Hindus, and others. 

While several commentators, particularly Charles Krauthammer have noted how Mr. Obama's self-flagellating apologetics distort and sully the actual historical record of US actions vis a vis the Muslim world over the past three decades, I was struck by another alarming incongruity: the complete absence of any comparably expressed concerns by the new President for a much more beleaguered and vulnerable people, worldwide -- the Jews. 

This unsavory rhetorical omission will almost certainly be compounded by one of Mr. Obama's looming actions, his now much anticipated (since the December 10, 2008 Chicago Tribune story,
"Which Muslim capital will Barack Obama choose?" ) delivery of a "major speech" in an Islamic capital aimed, yet again, at "restoration" of US-Muslim relations.

On the one hand, the fact that Cairo, Egypt is being touted as a potential location for this conciliatory address highlights Mr. Obama's willful blindness to the pandemic of jihadism, intimately conjoined to annihilationist Islamic Jew-hatred, afflicting Muslim communities globally, including those within Europe, Canada, and the United States. Yet Cairo is also a very appropriate potential venue for Mr. Obama's pending speech. The capital of Egypt, the world's most populous Arab Muslim nation, Cairo's 1000 year old Al Azhar University (and its mosque) represents the pinnacle of Islamic religious education. Egypt also receives nearly $2 billion US aid per annum. Such American largesse, one could reasonably argue, should provide Mr. Obama persuasive leverage over our erstwhile Muslim ally -- for example, demanding, under threat of withdrawing this aid, that Egypt actively seek out and destroy the smuggling tunnels through which flow rockets and other munitions from the Sinai peninsula into Gaza, to be fired by Hamas (and its allied) jihadists upon civilian population centers in southern Israel.

But apart from diplomatic threats -- which can be made privately, Mr. Obama should demonstrate courageous moral leadership in his public address, demanding an end to the declarations of Jew-hatred, and even calls for jihad genocide against the Jews, issued regularly by Egyptian clerics, including authoritative Islamic religious leaders at the renowned Al Azhar University.

Preaching this sacralized hatred is endemic in Egypt. A front page New York Times story published January 10, 2009, included extracts from the Friday sermon (of 1/9/09) at Al Azhar mosque pronounced by Egyptian-government appointed cleric Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef. Referencing well-established Antisemitic motifs from the Koran (citations provided, below), Sheikh Youssef intoned,

Muslim brothers, God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at [Koran 1:7] and whom he cursed [Koran 5:78] so he made monkeys and pigs [Koran 5:60] out of them. They killed prophets and messengers [Koran 2:61 / 3:112] and sowed corruption on Earth. [Koran 5:33 / 5:64] They are the most evil on Earth. [5:62  /63]

Earlier, on March 22, 2004, Sheikh Atiyyah Saqr, former head of the Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, who previously issued a fatwa (April 15, 2002) declaring Jews "apes and pigs," was asked the following question in an online chat room: "What, according to the Koran, are the Jews' main characteristics and qualities?" Sheikh Saqr answered by highlighting 20 negative, inveterate traits of the Jews as described by the Koran: fabricating (Koran 3:75; 5:64); listening to lies (5:41); disobeying Allah (5:13); disputing and quarreling (2:247); hiding the truth and supporting deception (3:78); rebelling against the prophets and rejecting their guidance (2:55); hypocrisy (2:44); selfishness (2:87); wishing evil on people (2:105); feeling pain at others' happiness and feeling happiness at others' afflictions (2:120); arrogance and haughtiness (5:18); utilitarianism and opportunism (4:161); rudeness and vulgarity (4:46); murder of innocents, especially prophets (2:61; 3:112); mercilessness and heartlessness (2:74); breaking promises (2:100); rushing to sin and transgress (5:79); cowardice and greed (59:13; 2:96); miserliness (4:53); and distorting divine revelation (2:79). He prefaced this defamatory litany with an upbeat assurance that the perfidious Jews would be vanquished by the Muslim umma:

We would like to note that these are but some of the most famous traits of the Jews as described in the Koran. They have revolted against the divine ordinances, distorted what has been revealed to them and invented new teachings which, they claimed, were much more better [sic] than what has been recorded in the Torah. It was [because of] these traits that they were not warmly received in all the countries where they tried to reside. Instead, they were either driven out, or lived in isolation. It was the Almighty Allah who placed on them His Wrath and [humiliated] them due to their transgression. Almighty Allah told us that He had sent to them those who would pour upon them rain of severe punishment that would last till the Day of Resurrection. All this gives us glad tidings of the coming victory of Muslims over [the Jews], as soon as Muslims cling to strong faith and belief in Allah and adopt modern means of technology

