Challenging Islamophobia in All Its Forms: What About the Mamilla Cemetery?

Numerous groups within Jewish communities are working together to challenge Islamophobia — from the Muslim ban to attacks on mosques and in the streets. Community efforts abound. For many Jews, standing in solidarity with Muslims is new. Some Jews and Jewish groups have been building partnerships for years with Muslim and other targeted groups, which have been tirelessly leading efforts against Islamophobia and racism. At the same time, many Jewish organizations — including those speaking out against Islamophobia — have also participated in furthering Islamophobia and racism.

How do we take our work further and deeper to make sure we are not ignoring or perpetuating Islamophobia, but, rather, are standing against it in ALL its forms?

For example, many Jewish organizations remained silent when the Simon Wiesenthal Center both opposed the building of a mosque at Park 51 in New York City, and erected a Museum of Tolerance on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this as we watched the reports of the horrible desecration of Jewish cemeteries, of sacred space and memories. It was horrible, indeed, but why did the desecration of the Mamilla Cemetery, a Muslim burial ground in Jerusalem that goes back to the 7th century, draw barely a peep from mainstream Jewish organizations?

  • Therefore, how do we make clear in our words and actions that we will truly hold our institutions accountable for Islamophobia and not have a double standard for whose lives we value and honor?

Numerous Jewish groups refused to speak out against pervasive police surveillance of Muslim communities in New York City.

  • Therefore, how do we, as Jewish communities, make clear in our words and actions that we oppose any and all surveillance of Muslim, South Asian and other targeted communities?

Many Jewish groups withdrew their support for Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy when, in the wake of a virulent anti-Muslim, anti-Arab campaign fueled by pro-Israel politics, she was fired by the Department of Education (DOE) from her position as principal of the first Arabic dual language elementary school in New York City. (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that the DOE was guilty of “discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin.”)

  • Therefore, how do we, as Jewish communities, make clear in our words and actions that we won’t abandon support for Muslim community leaders, activists and institutions as a result of pro-Israel, Islamophobic smear campaigns?

Many Jewish groups have a litmus test — often based on perceived loyalty to Israel or who they define as “kosher” — that determines who is a “good” Muslim. Mahmood Mamdani, who introduced the “good Muslim” and the “bad Muslim” concept, explains that it rests on the belief that, in a post-9/11 world, “unless proved to be ‘good,’ every Muslim [is] presumed to be ‘bad.'” For example, mainstream Jewish groups opposed a mosque in Boston because of who they determined were “acceptable” or “unacceptable” Muslims.

  • Therefore, how do we make clear in our words and actions that we won’t divide the world into “good” Muslims and “bad” Muslims, which happens so routinely, and that Islamophobia is always wrong?

Many US Jewish groups supported the US, or remained silent, as it embarked on more and more drone attacks and bombed predominantly-Muslim countries.

  • Therefore, how do we make clear in our words and actions that we won’t support the demonization of Muslims through post-9/11 “counter-terrorism” efforts and disastrous US foreign policies and actions?

Supporters of Israel have played a key role in fomenting Islamophobia and in the money-Islamophobia-Israel network, which “furthers a rabidly anti-Muslim climate in this country and helps bolster the state-sponsored Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian policies adopted and promoted by the U.S. government.”

  • Therefore, how do we make clear in our words and actions that we won’t support US government policies and actions that promote Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian policies?

More and more members of Jewish communities are forcefully speaking out against the egregious, unconstitutional, deeply harmful Islamophobic policies of this administration. But how can we make clear in our words and deeds that we will be consistent in challenging Islamophobia in all its manifestations — without conditions; without a litmus test; without a “but”; without privileging some lives over others; without doing cartwheels and back flips (or just being bullies) to keep Israel or US imperialism out of any discussions and organizing; without trying to be gatekeepers?

If we do that and really value the full dignity of Muslim communities, then we will be as horrified by what the Simon Wiesenthal Center did on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem as we are by the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in the US.