Last week, I compared the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan to a synagogue recently constructed in the West Bank city of Hebron. The synagogue stands in Kiryat Arba, a Jewish community from which Baruch Goldstein, a settler, launched a terrorist attack that killed 29 Muslims and wounded more than 100 others. I asked why opponents of the “Ground Zero mosque,” who claim to be motivated by sensitivity to sites of terrorism, didn’t similarly condemn the “Ground Zero synagogue.”
You, the readers of Slate, answered me. You posted nearly 500 comments on the article. Some of you endorsed the analogy. Others strongly objected. Many of you engaged in eloquent debates on the history and morality of Middle East violence. In particular, I recommend the fiercely argued and highly informed exchanges between jacobblues and firemage26. But some of your answers troubled me. Here are the 10 that worry me most, and why I think they’re wrong.
1. Goldstein is the only Jewish terrorist. “Way to find the ONE example of Jewish terrorism,” scoffs OK! Another reader, Elan B, says, “Goldstein was an isolated Jewish terrorist, while the 9/11 plotters were part of a vast network of Muslim terrorists (which supports the whole sensitivity thing).” By sensitivity, Elan B means this:
Sure, build a mosque, but have some sensitivity to the people who do not know any Muslims and have reasonable fears about a Muslim community center being built near the site where their family members were brutally murdered. I do not think that the proposed mosque is so abhorrent, in fact I would say that I would support it if so many people were not offended by it.
So the Islamic center should be relocated because it offends people who reasonably fear Muslims. What makes their fear reasonable is that Muslims have a history of terrorism, whereas Jews don’t. Goldstein is the one exception.
It’s true that Muslims have committed a lot more terrorism than Jews have. But Goldstein is hardly alone. Jewish Terrorism in Israel, a scholarly review published last year by Columbia University Press, analyzes “309 Jewish terrorist attacks perpetrated in Palestine and the State of Israel between 1932 and 2008.” These attacks involved 224 participants and various terrorist networks.
Guess what happened in Hebron on Monday? Vandals (believed to be Jewish settlers) torched a mosque and left behind Hebrew anti-Muslim graffiti, including the phrase “price tag,” which refers to anti-Palestinian vandalism by settlers in response to Israeli restrictions on settlement construction. This comes two months after settlers burned Palestinian fields in another “price tag” attack. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has flatly called the mosque burning terrorism.
2. Goldstein wasn’t motivated by a religion of conquest. Another commenter, bon voyage, argues:
Jews who live in Kiryat Arba and Hebron consider themselves liberators, not conquerors. … Nobody knows what were Goldstein’s motives. He didn’t left videotaped shaheed statement. He wasn’t expecting 72 virgins. He wasn’t worshiping a genocidal prophet and the religion that demands death of apostates and sees the Day of Judgment in terms of “when Muslims will kill all Jews”. Whatever clicked in his mind at that day, wasn’t part of an organized ideological drive to subvert and subdue the unbelievers. That’s why there’s only one Goldstein.
Of course Goldstein didn’t worship Mohammed, expect 72 virgins, or leave a Shahid (martyrdom) statement. That’s because he wasn’t a Muslim. But you don’t need any of these things to be a terrorist. The day before his crime, Goldstein wrote a farewell note about his work in Kiryat Arba for the “complete redemption.” After the massacre, his widow said: “He planned to do this in order to stop the peace talks. He did this for the sake of the people of Israel.” That sure sounds to me like an ideological drive to subdue unbelievers.
Another reader, Slickback, tries to distinguish Christian from Muslim terrorists on similar grounds:
The KKK is a pagan group, they burn crosses and use mythological names for their leaders (wizards, dragons, and cyclops) and although many of their members are Christian, they do not murder, lynch, or intimidate in the name of God. The 9/11 terrorists DID kill in the name of Allah.
Tell that to the Christian Identity Klan, the Traditional Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Imperial Klans of America (a “Christian organization“), and the Knights Party USA (“Bringing a Message of Hope and Deliverance to White Christian America“). As for the cross burnings, Brendan Koerner has explained them in Slate: “Modern Klan groups are careful to refer to their ritual as ‘cross lighting’ rather than cross-burning and insist that their fires symbolize faith in Christ.”
