Islamic Society urged to respond
Group still quiet on anti-Semitism issue
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff | October 7, 2004
The Anti-Defamation League and Jewish leaders yesterday asked the Islamic Society of Boston to renounce one of its board members, whose writings they say are ''virulently anti-Semitic."
As Boston officials planned to reexamine details of its sale of land to the Islamic Society amid questions about the group's connections to extremists, the ADL and Temple Israel, the largest synagogue in Boston, made public for the first time a seven-month-long dispute with Islamic Society's leaders over articles written in Arabic-language newspapers by Dr. Walid Fitaihi.
The ADL said Fitaihi is the Islamic Society of Boston's treasurer, though it is unclear what role, if any, Fitaihi plays in the Society. On the Islamic Society's 2000 tax return he is listed as a board member. On its 2001 return, he is listed as the treasurer. Islamic Society officials did not return phone calls yesterday.
Since March, the Islamic Society has ''done little to reassure" the ADL and Temple Israel that they have misinterpreted Fitaihi's writings or that other leaders of the Society don't agree with his views, the group wrote in a letter to the Society.
''In the absence of such a clarification, other allegations against the ISB are gaining greater resonance, and there remains a contradiction between your values statement and your actions," the letter says.
Robert Leikind, the ADL's regional director, urged the Society to speak out, especially after a group calling itself Citizens for Peace and Tolerance raised questions at a news conference Tuesday about the Society's alleged ties to Muslim extremists.
''It's difficult to understand why they would not seize the opportunity to condemn and disassociate expressions of anti-Semitism," Leikind said. ''We are concerned over why people who we have viewed as partners would hedge on issues as important as this."
The Cambridge-based Society is building a $22 million mosque and cultural center in Roxbury, on land sold by the Boston Redevelopment Authority for $175,000.
Leikind said the ADL and Temple Israel first reached out to the Islamic Society last March after the Boston Herald reported that Fitaihi, who is living in his native Saudi Arabia, had published a series of anti-Semitic articles including one in which he condemns Jews as ''the murderers of prophets."
According to English translations provided by the ADL, Fitaihi, an endocrinologist, also wrote that Jews will be ''scourged" because of their ''oppression, murder, and rape of the worshipers of Allah."
''They have perpetrated the worst of evils and they have brought the worst corruption to the earth, and what we see of them these days is glad tidings for the Muslim heralding the fulfillment of Allah's promise of victory after the second transgression," Fitaihi wrote in the Arabic-language London daily newspaper, Al Sharq al-Awsat, on Oct. 18, 2000.
Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel said the Jewish community's cordial relations with the Islamic Society have become strained because of the Society's failure to ''completely disassociate itself from those people who have spoken" expressions of anti-Semitism.
''We are very eager to establish and maintain significant intergroup relations with Muslim neighbors and institutions," he said.
In a statement published on the Society's website last month, the group defended Fitaihi, saying they found the quotes attributed to him to be ''glaringly in contrast to what we know of his actions in this community and the hundreds of articles he has published in overseas newspapers."
After an investigation, the statement said, Society officials concluded the articles were ''not meant to incite hatred of an entire faith or people."
Rather, they were intended to condemn ''particular individuals" whom Fitaihi believes were working to destroy the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, ''killing innocent children" and ''blocking the possibility of peace in the Middle East," the statement said.
Meanwhile yesterday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he has asked BRA officials to look at the Islamic Society, and the BRA's sale of 2 acres of land to the group for $175,000. The BRA had valued the land at $401,000. To make up the difference, the Society was asked to make in-kind payments in the form of benefits, including a lecture series, to Roxbury Community College. The Society was also to maintain two nearby parks.
''I'm asking the BRA to do research on the whole issue -- just to satisfy my curiosity," Menino said. ''There are a lot of good people in the Islamic Society. We shall not condemn a community for people who have been disassociated from the Society."
He said the group has disavowed any relationship with terrorists or extremist groups.
Boston city councilors voted yesterday to schedule a hearing into the land deal after several councilors learned of the allegations of extremist connections on Tuesday.