column

What they really mean when they cry ‘Islamophobia’

The debate over a Biden nominee affiliated with a center that promotes hate for Israel shows that allegations of anti-Muslim prejudice are attempts to cover up antisemitism.

Adeel Mangi. Source: Senate Judiciary Committee/X.
Adeel Mangi. Source: Senate Judiciary Committee/X.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Islamophobia struck again in the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee this week. Or so we’re supposed to believe. During the confirmation hearings for Adeel Mangi, a nominee to the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals—one of the courts one rung below the U.S. Supreme Court—Senate Republicans brought up a jarring entry on his otherwise glittering résumé that some people think should not be discussed.

Mangi, a Harvard Law School graduate, is a partner at a large and influential Manhattan law firm. He’s also a supporter of a laundry list of liberal causes that endear him to Democrats. That makes him a natural choice for the lifetime appointment to one of the nation’s most important courts by President Joe Biden. But Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) thought his role as a former member of the advisory board of Rutgers University’s Center for Race, Security and Rights was a red flag.

But as far as committee chair Dick Durban (D-Ill.) was concerned, the GOP’s questions about Mangi were impermissible, even in the context of a confirmation hearing grilling. He said that they were evidence of prejudice since Mangi is a Muslim-American and that the Newark, N.J.-based think tank he was associated with says its goal is promoting, “the civil and human rights of America’s diverse Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.” Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), compared the quizzing of Mangi to the McCarthyism of the 1950s.

They weren’t alone in making this claim. The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., editorialized that the senators who asked Mangi—who, if confirmed, would become the highest-ranking Muslim-American judge in American history—about his ties to the center had created an “ugly spectacle” during which they asked “irrelevant, salacious questions about Israel, Hamas—even whether he celebrated 9-11.”

This point of view was seconded by letters read into the record from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, organizations that also bashed Republican senators for badgering Mangi “with endless questions that appear to have been motivated by bias towards his religion.” The liberal groups—always eager these days to lend a hand to their political allies on the left and to virtue signal their belief in interfaith amity—were quick to rise to the defense of the well-connected Mangi and to consider any questions about his affiliations or beliefs to be out of bounds.

After the contentious hearing, the committee approved the nomination by an 11-10 party-line vote. It will now go to the Senate, where it’s likely that a similar narrow partisan vote will put Mangi on the Third Circuit.

But there’s more to this controversy than the usual bitter partisanship that characterizes the efforts of Republicans and Democrats to pack the federal courts with judges who conform to their ideological preferences whenever the White House and the Senate are controlled by the same party. Whether or not Mangi is confirmed is of lesser importance than the principle that Democrats are trying to lay down in this controversy.

That’s because once people understand what the Rutgers Center for Race, Security and Rights is doing, it’s easy to see that questioning those who support it, as Mangi did until he resigned in advance of his confirmation hearings, isn’t Islamophobia. It’s an entirely necessary and reasonable examination of a state-supported institution that is a prime example of how academia has become a hotbed of antisemitism and Israel-bashing, both indoctrinating students in hate and making the lives of Jews on college campuses intolerable.

An anti-Israel hotbed

The center is a cesspool of anti-Israel propaganda helmed by a radical Rutgers Law School professor Sahar Aziz, an avowed opponent of Israel’s existence. It has a record of programs aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state and the rights of the Jewish people, as well as promoting Islamist radicals. Just one among a number of egregious incidents involved the center holding a 9/11 anniversary event to provide a platform for supporters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

You don’t have to do a deep dive into its history to see exactly what kind of an organization it is. A glance at the center’s website provides a quick understanding of its “educational” mission. Who do they think is the real problem in American foreign policy? That would be the activities of the “Israel Lobby and its Zionist supporters to shame and silence critics of Israeli ethnic cleansing and apartheid.” It says that to label these smears of Israel and Jews (“Zionists”) as antisemitic is “Islamophobic.”

If there were any doubts about the point of its goals and practices, they were erased in recent months when it helped sponsor events at Rutgers in conjunction with the blatantly antisemitic Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at which a speaker denied the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7. This was part of a pattern of events that had created a dangerous atmosphere for Jewish students who were being harassed on the Newark campus, leading to protests from local Jewish groups to demand that Rutgers suspend its SJP chapter. The student group has since been reinstated, though is on probation.

As far as Mangi was concerned, this was all news to him. He told the senators that he was unaware of the 9/11 event, and deplored Hamas and the terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7. He claimed that his affiliation with the center was minimal but his denials don’t pass the smell test. He acknowledged that he joined the board at the request of Aziz. And his law firm is one of the center’s financial sponsors.

At the very least, Mangi’s affiliation with an institution that is part of a movement whose avowed purpose is opposing Israel—and has repeatedly hosted people affiliated with terrorist movements and their supporters—is worth questioning. Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, wasn’t wrong when he wrote: “If a nominee for a top judicial post asserted that he was merely a Ku Klux Klan advisory board member, and merely advised on the KKK’s ‘academic research,’ his nomination would be flatly rejected.”

But that’s the thing about people who are connected with groups or institutions that traffic in hate for Israel and Jews. In the current environment in which the political left has embraced woke ideology that treats Israel and Jews as “white” oppressors, places like the Rutgers Center can masquerade as advocates for human rights when their goals are actually to strip Jews of their humanity and rights—and ultimately destroy their homeland. Anyone who dares to bring this up, however, is quickly labeled as an Islamophobe. Most political liberals, including groups like the ADL that are supposed to be defending Jews against hate, are so afraid of being accused of racism and so enamored of the concept of interfaith alliances that they are ready to excuse ties to such hate groups.

You would think that the events of the last 100 days following the Oct. 7 Hamas pogroms in Israel and the surge in worldwide antisemitism, especially on college campuses, that have arisen since then would have made affiliations with a place like the Rutgers Center politically radioactive. Yet rather than making them more sensitive to the cost of turning a blind eye to groups that are part of this terrible plague of Jew-hatred, the Mangi nomination shows us that it’s still business as usual for Democratic politicians and liberal Jewish organizations.

The myth of Islamophobia

In the last 20 years, terrorism apologists like the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have prospered despite their ties to violent radicals and vicious attacks on Israel and Jews. They’ve done so by pretending to be a civil-rights group and promulgating a myth about a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in the United States for which there has never been any empirical evidence. FBI statistics have consistently shown that religious-based hate crimes against Muslims have never been numerous and are dwarfed by those against Jews, which continue to be the largest in that category. Still, that mythical backlash has become widely accepted by the mainstream media and liberal groups, which have bought into the idea that Islamophobia is not only rampant in the United States but somehow comparable to antisemitism.

Jewish groups like the ADL and AJC that rushed to the defense of someone like Mangi are giving the lie to their claims to be defending Jews against the hatred that’s become so obvious since Oct. 7. The ZOA and others, like StopAntisemitism and the Coalition for Jewish Values, that opposed his nomination were right to do so.

All hatred based on religion is to be deplored. The Mangi nomination battle, however, shows that most of what is labeled Islamophobia are attempts to call out antisemitism from Muslims. While American Muslims as a group should not be wrongly labeled as promoters of Jew-hatred, the agencies that purport to speak for them—namely, CAIR and institutions that claim to be defending their rights, like the center at Rutgers—are integral to the movement that has mainstreamed antisemitism, sending its supporters into the streets and onto campuses to spread hate against Jews. The lesson here is that in the current political context, crying “Islamophobia” is just a way to make us discount that antisemitism, as well as to shut up those trying to draw attention to a problem that can no longer be ignored.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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