In response to our winter 2012 cover story on Jewish-Muslim relations in America, we received several letters to the editor. Below is an exchange between one letter writer—Eric Rozenman, the Washington, D.C. director of CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)—and Dina Kraft, who reported and wrote the story. The initial letter by Rozenman and response by Kraft (below) were published in the spring 2013 issue. The follow-up letter and response (which are posted here, below the initial exchange) were recently submitted and are being published online only.
The article “Jews and Muslims in America: A New Flowering Amid the Tensions” in the Winter issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine relates some moving vignettes about Jewish-Muslim outreach. Unfortunately, it relies too heavily on Prof. Ingrid Mattson and the organization of which she is a past president, the Islamic Society of North America.
The article refers to the Islamic Society of North America as “the largest umbrella organization for Muslim groups.” That is how the society presents itself. However, it is hardly “Islamophobic” to point out that:
The society traces its roots to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to spread sharia, Islamic law, globally.
It was an unindicted co-conspirator in America’s largest terrorism funding trial to date, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development case. Though society officials claim it has moved beyond its Brotherhood roots, a Brotherhood list of “our organization and the organizations of our friends” seized by federal investigators in the successful Holy Land Foundation prosecution included ISNA.
FBI records from the 1980s indicate “ISNA conferences provided opportunities for the extreme fundamentalist Muslims to meet with their supporters.”
Money from Saudi Arabia has been a key source of ISNA support since its creation; and ISNA conferences have continued to feature anti-Israel, anti-Semitic publications and speakers.
During Mattson’s 2006–2010 presidency, she discounted the existence of radical Muslims in the United States despite a spike in homegrown extremism. As a professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary, she downplayed the extremism of Saudi Arabia’s puritanical, anti-Western Wahhabi school of Islam…
Jewish-Muslim outreach is important and, as the article noted, so is knowing to whom we are reaching out.
Washington (D.C.) Director
CAMERA—Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
Writer Dina Kraft responds:
The accusations [CAMERA] cites are dated and discounted. The Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement swear by Mattson and ISNA. As I note in the story, Eric Yoffie (past president of the Union of Reform Judaism) was a featured speaker at their convention a few years ago.
A federal judge has said that the status of the group as an unindicted co-conspirator should never have been revealed, because the federal government needed the unindicted co-conspirator not to implicate ISNA and other groups, but to facilitate entry of evidence against Holy Land. He said the revelation harmed groups that committed no criminal activity. The feds agreed and admitted the mistake. It’s more than a little McCarthyist to continue using it against them.
CAMERA cites ISNA as having origins in the Muslim Brotherhood. ISNA has stated in legal documents that it has no part in the organization. But the accusation continues, something the organization and its defenders, among them prominent Jewish leaders and religious figures I interviewed, say is part of a bid to discredit the organization…
As for having Saudi funding…if they do benefit from such funding, it would be worth mentioning, but only once the source in Saudi Arabia was determined. Several U.S. institutions receive funding from Saudi sources, including prominent universities.
Eric Rozenman responds
Dina Kraft’s reply to our letter (spring, 2013), criticizing her article “Jews and Muslims in America: A New Flowering Amid the Tensions” (winter, 2012), misleads readers.
Kraft claims evidence CAMERA cited disputing the Islamic Society of North America’s moderation is “dated and discounted.” Hardly. In the successful 2009 terrorism funding prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a key Muslim Brotherhood list of “our organization and the organizations of our friends” included ISNA.
Kraft makes much of the fact that a judge determined ISNA’s unindicted co-conspirator status in that case should not have been made public. She doesn’t mention that the status was not revoked.
In support of her portrayal of ISNA as mainstream, she says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke at a recent society convention. But so have Holocaust denier Yasir Qadhi and Siraj Wahhaj, Siraj Wahhaj, listed by the U.S. government among “unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators” in the early 1990s plot lead by the “blind sheik,” Omar Abdel Rahman, to blow up New York City landmarks.
Kraft dismisses CAMERA’s observation that Saudi Arabian money is a key source of ISNA’s support—“if they do benefit from such funding, it would be worth mentioning, but only once the source in Saudi Arabia was determined.” Saudis have spent tens of billions of dollars underwriting “charities throughout the Islamic Diaspora,” according to former Treasury Department general counsel David Aufhauser. They’ve done so to teach “unforgiving, intolerant, uncompromising and austere views” of Islam.