3. Not many Jews supported Goldstein. Happy and Proud writes:
It is untrue, insulting, and provocative to claim that “many” residents of Judea and Samaria approve of Goldstein’s actions. The claim is purely a figment of the writer’s imagin[ation]—there is absolutely NO evidence to support this. Saletan obviously believes that people will [ac]cept any slander against the Jews; that’s why he wrote it.
Alas, Elan B tells a different story:
Sure, there are a small number of West Bank settlers who revere Goldstein for what he did, but the proof is in the numbers. Only roughly 10,000 have visited Goldstein’s grave since 1994 according to a BBC article in 2000.
I’d say 10,000 qualifies as “many,” wouldn’t you? And that was a decade ago.
4. Israel didn’t support the massacre. Catherine Suh points out, “Even if the synagogue or the settlement received some funding from the Israeli government, the attacker was indisputably acting alone.” Quite right. But the smear campaign against the imam behind the New York Islamic center is built on precisely such indirect financial connections. If it’s OK to use this guilt-by-association tactic against Muslims, why is it wrong to use it against Jews?
5. No one’s heard of the Hebron synagogue. Steve S says the two cases are incomparable: “One is the proposed Cordoba center in NYC, near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack committed by a team of Muslims, and the other shoe is this proposed synagogue no one’s ever heard of in Kiryat Arba …” But until May, nobody had heard of the proposed Islamic center either. The reason we started hearing about it is that conservatives denounced it—unlike the Kiryat Arba synagogue, which they ignored.
6. Opponents of the Islamic center don’t care about events overseas. The Manhattan-Hebron comparison is “apples and oranges,” says Jon A. “First of all, it’s not in America. To many of the people who oppose the Cordoba House anything that does not occur in America does not matter … It’s a specious argument that is being made by the author.”
Really? Here’s the first line of Newt Gingrich’s first attack on the Islamic center: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” Obviously, Gingrich has no problem comparing a mosque in New York to synagogues in the Middle East. He just chooses to omit the synagogue that’s most comparable.
7. Focusing on Goldstein is anti-Semitic. Mike Bluffy calls the original article an “opportunistic swipe at Israeli Jews.” Happy and Proud writes:
An article, supposedly about the Ground Zero mosque, that devotes 70% of its space to the one act of ‘Jewish terrorism’ Saletan could find (which occurred fifteen years ago) and maligning “settlers” with false accusations is nothing more than an outright attack on Jews poorly disguised as “journalism”. Saletan is an anti-semite, whether he admits it or not, and Slate should be ashamed for publishing it.
No, Sir. You should be ashamed for cheapening the term “anti-Semite” by applying it to every commenter who disagreed with you—and for using the good name of Judaism to shield extremists from scrutiny.
8. “Jewish terrorism” is libel. Another reader, wrlord, declares:
The actions of a lone gunman who is Jewish is not “Jewish terrorism.” This is an absolute libel. And let’s get this clear, these so-called “settlements” are generally thriving cities on land that has historically been part of Israel …
Why is it OK to speak of Muslim terrorism but not Jewish terrorism? If you’re Jewish, and you commit terrorism against Muslims to serve the “redemption” and “the people of Israel,” why isn’t that Jewish terrorism?
9. Leave Jews out of the mosque debate. Sisi asks: “Why do Jews have to be drawn into a controversy about a mosque in NYC that is not actively being protested by any major Jewish organization (that I can think of).” But a major Jewish organization, the Anti-Defamation League, has indeed protested the Islamic center, and its criticism has been highly influential. The ADL declared that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.”
10. Minorities should be more sensitive. Elan B argues for relocating the mosque, but not the synagogue, on this basis:
While Hebron may be debated land, there is still a thriving Jewish population there and they will naturally build synagogues because it is Israel, a Jewish land. NYC is not a Muslim land, and while they do have the Constitutional right to build a house of worship, some sensitivity to the proximity of Ground Zero would be considerate.
In other words, majorities, such as Christians in the United States or Jews in Israel, need not be deferential. For them, unlike minorities, building houses of worship is “natural.” But this religious majoritarianism is exactly what Gingrich has condemned in Muslim countries. Is it wrong in Riyadh but right in New York and Hebron?
This is what happens when you try to rationalize away truth and principle. Hebron is by no means a perfect analogy to 9/11. But let’s not deceive ourselves about what happened there, what we’re ignoring there now, and what it says about our treatment of Muslims.