Monday, January 30, 2017

Interfaith Event at Bat Yahm Synagogue in Newport Beach

Trump Bashed by Speakers

Last night, I attended an interfaith event at Bat Yahm synagogue in Newport Beach, California organized by the Jewish Federation of Orange County with the support of others. It was attended by some 150-200 people from the local Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities and included speakers from two local mosques, LAPD, Orange County Sheriff's Department, the OC Human Rights Commission, and others. If I could summarize, there was a lot of talk about hate and the need for all to come together. There was also a clear anti-Trump sentiment. As to who was perpetrating all the hate and the hate crimes, there were only vague references to Trump supporters, KKK, and other assorted white racists. What was noticeably missing from any discussion was anti-Semitism coming from Islamic quarters (except one brief reference to Hamas) especially on college campuses such as UC Irvine.

Bat Yahm Rabbi Peter Levy led off the evening by saying that they were going to talk about those people who were "marginalized". They were going to talk about hate, civil rights and organizing.

The first speaker was Michael Downing, the chief of the counter terrorism squad of LAPD. Downing led off by asking, "How's everybody feeling? Not so good," referring to the first week of the Trump presidency. I have encountered Downing previously in Orange County, and I have been very critical of him for what I see as his refusal to recognize local threats of radicalization. Other than his opening remarks, he spoke in generalities of constitutional protections for all Americans.

He was followed by local Muslim activist Anila Ali, who spoke of how bad she felt in recent days over what she described as attacks against Muslims. She said that history will mark this day as our darkest hour. She brought three young Muslim women up to the stage and described their experiences along with her of receiving vicious social media messages. Her theme was, "America: It is not OK to hate." She talked about Muslim schoolchildren being called "terrorists" in school.  She particularly thanked her Jewish friends for supporting her.

Lisa Armony of the Jewish Federation, Rose Project and OC Hillel talked about hate crimes as tabulated by the Southern Poverty Law Center. She said that in the 10 days  following the election of Donald Trump, 867 hate crimes were recorded, 100 of which were directed against Jews. Of those, 80 consisted of vandalism and graffiti and 20 involved harassment. She then went on to give a brief history of modern anti-semitism and said there was a surge during the campaign mentioning the "alt-right". She referred to social media, of threats and Nazi imagery bringing up old anti-Jewish conspiracy tropes. She quoted one threat which read, "Don't mess with our boy Trump. You'll be the first in line for the camps." She referred to white racists, white power, swastikas  and "sieg Heils". In addition, she reported more than 30 bomb threats against Jewish institutions. There was also mention of swastikas on college campuses and pro-Trump graffiti. She told of a man who came onto the University of Florida campus sporting a swastika. She told of the Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer of Whitefish, Montana who was trying to organize a march in that town which would feature skin heads and a representative of Hamas, who would speak on the international threat of Jews. The event was nipped in the bud due to the reaction of anti-hate groups.

"We will not be silent", said Armony.

Except that not one word was spoken about the involvement of Muslim students and Students for Justice in Palestine when it comes to campus anti-Semitism.

Next up was FBI agent Mathrew Quait (*phonetic). He is head of the FBI civil rights group in Southern California. He explained that the FBI cannot get involved in investigating hate only but does get involved when it goes over the line into action and criminal activity. He added that they still want to know about it before hand and urged the audience to report it.

Rabbi Levy then made a few more remarks and as to a proposed Muslim registry, that it would behoove us all to say that "I am a Muslim."

The audience was asked to write their questions on a card, which would be passed up to the front for the speakers. My question asked Ms Armony to comment on the situation at UCI and who was responsible. After taking my card, she came back a few minutes later and said she didn't want to get into that during this event.

Imam Mahmoud ( I didn't get his last name) of the Ahmadiya Muslim mosque in Chino told the audience during q and a that the Koran spoke of love and that Islam was not that religion (which was carrying out terrorist acts). Not mentioned was the fact that the Ahmadiya Muslims are regarded as heretics by mainstream Muslims and are badly persecuted in places like Pakistan.

