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The Confused Open Letter to Imam Rauf by Yossi Klein Halevi---Why his Plea to the Imam Won't Work

The Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi, a contributing editor of The New Republic, has issued a challenge to Imam Rauf. Halevi, whom I met a few years ago in Israel, has believed for a long time that the only road to peace in the Middle East is through a coming together of the three Abrahamic faiths. Indeed, this is the theme of his well-received book, At the Entrance to The Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.

At first glance, Halevi seems to hold many illusions about Rauf’ s beliefs. He writes his open letter to the imam, he says, as “a well-wisher and friend.” His approach is the opposite of someone like Andy McCarthy, whose many articles on NRO.com are devoted to exposing the hidden agenda of the imam (a view which I have come to believe is correct). Halevi, in contrast, begins by noting what he believes is Rauf’s willingness to endorse Halevi’s call “for the Muslim world to come to terms with the Jewish return home.” Halevi recalls with pride how Rauf beamed when Halevi talked of “joining the Muslim prayer line and the reverence-the love-I felt for its choreography of surrender to God.” As for himself, he and a friend he quotes both believe that the imam is “a spiritual ally, not an enemy.”

At this point, I had the reaction many of you readers undoubtedly will have: How much is it possible for someone so smart, as Halevi is, to be taken in by the evidently personally charming Rauf? So what lies behind this rather fawning opening of Halevi’s article? Does he really believe all this about Rauf, or is Halevi using a technique he has adopted so that the challenge he lays out will be hard for Rauf to ignore?

I suspect the latter is the case, although it is possible he does have these positive feelings about Rauf, and reminding the imam of what he said to Halevi back in 2001 will make him listen to the points he next raises. He says the imam favors an “outreach to the American Jewish community,” that he favors creating an Islam for America modeled on Orthodox Judaism.

But in the second part of his article, Halevi tells Rauf that he is now “troubled by some of your statements on the Middle East.” After all, Halevi above all knows that one cannot be a supporter of Israel, as Rauf said he was, and advocate a one-state solution for Israel which, as Halevi says, “is code for destruction of the Jewish state.”  And, Halevi tells Rauf, “you’ve refused to condemn Hamas.”

Somehow, I think that Halevi is writing with his tongue in his cheek. The kind of contradictions he accosts Rauf with are hardly accidental slips; they reveal what he obviously really thinks. So Halevi next tells the great imam that “sometimes it seems that you want to be all things to all people.” Really, how could Halevi get such an idea, since he is talking about a person he told us earlier is an ally of Israel? Well, perhaps Halevi is really confused. He writes:

"Some of your statements about America and the Muslim world — partly blaming U.S. foreign policy for September 11, or saying that America has killed more Muslims than Al Qaeda has killed innocent non-Muslims, as if the terrorists and their targets were morally equivalent — pander to the most simplistic sentiments within your community. But where some see hypocrisy, or even a hidden agenda, I prefer to see the struggles of a good man who wants to help his community enter the American mainstream, while reassuring the faithful of his loyalty."

But wait a minute; isn’t that last sentence also a major contradiction? Does one reassure the faithful by accepting their most radical views as the way to enter the mainstream? Shouldn’t an imam who really seeks that goal be opposing these views, rather than pandering to them?  And how then can Halevi tell Rauf that “I believe that you intend to create a center of Islamic moderation near Ground Zero”? If he did, would he recently have made all these objectionable statements that Halevi throws in Rauf’s face? Could it be that Rauf believes what he says? And these statements were made not to Islamic audiences abroad, but to Americans at home. It was to a question from a reporter about whether he would condemn Hamas that Rauf sought to evade an answer.