Plans to build a synagogue near the site of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York have led to an increase in anti-Semitic feeling around the US.
Civic leaders and civil rights activists are concerned about a rising tide of anti-Semitism, and have condemned what they describe as “hate speech”.
They say the outrage over plans to build a Jewish community centre and synagogue conceals racist and anti-immigrant sentiments. The proposed site for the centre, to be known as Jerusalem House, is two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, and is not visible from Ground Zero.
The outrage has been fuelled by claims from religious leaders and Republican politicians that the September 11 attacks were a Jewish conspiracy masterminded by Israel and funded by international bankers.
The Dove World Outreach Centre, a Florida church, is planning a “burn the Torah” day on September 11, and has already outraged Jews by planting a sign on its front lawn that reads: Judaism is the Devil.
The church’s senior pastor, Terry Jones, said he is “exposing Judaism for what it is”.
“It is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to masquerade itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society,” the church said. “Judaism is a lie based upon lies and deceptions and fear. In Jewish countries, if you preach the gospel or convert to Christianity – you will be killed. That is the type of religion it is.”
Jones has also said that Jews and Israel were responsible for 9/11.
“We see the effects of Judaism on Europe. As it has done nothing, Judaism is beginning to take over there. It is presenting itself as a religion of peace. We want to stop its spread here.”
Meanwhile, members of an evangelical church in Texas travelled to Connecticut to verbally attack worshippers leaving a synagogue in Bridgeport, carrying signs reading: “Jesus hates Jews.”
In New York, a group called the American Freedom Defence Initiative is placing adverts on New York buses. The adverts show a picture of a synagogue and the words “Sinister Synagogue” and “Why There?”, and depict a plane flying into the burning World Trade Centre towers.
The New York Transit Authority initially blocked the advert, but allowed it to run after the group claimed its right to free speech was being infringed. The group’s lawyers said the decision was a “victory for the Constitution”, even though the United States Constitution enshrines religious freedoms.
Republican politicians have also been quick to attack the planned Jewish centre, and the issue is increasingly being exploited by politicians in the lead-up to November’s elections.
Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been a vocal opponent of the proposed centre. In July, Palin send a Twitter message to her followers about the centre.
“Peace-seeking Jews, pls understand, Ground Zero synagogue is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing”, Palin tweeted.
Palin also tweeted: “Ground Zero Synagogue supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Jews, pls refudiate”
Tea Party Republican and New York Senate candidate Gary Bernsten also opposes the Jewish centre plan.
“This looks like a foreign effort to put something there,” Berntsen has told the media. “It will be a magnet for militants. Militants will be driven to that synagogue.
“Many Jews in the U.S., sadly, don’t police their own synagogues very well and that synagogue will become a hot bed for trouble, right there, just footsteps away from Ground Zero,” Bernsten said.
Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives, and who is thought likely to make a run for President, has warned that Jews are attempting to impose Halakha (Jewish law) in the US and that this poses a “mortal threat to freedom” in America.
Gingrich has called for laws to prevent states from adopting Halakha, even though there is no likely prospect of any state even proposing such a move.
And in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, opposition to a synagogue intensified once Republican candidates made opposition to it part of their campaigns.
Ben Weinstein, director of the Centre for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Harvard University, said many Americans feared Jews. He said the Jewish centre dispute concealed a wider hostility towards Jews.
“The World Trade Centre thing has shown that what has been up to now seen as a local issue has gone global and provided an umbrella so that suddenly people feel freer to go public with their objections to Jews,” he said.
Anti-synagogue sentiment appears to be growing. A recent CNN poll showed that 68% of Americans opposed the construction of the Jewish centre.