One of the questions asked what was being done at UCI about anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. That brought Douglas Haynes the director of UCI's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to the stage.He referred to the UC Regents' Statement of Principles on Intolerance and the fact that some months ago Chancellor Howard Gillman had tasked him with studying the issue and how it was being implemented. He said they had come up with 18 recommendations and mentioned a new lecture series on bias and bigotry, raising awareness, and how to equip students to recognize bigotry. He then turned the floor over to Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham, and here is where things got interesting. Parham begin by saying that years ago UCI was a poster child for tensions between Muslim and Jewish students. He claimed that "we" had changed all that. He developed a "narrative" on those issues and that the campus was committed. Now he started to get warmed up by quoting Martin Luther King. He said that they would not betray their principles. Getting emotional he referred to the new attorney general (Jeff Sessions) as a "racist from Alabama" and a president (Trump) who doesn't have the "moral decency" of a cockroach. From there he began rambling toward his conclusion whatever that was. It was  a disgusting display of demagoguery in my view, especially for a man representing the University of California at Irvine in public.

Armony came back and added that they are working with UCI on the problem of anti-Semitism and referred to criticism of Israel when it crossed the line.

A question was directed to FBI agent Quait (phonetc) about the KKK and white supremacists. He stated that in the past 3-6 months they had not seen a rise in hate crimes in Orange County and added that he knew  this "went against the narrative" (emphasis mine).

Then Levy talked about how people could organize, write letters, and  meet elected officials. He referred to this week's airport protests.

Muzammil Siddiqi, the imam of the Islamic Center of Orange County, recited a prayer for love all around. The final event was a singing performance by a group of high school students.


The Bat Yahm synagogue (Reform) is clearly in the hands of liberal activists like Levy. A close friend of mine who has belonged to this synagogue for 30 years says they are leaving foe this reason. He reported that the head rabbi was using religious classes to rail against Trump, which caused his wife and others to walk out.

It was fascinating to hear so much talk about hate without going beyond the politically correct references to Trump, his supporters, the KKK, and white supremacists. Muslim bigotry against Jews or Christians? Not mentioned. After the event, I spoke at length with Ms. Armony and outlined my objections. She reiterated her feeling that it was not the time or place to discuss who was responsible for anti-Semitic acts or speech at UC Irvine.

Correction: Rabbi Peter Levi is from the Anti-Defamation League, not Temple Bat Yahm.


Miggie said...

Rabbi Levy is not from Bat Yahm. The senior Rabbi there is Rabbi Gersh. Zylberman.

In 40+ years living in Orange County, I've never seen or heard of a single KKK or White Supremist speech, rally, or address. On the other hand, there are 3 or 4 Muslim hate speakers a day (!) for a solid week, every single year at UCI. There were marches around the UCI campus with chants of "Down, Down, with Israel." I've even heard them chant "Death to the Jews." The MSU shouted down the Israeli ambassador to the US. I don't think those outrages were done by the KKK, White Supremists, Jews, or by anyone associated with Donald Trump.

If they really wanted to cut down hate in Orange County, they could get UCI to cut out the "Israel Awareness Week" at UCI every year.

Gary Fouse said...

Great point, Miggie. I've sure never seen the KKK on campus or the Nazis skinheads or white supremecists. I have seen some Muslim supremecists, however.

Plus,a few squirrels and one porcupine as the country song goes.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Gary.
One further clarification: Rabbi Peter Levi is the Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL seems to be obsessed (nationally as well as locally) with white supremacists, rather than with confronting the threat of Muslim anti-Semitism. The ADL used to be a more mainstream organization, whose mandate was the protection of Jews everywhere. They seem to have lost site of their purpose, and now routinely join with the progressive left, even where doing so does not further the safety or security of the Jewish community. What a shame.