The continual, monotonous invocation by Al Azhar clerics of such antisemitic motifs from the Koran (and other foundational Muslim texts) is entirely consistent with the published writings and statements of Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi-Grand Imam of this pre-eminent Islamic religious institution since 1996. Tantawi's case illustrates the prevalence and depth of sacralized, "normative" Jew hatred in the contemporary Muslim world. Arguably Islam's leading mainstream cleric, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi, embodies how the living legacy of Muslim anti-Jewish hatred, and violence remains firmly rooted in mainstream, orthodox  Islamic teachings, not some aberrant vision of "radical Islam."  

Tantawi's  Ph.D. thesis Banu Israil fi al-Quran wa-al-Sunnah (Jews in the Koran and the Traditions) was published in 1968-69, and re-published in 1986. Two years after earning his Ph.D., Sheikh Tantawi began teaching at Al-Azhar. In 1980 he became the head of the Tafsir [Koranic Commentary] Department of the University of Medina, Saudi Arabia -- a position he held until 1984. Sheikh Tantawi became Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1986, a position he was to hold for a decade before taking on his current post, first assumed in 1996, as the Grand Imam.

My book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism includes extensive first time English translations of Tantawi's academic magnum opus, Jews in the Koran and the Traditions. Tantawi wrote these words in his 700 page treatise, rationalizing Muslim Jew hatred:

[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [Koran 2:61/ 3:112], [and see Sheikh Saqr's Koranic citations, above] corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness...only a minority of the Jews keep their word...[A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [Koran 3:113], the bad ones do not.

Tantawi was apparently rewarded for this scholarly effort by being named Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in 1996, a position he still holds. These are the expressed, "carefully researched" views on Jews held by the nearest Muslim equivalent to a Pope -- the head of the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam, which represents some 85 to 90% of the world's Muslims. And Sheikh Tantawi has not mollified such hatemongering beliefs since becoming the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar as his statements on "dialogue" (January 1998) with Jews, the Jews as "enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs" (April 2002), and the legitimacy of homicide bombing of Jews (April 2002) make clear.

Tantawi's statements on dialogue, which were issued shortly after he met with the Israel's Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, in Cairo, on December 15, 1997, provided him another opportunity to re-affirm his ongoing commitment to the views expressed about Jews in his Ph.D. thesis:

...anyone who avoids meeting with the enemies in order to counter their dubious claims and stick fingers into their eyes, is a coward.  My stance stems from Allah's book [the Koran], more than one-third of which deals with the Jews...[I] wrote a dissertation dealing with them [the Jews], all their false claims and their punishment by Allah.  I still believe in everything written in that dissertation. [i.e., Jews in the Koran and the Traditions, cited above]

Unfortunately, Tantawi's antisemitic formulations are well-grounded in classical, mainstream Islamic theology. However, understanding and acknowledging the Koranic origins of Islamic antisemitism is not a justification for the unreformed, unrepentant modern endorsement of these hateful motifs by Tantawi -- with predictably murderous consequences. Within days of the Netanya homicide bombing massacre on a Passover seder night, March 27, 2002, for example, Sheikh Tantawi issued an abhorrent sanction (April 4, 2002) of so-called "martyrdom operations," even when directed at Israeli civilians.

And during November, 2002 ("Tantawi: No Antisemitism" Associated Press 11/19/2002), consistent with his triumphant denial, Sheikh Tantawi made the following statement in response to criticism over the virulently antisemitic Egyptian television series ("Horseman Without a Horse"), based on the Czarist Russia forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion":

Suppose that the series has some criticism or shows some of the Jews' traits, this doesn't necessitate an uproar...The accusation of antisemitism was invented by the Jews as a means to pressure Arabs and Muslims to implement their schemes in the Arab and Muslim countries, so don't pay attention to them

Last  January 22, 2008, it was reported that Tantawi cancelled what would have been an historic visit to the Rome synagogue by Ala Eldin Mohammed Ismail al-Ghobash, the imam of Rome's mosque. The putative excuse for this cancellation was Israel's self-defensive stance -- a blockade-in response to acts of jihad terrorism (rocket barrages; attempted armed incursions) emanating from Gaza. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, commenting aptly about these events, observed that the cancellation proved, "...even so called Muslim moderates share the ideology of hate, violence and death towards the Jewish state."  Al Azhar, Corriere della Sera, further argued, which in the absence of a central Muslim authority constituted a "Vatican of Sunni Islam," had in effect issued "a kind of fatwah." The paper concluded by noting that "What the Cairo statement really means is that Muslim dialogue with Jews in Italy is only possible once Israel has been eliminated."

