The Community Relations Committee (CRC) of the Nashville Jewish Federation has invited Joseph Levin, Jr., co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to speak at an event titled “Then and Now: Hate in the Mainstream.” The May 23rd event is free and open to the entire community.
The Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee exists “to promote the general welfare, viability and cohesiveness of the Jewish community of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people locally, in Israel and around the world.”
The CRC is a committee that operates under the umbrella of the Jewish Federation and shares similar goals related to advocacy for “Israel and World Jewry,” Additionally, the CRC described as the “central public affairs arm of the Federation” says part of its mission is “stand[ing] up for social justice.”
In July 2017, Imam AhmedulHadi Sharif at the Islamic Center of Tennessee, preached against Zionist oppressors who he calls “the number one terrorists in the world,” directing hatred against Jews who believe that Israel is the Jewish homeland.
Since the Imam’s sermon intersects with the missions of both the Jewish Federation and the CRC, The Tennessee Star contacted Mark Freedman, the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation and Deborah Oleshansky, Community Relations Director and asked whether they had condemned the Imam’s comments and whether the SPLC event would address the type of hate speech delivered by the imam.
Ms. Oleshansky was unable to provide a written description of the planned program and answers to the other questions by press time.
The SPLC has been criticized for abusing its public platform to attack politically conservative individuals and organizations by designating them “extremists” or “hate groups.” Even left-leaning Politico has expressed skepticism about the legitimacy of today’s SPLC:
And as [SPLC Founder Morris] Dees navigates the era of Trump, there are new questions arising around a charge that has dogged the group for years: that the SPLC is overplaying its hand, becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog. Critics say the group abuses its position as an arbiter of hatred by labeling legitimate players “hate groups” and “extremists” to keep the attention of its liberal donors and grind a political ax.
In 2014, for example, the SPLC came under intense criticism for posting an “Extremist File”on retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. Even though the post was ultimately taken down and a back-handed apology issued to Dr. Carson, the SPLC maintains on its website that “Dr. Carson has, in fact, made a number of statements that express views that we believe most people would conclude are extreme,” including Dr. Carson’s rejection of same-sex marriage:
Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Association, a group advocating pedophilia], be they people who believe in bestiality—it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.
And yet, Islamist Memphis Imam Yasir Qadhi who says “we believe homosexuality is a sin” on his Youtube video, gets a free pass.
Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York and a public figure on the activist circuit whose regular rhetoric includes anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish attacks, and who blamed the “Jewish media” for her bad reputation, also gets a pass by the SPLC.
And while the SPLC has labeled the Christian conservative Family Research Council a “hate group” for its positions on homosexuality, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), described by the Anti-Defamation League as the “primary organizer of anti-Israel events on U.S. college campuses” has yet to make the SPLC hate group list despite an abundance of information and incidence data collected by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative from campuses across the country.
According to a study of over 100 campuses released by AMCHA, colleges with the largest population of Jewish students experienced a 45% increase of anti-semitic incidents on their campuses in the first half of 2016. The study noted that, “the presence of one or more active anti-Zionist student groups such as SJP was strongly associated with the occurrence of overall antisemitic activity generally, and with incidents that targeted Jewish students for harm in particular.”
Even though the SJP is ignored by the SPLC, it is included in the Anti-Defamation League’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in America” along with CAIR which the ADL says “has a long record of anti- Israel rhetoric, which has, at times, crossed the line into anti-Semitism. Their rhetoric has included public statements casting Jews and Israelis as corrupt agents who control U.S. policy and are responsible for the persecution of Muslims in the U.S. CAIR has also accused Israel of genocide, described Israel as a terrorist state and portrayed terror-related trials in the U.S. as evidence of undue Israeli political influence.”
Even though the SPLC continues to hate list the well-known Neo-Nazi groups like the Daily Stormer, overlooking modern-day anti-Semites like the SJP and CAIR makes the SPLC a questionable fit for the Jewish Federation and its Community Relations Committee given the goals of each entity.
The title of the May 23rd program, however, hints that SPLC’s Levin may instead focus on President Trump whom the SPLC credits for the rise in hate groups and hate speech. It remains to be seen whether Nashville’s Jewish community would welcome that critique of the most pro-Israel, pro-Jewish president in recent history.