That Simmons had the chutzpah to make such a statement in Jerusalem was bad enough but doing so as a guest of the President Peres Conference makes one question the judgment of the organizers who invited him.
Simmons has indeed condemned anti-Semitism but he remains a staunch supporter and financial contributor to Louis Farrakhan, the African-American radical leader of the Nation of Islam, probably the most loathsome and effective anti-Semite in the United States, a promoter of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, who describes Judaism as a "gutter religion" and praises Adolf Hitler as "a great man".
But Simmons partner, Rabbi Schneier, is a highly controversial rabbi and undoubtedly a uniquely American Jewish phenomenon. Describing himself as an Orthodox rabbi, he has been immensely successful in some of his pastoral initiatives, particularly the unique and opulent synagogue he created at the Hamptons in which many prominent, wealthy Jews who are not Orthodox participate because they are mesmerized by his charisma and organizational skills. Having been present at a Shabbat in his synagogue I can testify to his unique talents.
Politically, he has had a somewhat sensationalist career. In 1999 he wrote a book on Martin Luther King (“Shared dreams”) quoting a speech by the African leader purportedly praising Zionism, which was subsequently exposed as a fraud.
Prime Minister Olmert appointed him president of Kadima USA together with Mark Mishaan – a position they held for a brief period. The latter was obliged to resign when it was disclosed he was a convicted criminal felon after pleading guilty to grand larceny. The Kadima USA website also had to be withdrawn from the Internet following accusations of incorporated plagiarized portions of the Texas Democratic Party's website into its policy program.
Schneier’s greatest claim to fame is legitimization of highly questionable Islamic groups in order to gain personal publicity and photo opportunities.
I have had cause to draw attention to this in a number of previous columns. He was a major participant in the so-called interfaith dialogue sponsored by the current Saudi King in Madrid in July 2008, which I described as being equivalent to South African proponents of apartheid holding a global kumbaya extolling the virtues of racial equality.
Jews attending that conference praised King Abdullah, who only at the last moment succumbed to pressure to cancel an invitation to New York Neturei Karta and refused to invite any Israeli representatives. At no stage did the Jews present raise the issue of Islamic anti-Semitism or Saudi Arabia's export of extremist Wahhabism sanctifying violence and martyrdom. Schneier and the other Jews participating were accused of failing to stand up and promote the Jewish viewpoint.
Schneier also came under fire for providing legitimacy to extremist Islamic groups and undermining of moderate Moslems by linking up with organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, whose founders the FBI exposed for having ties to a Moslem Brotherhood / Hamas network.
He also continuously chants the false mantra that Islam is a religion of peace and implies Islamophobia is a greater threat than anti-Semitism when all evidence points to the contrary. In his desperation to curry favor, he has been accused of groveling especially when he provocatively proclaimed "today I am a Muslim too" without condemning the majority of Muslim leaders who promote anti-Semitism, deny freedom of worship and persecute and murder infidels. He dismisses the fact that while Muslims represent only 1% of the American population, 80% of all terrorist convictions since 9/11 were motivated by Islamic extremism.
Ironically, it was Simmons, Schneier’s cofounder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, who has polarized the situation. In the course a publicity campaign promoting good relationships between African Americans and Jews, Simmons called for an alliance against Islamophobia and urged that the Christian Right, Islamic fundamentalists and “intolerant Jews” all be marginalized.
Simmons and Schneier also endorsed an "interfaith" summit convened by Louis Farrakhan which was attended by 50,000 people. In the course of his address supporting Iran’s right to nuclear power, Farrakhan urged his followers to read various anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli books and explicitly recommended one detailing the secret relationship between blacks and Jews alleging that the slave trade was dominated by Jews (“The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews”). Omar Al Bashir, the notorious genocidal president of Saddam Hussein and wanted as a war criminal, addressed the gathering by satellite.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Schneier co-hosted a meeting of 12 imams and 12 rabbis at the Islamic Center in New York with Imam Abu Namous, who had previously demanded that Israel apologize for crimes against the Palestinians. Schneier agreed that Israel would be removed from the agenda.
Of course Schneier is right when he says that we should raise our voices against those condemning an entire religion because of the criminal behavior of its leaders. Alas, there are however, virtually no such condemnations by Islamic leaders when it comes to incitement against Jews or Israel.
We do ourselves a grave disservice if we are willing to link up with people like Simmons who insists on backing depraved anti-Semites and hatemongers like Louis Farrakhan. It is disgraceful for Marc Schneier to justify this by suggesting that he has "profound disagreements" with Farrakhan but the objective of his foundation is to engage people with whom we have such “disagreements”. We have really reached the bottom of the barrel when those purporting to be Jewish leaders seek to justify indulging in dialogue with such bigots.
There have been numerous occasions when I have been highly critical of some of the policies adopted by ADL leader Abe Foxman. However I have never questioned his commitment and devotion to the Jewish cause. Foxman is one of the few outstanding public figures of the American Jewish scene who has displayed courage to express positions that are not politically correct, especially in relation to Israel. He was one of the few who had the audacity to speak out against President Obama’s one-sided condemnations of Israel in the early days of the Administration.
Possibly influenced by his personal experiences as a Holocaust child survivor, Foxman has managed to combine his profound commitment to the Jewish people and Israel together with a Jewish voice combating all forms of bigotry and support for universal civil rights.
Rabbi Marc Schneier should be roundly condemned for standing by silently and smirking while his partner Russell Simmons maligned Foxman. He compounded his contemptible behavior by suggesting that Simmons was speaking in “jest “and really “winking” when he made his outrageous remarks last week at the President’s Conference. Until Schneier apologizes he should be considered persona non grata by his fellow Jewish leaders.
This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.