Finally, Egyptian television -- a rigidly controlled enterprise in this authoritarian state -- broadcast on January 26, 2009 a brazen genocidal "commentary" by the cleric Amin al-Ansari, who melded Koranic citations invoking jihad [Koran 8:60] and Jew-hatred [Koran 3:112 and 5:32/ 33], with film footage from Nazi-era World War II concentration camps. Al-Ansari openly expressed this ghoulish desire:

These are bodies, these are dead people, these are skulls. These are the bodies of the Jews being loaded like animals. Watch this tractor clearing away the corpses of the Jews, and these are the refugees awaiting their turn to be killed. A German soldier will come now, and you will see a Jewish woman kissing his hand. Notice what humiliation, fear, and terror have struck her. See how much she is kissing his hand. Watch her humiliation. This is what we hope will happen, but, Allah willing, at the hand of the Muslims. [emphasis added]

The Associated Press reported Thursday February 5, 2009 that members of a Hamas delegation ostensibly in Egypt to negotiate a "long-term" ceasefire with Israel, were discovered to be smuggling some $10 million Euros in cash. This story makes clear that Egypt's connection to Hamas-style jihadism involves concrete financial support, as well as the religious rhetoric of Al Azhar clerics. Even the very dovish Shimon Peres actually read extracts from Hamas' foundational Covenant to the audience at the Davos World Economic Forum (1/29/09), including (in part) the genocidal hadith in Article 7,

...the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to realize the promise of Allah, no matter how long it takes. The Prophet, Allah's prayer and peace be upon him, says: "The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,' except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews." (Sahih Muslim, Book 41, Number 6985)...

and the clear statement in article 13 that Hamas' jihadism is completely incompatible with any meaningful Middle East peace settlement:

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that...There is no solution to the Palestinian question except by Jihad. All initiatives, proposals, and International Conferences are a waste of time and vain endeavors.

But it is the sheer ignorance, or worse, denial of the common ideology of jihad and Jew hatred shared between mainstream Al Azhar religious authorities (see this 1956 Al Azhar fatwa) and Hamas which is most disturbing. Sadly, nothing contained within the odious Hamas Covenant and official Koranic commentary, the vile pronouncements by Hamas political leaders, or even conveyed by the most perverse Hamas media presentations, lacks an Egyptian equivalent.

Now, the bitter harvest of this sacralized Islamic hatred-sewn continuously for generations-is being reaped far removed from the battlegrounds of the endless Muslim jihad against Israel.

For example, the Global Forum Against Antisemitism described over 250 documented reports of anti-Jewish incidents across the world during the 22-days of Israel's self-defensive Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. As summarized by the Jerusalem Post (1/25/09),

The bulk of the antisemitic incidents took place in Western Europe and were led by local Muslim officials, including 100 in France and Britain each, the [Global Forum Against Antisemitism] report found.

Muslim leaders in the US and Canada organized similar demonstrations rife with rhetorical incitement of genocidal Jew-hatred -- often based upon traditional Islamic motifs -- and prone to intimidation of Jews, or even sporadic acts of anti-Jewish violence (as documented in this video).

Following a visit to Newport, RI in August, 1790, and his warm reception by the local Jewish community, represented in a letter by Moses Seixas, George Washington wrote a moving reply to Touro's congregation. Our first President rejected the idea of mere "tolerance" of Jews, embracing them as full, equal citizens of the nascent American nation, with complete freedom of conscience, and the guarantee of their personal security. Washington stated,

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

Contemporary American Jewry has expressed with even greater intensity the "fervent wishes" for President Obama's "felicity," as their forebears did in praise of President George Washington. Will President Obama exhibit George Washington's moral clarity and reassure contemporary Jews he is committed to their liberty and security, which is now gravely threatened by global jihadism? 

Mr. Obama, before your planned speech in a Muslim capital, I urge you to address the world's Jewish community, and condemn the jihad-inspired antisemitic violence fomented by esteemed Islamic religious institutions, including notably, Cairo's Al Azhar University. And I can suggest the ideal venue-redolent with American history-where you should make this statement: Touro, America's first Jewish synagogue, located in Newport, in my beloved home state of Rhode Island.
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