Rabbis Urged To Quit Alliance

By Miriam Colton

Published December 19, 2003, issue of December 19, 2003.

Several rabbis are being urged to drop out of an anti-gay marriage coalition because it includes a Muslim organization with alleged ties to terrorist groups.

One rabbi, Marc Gellman, a Reform clergyman best known for co-hosting the interfaith television program “God Squad,” has already severed ties to the Alliance for Marriage, citing unwillingness to join forces with the Islamic Society of North America. The Muslim group has been accused by some observers, including investigative reporter Steven Emerson, of championing organizations with suspected terrorist links, hosting fundraisers for terrorists and publicly defending Hamas attacks.

Other rabbis have refused to bolt the coalition, noting that the Islamic group is not on the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list.

“I lent the [alliance] my name because this is an important societal and moral issue and I am not giving anyone credibility by being on a list with them,” said Rabbi Barry Freundel of Congregation Kesher Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Washington. “If I checked what every group ever did, I could never be involved in any coalition.”

Freundel received support from a fellow Orthodox rabbi, Kenneth Auman, president of the Rabbinical Council of America. “The purpose of the alliance is to oppose single-sex marriage, which is something the RCA supports fully,” Auman said. “If the government takes this Muslim organization seriously, we’ll also take them seriously.”

Emerson criticized this reliance on the U.S. government, arguing in an interview that the question of whether a group fits the strict, legal definition of a terrorist group was too narrow. “ISNA is an extremist group, even though they claim to represent mainstream Islam, and associating with them gives extremism a strong foothold,” he said. By joining interfaith coalitions, he added, such groups attempt to cultivate a more mainstream image.

In a statement explaining his own decision to leave the alliance, Gellman cited Emerson’s work: “My moral conscience cannot allow me to be associated with an organization, ISNA, that terrorist experts like Steve Emerson, whom I respect greatly, consider a front for Hamas and other hateful terrorist groups.”

Gellman’s decision to resign followed a report by conservative commentator Evan Gahr that appeared on the Web site Jewishworldreview.com, focusing on the Islamic group’s membership in the alliance.

In an interview, Gahr criticized Freundel’s reasoning. “Would [Freundel] work with David Duke or some other rabid antisemites?” he said. “Would Freundel work with any of them against gay marriage?”

In addition to Freundel, two other Orthodox rabbis sit on the alliance’s advisory board. Daniel Lapin, head of the conservative group Toward Tradition, could not be reached for comment, while Yoel Schonfeld of the Queens Board of Rabbis told the Forward that, though he would review the issue with his own board, he did not forsee a decision to drop out.



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