Worst Holiday Sermon of the Year

No matter how bad were the sermons you heard this year on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, they were not worse than the Rosh Hashanah sermon by Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Marietta, Georgia.

The gist of the sermon was that the world is filled with bloodthirsty Muslims just waiting to kill us, and we better open our eyes. Maybe Lewis should open his eyes.

In a sermon that sounded like a Fox News parody, Lewis spoke about “50 million Koran-waving, Allah Akbar-howling Muslim murderers out there planning to slit our throats, blow us up or forcibly convert us.” He cited no proof for his 50-million assertion.

Lewis then criticized the other 950 million Muslims for not speaking out. Maybe Fox News did not report it, but the vice president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Ahmet Ogras, said that ISIS “is not a state; this is a terrorist organization. I call them terrorists because that’s what they are.” That sounds like speaking out to me.

The Forward’s Nathan Guttman noted that “many Muslims across the world have spoken out and taken action against radical Islamists, and in the last few months, against the group known as ISIS in particular.”

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, with some 205 million who claim the religion as their own, has banned any pro-ISIS activity in the country. The government clamped down years earlier on domestic al-Qaeda affiliates, as well. The country’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, called ISIS’s violence “a new wake-up call to international leaders all over the world, including Islamic leaders.”

Several Middle East Muslim states have joined the American-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. In America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America, two of the country’s largest Muslim organizations, have issued repeated condemnations of terrorism, and of ISIS and al-Qaeda specifically.

On September 24, CAIR issued a letter signed by Muslim leaders and prominent scholars rejecting the ideology of ISIS and calling on its supporters to repent.

BuzzFeed reported that “Muslim activists are sharing photos with the hashtag #NotInMyName on Twitter and Instagram to send a clear message that ISIS does not speak for them.”

Lewis spoke about the three Israeli teens murdered over the summer. But even after falsely accusing Muslims of remaining silent about ISIS, he did not mention the Arab teen who was burned to death by Jews.

Why was Lewis silent? Should not he be speaking out for the same reason he expects Muslims to speak out? Did Lewis speak out when Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslims while they were praying?

Did you write a letter to the editor condemning Goldstein? I did not. Do you know why? Because I felt no particular obligation to speak out. Of course I think that those acts were wrong, but I identify not one whit with those who burned the Arab teen, or with Goldstein.

All Jews are responsible for one another, yet I do not consider their ideology mine. Spokespeople for major Jewish organizations condemned Goldstein’s acts, just as the Muslim organizations mentioned above condemned ISIS. But the vast majority of the world’s 14 million Jews did not issue statements of condemnation.

The vast majority of Muslims probably feel the same way about ISIS and other radical Islamic extremists as we feel about Goldstein and the murderers of the Arab teen, and thus feel no need to condemn them.

Lewis, of course, offered no solution to the problem he imagines. Does he want us to kill 50 million Muslims? Does he want us to wage war on the entire Muslim world? That is where his “logic” seems to lead, but he did not quite go there. He did not go anywhere.

Lewis’s sermon was nothing but fear-mongering and stereotypes, designed to appeal to the worst parts of ourselves and leave us with nothing but a rationale for our prejudices.

Lewis’s sermon had elements of truth, as all effective demagoguery does: We do have plenty of real enemies in the Muslim world, including ISIS, Hamas, and Hizballah. We cannot minimize the real threat they pose to us and our allies, and the U.S. is fighting ISIS.

However, we would not help ourselves by taking our eyes off the ball and demonizing the entire Muslim world. Still, I am not going to condemn Rabbi Lewis. Why should I? He is Jewish, but I do not identify with him or the narrow-minded misinformed views of his sermon; he does not speak for me.

Bonus: Baseless Accusations Against Obama

And what right-wing diatribe would be complete without a few shots at President Obama?

Lewis quoted Thomas Friedman’s paraphrase of President Obama’s policy that the U.S. will only get more deeply involved in the Middle East to the extent that different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor, no vanquished, but he omitted the President’s verbatim explanation of what he meant: “societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.”

What sane person could disagree with that?

Lewis also seems unaware of the strong, unequivocal support for Israel that Obama provided during the Gaza conflict. Obama said that Israel has “every right” to defend itself and that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders… so we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.” No moral ambiguity was there.

The President’s strong support for Israel is not in any way diminished by his concern about innocent Palestinian civilians. Israel itself was concerned about Palestinian civilians and took tremendous care, more than any other army in the world, more than the U.S. and its allies are currently taking in the campaign against ISIS, to ensure that innocents were not killed.

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