From a marketing standpoint, it may be a smart idea for the Zionist Organization of America to promote bigotry. It makes for headlines. On the most primal, most limbic of planes, it makes for tribal heat and for useful rage and for exploitable fights, and, one supposes, for donations.
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It made a certain organizational sense, therefore, for the ZOA to sponsor a Los Angeles appearance this week by media personality and commentator Pamela Geller, one of America's most extraordinarily successful purveyors of unvarnished prejudice and unapologetic hatred.
Geller, whose Stop Islamization of America organization has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an "active U.S. hate group" (and which the Anti-Defamation League has classified under the heading of "Extremism") was to have spoken on Sunday at the offices the ZOA rents in the headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
The Federation canceled the event, however, sparking a protest by Geller and two dozen ZOA supporters outside the Wilshire Boulevard building. “Zionists are obviously not welcome at the Jewish federation,” Geller said in response.
“Shame on our cowardly leadership for throwing one of our own under the bus,” Geller declared, reveling in the martyr role, and unable to resist comparing the Federation to Jews who did the bidding of the Nazis:
“We expect that from kapos, not from proud Jews who should hold the freedom of speech as a fundamental Jewish value.”
When a counter protester held up a sign reading, “Thank you Federation for standing up to Pamela Geller’s paranoid hate,” the Forward noted, a ZOA protester took it away from her, saying, “This is our protest, not yours.”
It might be asked why the ZOA, as a high-profile constituent of the Jewish community, felt it worthwhile to volunteer a platform to someone whose venom is so ecumenical that she has accused Barack Obama of being the love child of Malcolm X, and has charged that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who is Jewish, has a "love of socialism of the Nazi variety" - even promoting a photoshopped photograph of Justice Kagan wearing a swastika-laden Nazi helmet and uniform.
What good did the Zionist Organization of America think is served by handing a microphone to a person whose organization, the Anti-Defamation League has
concluded, "seeks to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith," "encourages Muslims to leave what it describes as the 'falsity of Islam,'" and which has warned of "a powerful and dangerous 'Islamic machine' that stands to threaten the security and cultural fabric of the U.S."
Geller has also linked Islam to bestiality and rape of minors, the ADL said, and has asserted that Hitler was inspired by Islam.
Does the ZOA really believe that the cause of supporting Israel is served by rank bigotry and a maniacal, ever-escalating flow of poison directed against all members of a certain faith? Does the ZOA really believe that the future of Israel is at all fostered by a person urging the removal of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock shrine, one of the holiest sites in Islam? "The Dome has got to go, " Geller has
written, and repeated for emphasis.
What business does the ZOA have in offering the public the P.T. Barnum of American hate-mongering? What could the ZOA, a group which authentically despises anti-Semitism, be thinking in hosting a woman who not only makes a living from religious bigotry against Muslims, but also from attacking Jews ("our very own self-hating Jewicidal tools"). "It galls me that the Jews I fight for are self-destructive, suicidal even," she writes on the Israeli settler movement's Arutz Sheva website. "Here in America (and the world over), Israel's real friends are in the Republican party, and yet over 80% of American Jews are Democrats. I don't get it."
Nor does she get Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg - often criticized by leftists for defending Israel – whom Geller brands a self-loathing "Jewicidal Jihadi."
The Federation's decision to quash the talk was not an easy call. One of the principal tasks of the Federation's is to foster interfaith understanding and cooperation. From this standpoint, Geller's message is the Federation's nightmare.
At the same time, it may be argued that Pamela Geller's scheduled talk did not meet the threshold tests of "clear and present danger" or incitement to imminent, likely lawbreaking, which the U.S. Supreme Court requires for suspension of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech – even for a message no one ever need hear.
But it should never have come to this. The Zionist Organization of America knows better. It should never have extended the invitation in the first place.
No hatred serves the interests of Jews. No bigotry serves the welfare of Israel. Pamela Geller can spout off all she wants. But no Jewish organization that calls itself responsible should ever invite her to speak.