Sacramento's carefully cultivated interfaith bonds are being stretched to the limit by an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor who is scheduled to speak at a local mosque about the Nazi Holocaust and Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer makes the 11th stop on his national "Never Again for Anyone" tour at the Sacramento League of Associated Muslims Islamic Center at 7 p.m. tonight.
Meyer has equated the Holocaust to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, drawing intense fire from Sacramento's Jewish community and the Anti-Defamation League.
"Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is repugnant, anti-Semitic and defiles the sacred memory of millions who perished during the Holocaust," said Rabbi Reuven H. Taff, president of the 13-member Board of Rabbis of Greater Sacramento, in a civil but emotional exchange of letters with SALAM's Imam Mohamed Abdul Azeez.
The Board of Rabbis praised Azeez for his bridge-building with other communities of faith, but asked him to either boycott the event or stop it from happening at SALAM. If he doesn't, Taff said in a letter to him, "then all the good work you are doing to foster relations with the interfaith community will be severely undermined."
"The event is not going to be canceled," said Azeez, who encouraged "any of our friends in the Jewish community to attend, ask questions and engage the speakers."
Azeez noted that eight national organizations and nine local organizations are sponsoring it, including the Florin Japanese American Citizens League and the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Azeez said that a member of American Muslims for Palestine reserved the hall and the event is not sponsored by SALAM. He said SALAM's board investigated the speakers, who in addition to Meyer include UC Berkeley political scientist Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian American.
"You have a Holocaust survivor talking for the first time to the Muslim community about the Holocaust and putting it in a modern context that the rights of all people should be respected," Azeez said. "The world is changing, and it's time for us to have more dialogue about these untouchable idols," such as the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Azeez agrees that the rabbis raise a legitimate concern – "any attempt to equate the Holocaust with what is happening in Palestine is an atrocity."
Azeez said SALAM's management will not allow the speakers to compare Israel to the Nazis.
But Taff said Meyer's views are intolerable to the Jewish community, and added that the rabbis could produce Holocaust survivors to talk to Muslim Americans without inciting Muslim-Jewish hostility.
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen of Congregation Beth Shalom said Meyer's speeches and writings are "most offensive – the program promotes hate. It's an attempt to de-legitimize Israel and Judaism, as opposed to having a meaningful discussion over a political policy."
Wechsler-Azen said the event isn't the way to heal people "who have such profound wounds between them … we have forged a very meaningful relation with SALAM, and we're heartsick about this."
Meyer, in an exclusive interview with The Bee, said he survived 12 years under Hitler and 10 months in Auschwitz.
"I have a number on my arm and they dare to call me an anti-Semite?" he said.
Because he was not allowed to attend high school in Nazi Germany, Meyer said, "I can identify with those Palestinians who undergo slow-motion genocide when they are not allowed to go to their schools," which have been bombed.
"Nearly all Jewish religious organizations in the world have mixed up Judaism – which is universal, humanistic and friendly to anybody – with Zionism," said Meyer, who defined Zionism as an ideology based on a well-defined Arab enemy that must be destroyed.
Jon Fish, president of Sacramento's Interfaith Service Bureau representing major faiths in the region, said Palestine is a social issue, not a religious one.
"The rabbi and the imam have to work it out," Fish said, "But this might be a no-win situation."
Taff said he welcomes a discussion between Jews and Muslims "in an atmosphere of collegiality and respect." But if SALAM hosts an event that Taff believes is "clearly anti-Semitic," he said, "it makes it very difficult to sit down at the same table with anyone who supports or endorses a program of hate."