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We need to talk about Islamophobia

I co-founded an antisemitism education organization, but right now I need to talk about Islamophobia

Our Jewish community is in deep pain. While reading the news about the worst attack against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, I was reminded of my family letters from more than a century ago. I recalled how my great-great-grandparents would tell their children to hide in different fields during the pogroms, so if one was found others might survive.

We are feeling more at risk than we have in decades. For the first time in thousands of years, in the one place where we thought we could be safe, more than 1,400 of our loved ones were murdered. And now, we are seeing a rise in anti-Jewish hate and dehumanizing language that condones the actions of Hamas and normalizes violence against Jews worldwide.

An ancestral wound of trauma has been re-opened. And in the midst of this alienation and chaos, it has been too easy to lose sight of others.

In our attempts to disrupt a resurgence of public anti-Jewish sentiment, some in and outside of our community are succumbing to unfortunate and dangerous habits of Islamophobia.

Last week, a prominent Jewish organization shared videos displaying the view of a rifle scope pointing at a child, which then cuts to black as someone with an accent shouts “allahu Akbar” over the sound of gunshots. Hours later, the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation released a menacing video stating that “The Palestinian population has no interest in assimilating into American culture and governance or in expressing loyalty to America or our allies. To import a population of Palestinians would be certain suicide for Americans.”

The Jewish community has long been denied safe haven and targeted by claims of dual loyalty; we know the dangers of such language.

While I understand the intention behind comparing this attack to the September 11 attacks, it’s a sloppy and harmful analogy. How many Muslim leaders have to tell us that is inflaming anti-Muslim hate for us to listen? Following 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims rose 1617% according to the FBI. These numbers have never returned to pre-9/11 levels.

Muslims in America - and those perceived to be Muslim - are facing rising levels of harm stemming from the war and the conversation around it. Islamophobia - like antisemitism - is a systemic bigotry woven into the fabric of Western societies. And right now, Muslims are as afraid as ever.

On October 14, our country mourned the death of Wadea Al Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy who was stabbed to death as the perpetrator shouted “You Muslims must die.”

The FBI has indicated that synagogues and mosques are vulnerable right now and they are monitoring an increased number of threats against both communities.

We are not the only ones feeling traumatized and scared. We must honor those feelings and fears in our Muslim siblings. We cannot fall into old frames that place this as a Jewish-Muslim conflict.

We can devote our time and resources to keeping Jews safe without accidentally perpetuating harm to other communities. There is no such thing as scarcity in solidarity. We must advocate for Jewish safety in a way that deliberately safeguards others.

Just as we demand that Jews are not held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government, we cannot hold Muslims or Arabs responsible for the actions of Hamas. We must condemn any efforts to equate empathizing with Palestinians with supporting terrorism.

Five years ago, following the Tree of Life shooting, my friend and fraternity brother Wasi, then the Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, spoke to the nation on ABC News and said "We will be there for them in any way we can. Not just this week, but next week, the next month, and then next year -- we want to make sure that we keep these relationships."

It is time for us to speak loudly and clearly as a community: We must condemn any language that harms our Muslim family. Not just this week, but always.

To our Muslim family: We will be here for you in any way we can. Not just this week, but next week, the next month, and then next year.

May you be comforted by the hope that one day we will repair this broken world together.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav wrote, "All the world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing to do is not to be afraid."

But of course you are afraid. We are too. As you walk this narrow bridge, know we walk beside you. We are in this together. We love you. We are here.

When God called out to Moses at the burning bush, he responded with absolute and total readiness.

"Hineini" (Here I am) he replied. I say the same to every one of you today.

Heneini. Heneini. Heineni.


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