Her April 14 appearance at Great Neck Synagogue was canceled amid liberal protests, but anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller got the last laugh: The next morning, two other area synagogues invited her to speak the same day as the canceled speech.
“Two courageous and magnificent Rabbis have asked me to speak on Sunday,” Geller wrote last Thursday on her blog, “Atlas Shrugged.” “Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky of the Chabad, Great Neck and Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg of Congregation Beth-El in Edison, New Jersey have both invited me to speak at their synagogues on Sunday – the same day I was scheduled to speak at the Great Neck Synagogue on Long Island until that synagogue caved to a leftist/Islamic supremacist smear and intimidation campaign.” Geller wrote that the invitations both came Thursday morning, hours after Great Neck Synagogue announced the cancellation.
Chabad of Great Neck is five minutes away from Great Neck Synagogue. Geller is scheduled to speak there at 10:00 a.m., the same time set for the canceled gig, on the theme of “The Imposition of Terrorism in the United States.” Her talk in Edison, an hour and a half south, is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. The title there is “The Imposition of Sharia in America.”
The two rabbis adopted noticeably different tones in describing their motives for inviting her. Geisinsky, the Great Neck Chabad rabbi, adopted a neutral stance toward Geller’s views, implicitly positioning himself on the side of free speech rather than Islam-bashing. Geisinsky told TheIslandNow.com that Geller would “stick to discussions of free speech and terrorism,” and the synagogue’s moderator would “be able to stop it” if Geller goes “into any areas that don’t go in our direction.”
Rosenberg, a political conservative who created Rabbis for Romney last fall, took a more militant line. Interviewed on the NJ.com website, he said he didn’t “have to agree with everything she says or stands for,” but he went on to offer implicit endorsement, saying, “When Jews are being attacked throughout the world, someone’s got to speak up.”
The scheduling and canceling of Geller’s Great Neck Synagogue talk has become the focus of a major left-right Jewish war of words, pitting left-wingers who say she is a bigot and shouldn’t have a platform against right-wingers who call her a fighter against terrorism — and accuse the left of hypocrisy for failing to honor freedom of speech.
“The liberals came out of the woodwork to defend Islamic extremists rights to speak at Brooklyn College and call for the destruction of Israel,” New York state assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn said in a statement issued by his office. “But when author Pamela Geller was prevented from speaking at a private synagogue because of bullying and intimidation, the liberals were mum. Where have all the liberals gone?” The statement said Hikind would attend the rescheduled Great Neck talk.
Rosenberg, rabbi in Edison since 1989, is described by NJ.com as a “son of Holocaust survivors and the author of 15 books on the subject.” According to his resume, he’s a professor of communications at Rutgers University, chairman of the Edison human rights commission, interfaith chairman of the New Jersey State Holocaust Commission and a board member of the Rabbinical Assembly’s New Jersey region. He’s also an officer of the New York Board of Rabbis.
If his name seems to ring another bell somewhere, it might be due to the racially charged housing battle in Yonkers, New York, which first brought him to the public eye back in the late 1980s. Yonkers had spent several years resisting a federal court order to build integrated, low-income housing in the suburban city’s mostly-white east side, instead of concentrating low-income housing in a single neighborhood on the west side. When I interviewed him at the time, Rosenberg, then rabbi of Midchester Jewish Center in east Yonkers, had emerged as an impassioned spokesman for the white opponents of the court order.
Last fall Rosenberg announced the formation of Rabbis for Romney. He told the centrist Times of Israel on October 22 that he created the group “because I don’t believe rabbis should be for Romney, or Obama, or anybody,” adding, “In the case of Obama, I have nothing personally against him; I think he’s a fine man.” On October 25, though, in an opinion essay in the right-wing, Brooklyn-based weekly The Jewish Press, he wrote that Obama’s “policy toward Israel has been a disgrace from the start,” and went on to declare: “I cannot keep silent any longer. The voices of my father and my mother, survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, compel me to speak out — with zeal.”
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).