Donald Trump’s disturbing comments about registering Muslims have put Islamophobia on the front pages. Even Jeb Bush has condemned them. And Jews have been outspoken. Andrew Rosenthal at the New York Times and the Anti-Defamation League have likened the racism to that faced by Jews in an era gone by, and J Street has called out the “bigoted” rhetoric.
Now we learn that one of the main sowers of Islamophobia in the United States, Pamela Geller, has had the support of the Jewish community. “Why is a mainstream Jewish charity funding Pamela Geller?” Eli Clifton asks, and reports in the Forward that Geller has gotten contributions through the Jewish Communal Fund.
Jewish Communal Fund, a mainstream philanthropic fund that describes itself as “dedicated to the welfare and security of the Jewish community at home and abroad,” has funded Geller’s work. JCF’s annual tax filings show contributions of $30,000 in the 2012 tax year and $70,000 in the 2013 tax year, the last tax year for which filings are available, directed to Geller’s AFDI [American Freedom Defense Initiative].
JCF functions as a donor-advised fund, meaning donors to the fund deposit money and receive an immediate federal income tax deduction
No one will answer Clifton’s questions; but it turns out it’s not just Geller:
JCF’s contributions to anti-Muslim groups aren’t limited to the AFDI. In the 2013 tax year, JCF contributed $36,200 to the Clarion Fund, adding to a $27,880 grant made in 2007.
The Clarion Fund, an offshoot of the Jewish Orthodox fundamentalist Aish HaTorah, gained notoriety for its distribution of the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” to 28 million swing state voters before the 2008 presidential election between then-Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, a Republican in Arizona. The film’s central thesis was that fundamentalist Islam is as bad as, if not worse than, Nazism.
As for Geller’s Islamophobia, the Southern Poverty Law Center describes her as the “figurehead” of Islamophobia; and of course it comes out of support for Israel:
Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead. She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam and makes preposterous claims, such as that President Obama is the “love child” of Malcolm X. She makes no pretense of being learned in Islamic studies, leaving the argumentative heavy lifting to her Stop Islamization of America partner Robert Spencer. Geller has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists, spoken favorably of South African racists, defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps. She has taken a strong pro-Israel stance to the point of being sharply critical of Jewish liberals.
Geller is pro-Israel. The JCF is also pro-Israel. That’s why Clifton’s report is so meaningful to me. Defining the Jewish community as pro-Israel was the great project of Zionists in the years following the Biltmore program of 1942 and leading up to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, by which time the American Jewish community was wholly identified with support for Israel. Israel needed us; and we became one! as propagandists exclaimed. In fact, the Jewish community lost other broad bases of Jewish identification outside of Israel; it became completely Zionist– which is why members of that community assert with sincerity that anti-Zionists are anti-Semites.
Plainly Jews have a strong need for community, as so many other American minority groups do. But that community definition has been so circumscribed along Israel lines that virulent pro-Israel groups like Pam Geller’s or the neoconservatives have been included as brothers and sisters. The inclusion of militants led to fatal mistakes in the community, as when the Reform Jews endorsed the Iraq war; because they’d heard from friends and relatives that it would be good for Israel.
That is what is so stirring and important about Jewish Voice for Peace. It understands the importance of community but is offering a very different definition of Jewish community, one that condemns Islamophobia, opposes Israel’s crimes and has a welcome mat out for non-Jewish progressives.