The major American Jewish civil rights organizations are reacting strongly to Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings into American Muslim radicalization, which opened Thursday on Capitol Hill.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a public statement (here) arguing that the hearing has “engendered an unfortunate atmosphere of blame and suspicion of the broader American Muslim community.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism publicly decried the hearings in a blog post on its website (here) by associate director Mark Pelavin, charging that the hearing “singles out one religious community for investigation, rather than exploring the dangers of radicalism wherever it may be found.”
And the American Jewish Committee weighed in with an op-ed article in the New York Jewish Week praising King’s hearing as “a welcome development.”
AJC also submitted five pages of formal written testimony to King’s committee, cataloguing incidents of Americans carrying out attacks or, more often, trying to. The list includes Muslim immigrants, American-born Muslims and Americans who became converts “to extremist Islam.” (Who knew there was a separate ceremony for the extremist kind?)
Both AJC documents are the work of Yehudit Barsky, the director of the agency’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.
The ADL, in addition to its public statement, sent a letter to King signed by national director Abe Foxman and national chairman Robert Sugarman, laying out objections and warnings in greater detail. It said the ADL over the past year had “tracked an objectionable, intensified level of anti-Muslim bigotry in a variety of public forums.,” which made the hearing particularly incendiary. And the letter said that American police and intelligence had done a good job of stopping incidents before they happened, but that
they cannot do their job without community relationships, trust, community cooperation, and a shared sense of responsibility for public safety. Congress should do all in its power to promote trust and encourage stronger relationships to counter attempts by international terrorist organizations to recruit disaffected or alienated Americans.
In plain terms, hearings like this one actually increase the danger.
Barsky took a slightly different approach. As though government, the media and law enforcement hadn’t been talking about the threat of Muslim terrorists nonstop for the past decade, she warned:
We cannot afford to ignore the increasing threat of homegrown terrorism inspired by Islamic extremist ideology and its continuing impact on our country. The recruitment of homegrown terrorists affects innocent Muslims first, but it ultimately affects us all. Even as we must be ever-vigilant against discrimination, we must also not hesitate to identify and confront the very real threat of an Islamic extremist ideology and its purveyors that imperils our nation’s security.
Translation: It’s not enough to hunt down the people who throw the bombs — we’ve got to go after the “ideology and its purveyors” — that is, the nasty ideas and the people who discuss them.
The ADL letter also recalled the league’s research into other varieties of violent extremism that are on the rise and said King’s committee should be looking into those, too — essentially echoing what Pelavin wrote.
Barsky, again, didn’t agree. Here’s what she wrote (note how objectors like ADL and RAC get lumped with the Bad Guys as “organizations, Muslim and others”):
Some organizations, Muslim as well as others, have objected to the upcoming hearings, raising the specter of McCarthyism and claiming that the hearings target the entire Muslim community rather than an aberrant extremist minority. They, and others, have demanded that the hearings be broadened to include all extremists in all communities. But, as in the case of the militias, there is no reason to expand a hearing regarding particular extremists currently posing a threat to our national security to such an extent that the proceedings would lack the focus necessary to understand the scope and nature of the problem. The hearings should shine a light only on those who support, legitimize and promote Islamic extremist ideology that leads to terrorism, not the entire Muslim community.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).