Kraft alludes to “a bid to discredit” ISNA. CAMERA’s interest is in accurate reporting, in context, whether such coverage makes ISNA look good, bad or indifferent. Our objection is to glossing over an organization rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that, despite denials, still hosts individuals and offers for sale publications with extremist views and, according to a recent Gallup survey, speaks for no more than 12 percent of American Muslims.
Washington (D.C.) Director
CAMERA—Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
Dina Kraft responds:
CAMERA claims it seeks accurate reporting and then goes and repeats its circular arguments and disingenuous statements.
The fact that ISNA turned up on a “key Muslim Brotherhood list of ‘our organization and other organizations of our friends’” seems to be guilt by association twice removed. More to the point, the Muslim Brotherhood can claim whatever it wants. While their claims may be pertinent in gathering information about the Holy Land Foundation (i.e. how the Muslim Brotherhood had aspirations of influencing American Muslims), how on earth is it probative of what ISNA’s status is—why is CAMERA lending credibility to an unverified claim by the Muslim Brotherhood?
During the 2009 trial against the Holy Land Foundation, ISNA and two other Muslim organizations were named as “unindicted co-conspirators,” but what Mr. Rozenman, as someone who would have followed the case closely, chooses to omit, is the murky legal definition of the term and the fact that federal authorities themselves later regretted publishing the names in what was supposed to be a sealed case. Why? Because they knew that unwarranted stigma of ISNA and other organizations would likely follow if their names as such were made public—which is exactly what happened.
The category of unindicted co-conspirators ISNA fell under was the type that the government lists in order to expand the evidence against the group or person it is indicting but whose identity the government works to keep anonymous because the so-called “unindicted co-conspirator” is thought to be innocent of the alleged crime.
ISNA, which has condemned Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism, cooperated with the government in prosecuting the Holy Land Foundation. It’s also worth noting that in November 2005 the Senate Finance Committee issued a report concluding that ISNA had no ties to terrorists.
CAMERA criticizes Saudi funding, but is all Saudi funding to be condemned in blanket terms? CAMERA appears to be suggesting that any money from any Saudi citizen or group to any citizen or group is tainted. Shouldn’t the source of the funding be determined before blacklisting it? I think that is what Harvard and Georgetown universities did, when they, for example, took donations from a “Saudi source,” in this case a prominent businessman. “Saudi” money has also gone to institutions like the Louvre and to South East Asian victims of the Tsunami.
In regards to one of the individuals CAMERA cites as among the many who have addressed ISNA, Yasir Qadhi did make a Holocaust denial statement in 2000 but recanted in 2010 when he and other imams visited Auschwitz and signed a statement decrying the Holocaust and condemning anti-Semitism.
Uriel Heilman’s “The American Shtetl” exemplifies good social reportage. It presents communal facts in straightforward fashion, without evaluation and with no bias. Thank you for this excellent report.
Dr. Leo Shatin
Boca Raton, Fla.
Uriel Heilman’s article on “The American Shtetl” is an informative piece about one aspect of ultra-Orthodox Jewish life in America. However, the term “shtetl” is inappropriate in this context. While it is true that the Yiddish was the lingua franca of both the Eastern European shtetl and towns like New Square and Kiryas Joel, no shtetl was 100 percent Jewish, nor did any of them manage to keep the outside world at bay. Indeed, there is a fundamental difference between the two: The European shtetl was an organic creation of hundreds of years of history where Jews maintained a particular Jewish way of life while still interacting with Christians on a daily basis and incorporating (albeit sometimes slowly and reluctantly) elements of the surrounding society and of secular culture into their lives. The Hasidic towns in the United States are artificial creations engineered to isolate their residents from all outside influences and to keep them, as far as possible, from interacting with any others outside their own communities.
Lokey Associate Professor of Judaic Studies, Portland State University
Much of American Jewry came from Eastern Europe to escape the constraints of shtetl life. Among the many was my father. Has common sense been abandoned in exchange for poverty and self-imposed righteousness?