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Rantz: Seattle-area Imam smiles in anti-Semitic video comparing Jews to apes, pigs

MAPS hosts high profile local politicians, including Jay Inslee. Imam Mohamad Joban is seen seated behind the speaker. (Jay Inslee on Twitter)

As American Jews cope with an alarming uptick in high profile anti-Semitic attacks across the country, a Seattle-area mosque featured a smiling imam comparing Jews to apes and pigs in a viciously anti-Semitic lecture in front of congregants, including children.

Just two weeks before the New Year, Imam Mohamad Joban of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond delivered a lecture about the transformation of Jews into apes by Allah for having rebelled against Him.

The video was originally posted to YouTube by MAPS, but was pulled. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), however, saved a cop of the video and posted an edited down version to their website.

Anti-Semitism

In the lecture, Imam Joban recounts a little known story kept from the public because, he claims with a smile, “The Jews… any bad story there, they cover up. They always tell people: ‘We are good people, we are heroes.’”

The story involves Jews setting fishing nets on the Friday before the Sabbath, then collecting the fish on Sunday. Imam Joban explains the Jews were punished for this behavior.

The imam then leads the congregation in a chant: “‘Then, when they rebelled against the commands to refrain, We said to them, ‘Be despicable apes.’” On a screen behind him, there’s a picture of macaque monkeys.

When the transformed Jews woke up to find themselves as apes, Imam Joban lectures: “And they were crying. Why they crying? Because when they became monkey, they couldn’t recognize one another. Which one [is] my wife? Which one [are] my children? How do you look like? You are monkeys. Monkey, original monkeys, they can recognize one another. But when you become monkey… Because you look like the same…”

As Imam Joban continued his lecture, he explained that some scholars believe Jews are still being punished for this behavior.

“When I was in Egypt, in the city called Ras El Bar, they said a baby was born,” the Imam explained. “He had long hands, his face like monkey’s.”

He continued: “And then in Malaysia there was a baby born, in the state of Johor, and he had a tail. Everybody was surprised.” The tail, he says with a giggle, “…was like that of a pig.”

The apologies

A spokesperson for MAPS tells me that they’re “extremely sorry” for the lecture they acknowledge as “offensive and inappropriate” and says “it violates not only our standards at MAPS but our Islamic teachings.”

In a statement, MAPS says in part:

You deserve better from us. Even though we at MAPS strive to only teach religiously sound and culturally appropriate content, we are still always learning and growing. Some of the comments by Imam Joban were neither theologically sound nor culturally aware.

Imam Joban also apologized for the lecture, arguing Jews “should never have to hear that kind of commentary.” He continued (in part):

Among other personal errors in telling this story to my class, I referred to conduct by “the Jews,” when I should have referred to the specific people in the story. And I used improper imagery and language that is not based on any sound theology. I should know better, and should have provided a more appropriate explanation and proper language, tone and attitude

He makes no reference to the Jewish children he said looked like an ape or pig.

Neither apology appear posted on the MAPS website or Facebook page and both came several days after MEMRI published the lecture.

While MAPS is choosing to retain the Imam following the anti-Semitic lecture, they are “making this a teachable moment for him” with “cultural competency training in the coming weeks.”

So, why was this lecture posted to YouTube when it contained very obvious anti-Semitic language? MAPS President Hyder Ali tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH in a statement that the videographer automatically uploaded the video before it was screened. Once they heard about the content, they pulled the lecture, plus several other videos that were never screened.

Ali explains that Imam Joban did not intend to cause offense, blaming “ad libbing” and “a language and cultural barrier” for some of the offensive conduct. He tells me (in part):

In this specific lecture that contained offensive commentary, MAPS believes Imam Joban was trying to bring to life a story from the Quran, and bolster support for it… while ‘ad libbing’ and not realizing how what he was saying was entirely inappropriate, theologically unsound, and offensive.  Part of it could be a language and cultural barrier. But part of it was simply insensitivity to antisemitic tropes and the use of inappropriate embellishments that have no theological support (and in fact, contradict Islamic teachings). When the commentary was brought to Imam Joban’s attention, he willingly apologized and expressed his desire to learn and grow.  MAPS does not believe he had *any* intention to cause offense or harm. Nonetheless, we recognize that impact is greater than intent when it comes to these matters, and therefore, took swift action to try to alleviate the harm.

Though MAPS says the references are not culturally aware, there have been several high profile instances of Jews being labeled apes and pigs by Muslim clerics and a very similar story to the one Imam Joban told is very easy to find online. It seems hard to blame this language on ad libbing when it’s an insult so commonly used.

Stand with Us Northwest, an advocacy group fighting anti-Semitism, condemned the lecture in a statement to the Jason Rantz Show.

“His sermon, now available forever on the Internet, is now catalogued among thousands of other videos from extremist preachers railing against Jews,” executive director Randy Kessler writes of the imam.

