There are certain high-profile individuals who, among progressives, it is mandatory to despise and dismiss. In the United States these include media people such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and on and on and on and on. We have a whole long list of individuals who it is absolutely mandatory to despise and dismiss if one wishes to think of oneself as a rational, liberal, progressive, enlightened human being... as opposed to the scum of the earth, which these figures allegedly represent.
Thankfully most of those people have little to do with the broad western conversation around the Arab-Israel conflict. The reason that I say “thankfully” is because although those people are usually friendly toward the Jewish state they are also maligned among large numbers of Americans and therefore their friendliness toward Israel is a questionable asset. However, while I disagree with these people on all sorts of issues, ranging from tax codes to gay marriage, I nonetheless recognize a friend when I see one.
Jews are a tiny minority in this world and we must accept our friends where we find them. Snubbing people who are friendly toward Israel because we disagree on social or economic issues is foolish. We can openly disagree with them and still thank them for their friendship. In fact, if we wish to have any influence with such people the only way to do so is with an open hand. We can hate these people from now until eternity, but that will give us nothing in return but their mutual loathing.
I recommend against it.
But what most concerns me at the moment are hated conservatives such as, among others, Pamela Geller and her colleague Robert Spencer. These two are entirely persona non grata on the Jewish left. Unlike people such as Coulter or Limbaugh, they particularly specialize in raising consciousness about radical Islam and they do so as people concerned about the well-being of Jews in Israel and the well-being of western society as a whole. Spencer is a scholar. Geller is an activist who screams bloody murder about such things as radical Islam, stealth Sharia, and Muslim honor killings in western countries.
So my question is, what do we do with someone like this? Geller is a gadfly who obviously has no intention of going away. I do not want her to go away, personally, but I know that most American Jews would be very happy if she would go back to wherever she comes from and just kindly shut the hell up. This is the kind of person who is seen as an embarrassment to the Jewish community among Jewish progressives who make up our majority.
So, the question, really, is are we being fair to Pamela Geller? That is my question. Is Pamela Geller a screeching racist of the worst sort or does she have something legitimate to say? It's a good question not because Geller is important in and of herself, but because the issues that she raises are important.
Is Islam a threat to the Jewish people, to the Jewish state of Israel, and to western civilization, more generally? That's a scary question, now, isn't it? But it is precisely the question that Geller and Spencer, and others, have the gonads to ask in public. These people are maligned and threatened on a more or less continuous basis. They receive death threats from anonymous crazy people and they can never really know when, or if, those threats will result in their own deaths. These are people with families who are quite literally risking their lives in order to get their message out.
It seems to me that we owe it to ourselves to give them a fair listen. Geller and Spencer make the point that Islam is an aggressive and violent religious-political ideology. That may be true, or it may not be true, but slandering people who raise the question is far more dishonorable than giving it the thought that it deserves.