Reform Jewish Leader Calls on Pat Robertson to "Issue an Immediate Apology to Muslims and to our Nation" for the "Ugly, Anti-Islamic Animus" of Televised Remarks
Saperstein: As A People Who Has Experienced The Hatred And Bigotry Of Others, We, Too, Are Hurt By Slurs Such As Yours Against The Islamic Faith.
WASHINGTON, November 7 - Responding to Rev. Pat Robertson's October 27, 1997, televised statement that "to see Americans become followers of, quote, Islam, is nothing short of insanity," Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote to Rev. Robertson expressing outrage at Robertson's intolerance and anti-Islamic bigotry. "As a people who has experienced the hatred and bigotry of others," wrote Saperstein, "we, too, are hurt by slurs such as yours against the Islamic faith." "For the sake of religious decency," Saperstein called upon Robertson to "issue an immediate apology to Muslims and to our nation."
The full text of Rabbi Saperstein's letter to Rev. Robertson follows:
Dear Reverend Robertson:
Having just returned from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations' biennial conference, I did not, until now, have a chance to read of your remarks on the October 27, 1997 edition of the "700 Club," in which you said that seeing "Americans become followers of, quote, Islam, is nothing short of insanity." We are, of course, well aware that over the years you have advanced a vision of American society that was often at odds with our own. But these remarks step over the line of decency. Any vision of an ethical, tolerant, pluralistic America is simply irreconcilable with the ugly, anti-Islamic animus of your remarks.
That you engaged in such religious bigotry in the name of combating religious persecution compromises all of us engaged in efforts to rebuff that persecution. George Washington spoke directly to such a crabbed vision of America when he asserted that in this new nation: "To bigotry no sanction." Religious tolerance and freedom are indivisible. Our common efforts to combat religious persecution in other lands is irreconcilable with remarks such as yours.
For the sake of religious decency and for the integrity of all those involved in the struggle for the religious freedom you invoked to justify your comments: I call on you to issue an immediate apology to Muslims and to our nation.
Islam is one of the great religions of the world. Its teachings are followed globally by tens of millions of people. You cite the fact that early African slavers were Moslem ("Why would people in America want to embrace the religion of slavers?") to justify your anti-Islam remarks. Can you not see that the exact same thing could be said about Christianity or even Judaism ("Who would want to embrace the religion of slave holders")? We Jews have been the quintessential victims of the kind of bigotry that attributes the faults of the few to the group. That some, over the centuries, have distorted and misinterpreted the Koran does not make its followers "insane" any more than the actions of those who murder doctors in abortion clinics taints all of your own parishioners or all Christians.
As members of a minority religion, we rejoice in the increasing religiosity of the American people who are finding their faith in the Islamic, Christian, Jewish and other religious movements gaining strength in our country. But as a people who has experienced the hatred and bigotry of others, we, too, are hurt by slurs such as yours against the Islamic faith.
Reverend Robertson, intolerance anywhere is a threat to tolerance everywhere. Surely, comments such as yours put off, rather than advance, the day I know we both pray for -- "when all shall live under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid."
Rabbi David Saperstein
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.