“The apologies certainly contain helpful sentiments, but they are clearly an attempt at damage control after an embarrassing sermon,” Kessler continued. “We call for the apologies to be followed by a sustained effort to transform MAPS’ relationship with, and teachings about, the Jewish community. We are prepared to lend our support in good faith to these efforts.”

The American Jewish Committee also condemned the imam’s lecture.

“Imam Joban’s sermon was a throwback to dangerous and ignorant stereotypes about Jews that have too often led and lead to deadly violence against Jews,” Seattle Director Regina Sassoon Friedland tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Seattle-area anti-Semitism isn’t isolated

This region saw a number of alarming anti-Semitic events and hate crimes in 2019. And in many cases when Jews pushed back, were labeled bigots.

Anti-Israel Socialist city councilwoman Kshama Sawant co-hosted an anti-Semitic event promoting a conspiracy that Israel pretends to support the LGBTQ community as a means to hide human rights abuses against Palestinians. Sawant had previously defended terrorist organization Hamas.

After outcry by the Jewish community (and my radio show), MAPS hosted an event claiming Jews are falsely claiming bigotry as a means to spout their own Islamaphobia. MAPS executive director Aneelah Afzali participated in the panel and disagreed with my take. We debated it on air, which you can listen to here.

When I called a local candidate’s endorsement by Linda Sarsour “problematic” since she’s a noted anti-Semite, Crosscut’s Lilly Ann Fowler leveled a vicious smear against me.

Orthodox Jewish Seattle Council candidate Ari Hoffman was a victim of anti-Semitic threats. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ignoring the attacks because, many believe, Hoffman is a conservative. Durkan was called out in an editorial by American Jewish Committee’s Regina Sassoon for being silent about anti-Semitism.

What’s next?

So what’s next for Imam Joban and MAPS? They will meet with area Jewish organizations and stakeholders to discuss the issue.

“We have reached out directly to many Jewish rabbis, community leaders, lay persons, and organizations, and directly shared the statements along with our sincere desire to work with them in what will inevitably be a long but hopefully productive process of reconciliation and growth,” Ali explains.

It’s unclear if MAPS will continue to earn the support of high profile local politicians, including Governor Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Representatives Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, all whom have attended events there.

Here is Ali’s full statement:

The video was automatically uploaded by the videographer who records the weekly class, without any kind of screening or review/approval process.  MAPS removed the video as soon as we heard about it – along with all other videos for the weekly lectures that had been uploaded without being screened and approved.  As part of MAPS’ learning from this experience, we will be providing additional training and screening of all speakers (and videos) at MAPS to ensure proper teachings. 

Imam Joban knows – and has talked about – the strong respect that the Quran expresses for the “People of the Book” (i.e., Jews and Christians), as well as the positive relationships that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) established with the Jewish community and the lessons he taught.  For example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) married a Jewish woman; he called out his family members who spoke negatively about a Jewish woman; he stood in honor and respect when a funeral procession passed him, and when asked why he did so since the person who passed away was Jewish, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphasized that the person was a human being.  He further even proclaimed: “He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have myself as their accuser [for their wrongdoing] on the Day of Judgement.” (Al-Bukhari)

Imam Joban himself has shared stories and teachings that show due respect and regard for our Jewish siblings, among others.  He has strong positive relationships with Jewish rabbis and other community leaders. In this specific lecture that contained offensive commentary, MAPS believes Imam Joban was trying to bring to life a story from the Quran, and bolster support for it… while “ad libbing” and not realizing how what he was saying was entirely inappropriate, theologically unsound, and offensive.  Part of it could be a language and cultural barrier. But part of it was simply insensitivity to antisemitic tropes and the use of inappropriate embellishments that have no theological support (and in fact, contradict Islamic teachings). When the commentary was brought to Imam Joban’s attention, he willingly apologized and expressed his desire to learn and grow. MAPS does not believe he had *any* intention to cause offense or harm.  Nonetheless, we recognize that impact is greater than intent when it comes to these matters, and therefore, took swift action to try to alleviate the harm. 

Given the trainings we are planning with Imam Joban and other MAPS leaders, along with the meetings we are planning with the Jewish community, we are hopeful that we can turn this into a teachable moment, and come out stronger – as a mosque, as a MAPS community, and in our interfaith relationships, including with our Jewish family.  We have reached out directly to many Jewish rabbis, community leaders, lay persons, and organizations, and directly shared the statements along with our sincere desire to work with them in what will inevitably be a long but hopefully productive process of reconciliation and growth. Many of those Jewish rabbis, leaders, individuals, and organizations have responded positively to the swift action MAPS took in response to this instance, along with the responsibility we assumed and our proposal to take concrete action to alleviate the harm, increase understanding, and improve relationships.  

We are further exploring what other internal and external actions we can take to fully address this situation, including with Imam Joban.  

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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