A Community Speak Out and Forum was held in response to Pamela Geller’s racist ad campaign, carried on San Francisco municipal buses this summer. The event was hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA), Asian Law Caucus (ALC), Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), and Arab Cultural & Community Center (ACCC).
This community forum was intended as a space for Arabs, Muslims, and their allies to express their concerns to city officials, including the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, about the harm which has resulted from the Geller ads and to send the message that the community will not tolerate Islamophobia and racism. The event was standing room only, and those in the audience included members of municipal institutions (e.g. the Municipal Transit Authority Board, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Department of Public Health) and community members,groups and organizations, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and the National Lawyers Guild. Speakers included Dr. Hatem Bazian, Zahra Billoo, Dr. Rabab Abdulhabi, and Husam El-Qoulaq, as well as a MUNI bus driver who refused to drive his bus with this ad on it, Arab youth, and leaders of grassroots organizations.
IJAN was asked to speak at the event and below is the text of our statement:
“The hateful ads that are the subject of this forum tonight are despicable and dehumanizing. We stand against them–first and foremost–as people of conscience opposed to racism, and we also stand against them as members of the organized Jewish community.
As other speakers have addressed, these ads come at a time where an environment of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism is pervasive–indeed where–even in this city–it is common for Arabs, Muslim people, and people perceived to be Muslim to be targeted for physical violence,and to have their businesses and places of worship targeted. We must stand against this violence, and the insidious racist statements and ideas which lend it fuel.
These ads have the intention and the effect of undermining the well being of a community. How could we support this as Jews? When institutions who seek to mobilize hate through public vehicles, as the institutions behind these ads do, are allowed to buy signs that say that some groups of people are more valuable, indeed more human, than others we have come to a very dangerous place. From our history as Jews,we know this danger very well. And it’s all of our responsibility–as people of conscience from all communities–to reject this misuse of public space and promotion of hate.
We also want to make very clear that we reject the claim that pro-Israel lobby groups like the Jewish Community Relations Council represent the Jewish community. The JCRC has a long history of defending racism, including their support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and military aggression against Palestinians, their defense of ads and policies like these that target Muslims, Palestinians, and other Arabs, and their attempts to defund community-based organizations serving communities of color because they have stated their support for Palestinian human rights.
As part of the organized Jewish community we reflect a growing number of Jewish people who reject the justification of any form of racism in response to our own history of racist persecution and genocide.
As part of the organized Jewish community we stand against all forms of racism and religious hatred and take from our history the lesson that we must never be silent when others are being persecuted.
We invite the city officials present here tonight, to join our communities on the side of our individual and collective humanity.Thank you.