GREAT NECK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Pamela Geller calls herself a human rights activist, but her critics call her a hatemonger.
And as CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, Geller will be taking center stage at a Long Island synagogue this weekend speaking about Islam, and there’s been a firestorm of opposition.
“What is the controversy?” Geller said. “You know, a Jewish girl going to speak at a synagogue.”
But there is plenty of controversy. Geller has been called everything from a fanatical bigot to a fearless dynamo, and being called upon to speak at Great Neck Synagogue has ignited even more strong reactions.
Geller has gained notoriety for her anti-Islam messages, notably including several series of ads that have appeared in the New York City subway and Metro North transit systems.
One round of ads read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.” Another features the twin towers of the World Trade Center burning on Sept. 11, 2001, and a quote attributed to the Quran saying: “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers.”
Geller was also the force against the Ground Zero mosque, which she called a “victory mosque” marking the site of the 9/11 attacks.
Geller’s most recent group, “Stop Islamization of America,” has been dubbed a hate group by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Anti-Defamation League accused the group of “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith.” The SPLC called Geller “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” and claimed she has “mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists, spoken favorably of South African racists, defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps.”
But she has presented herself as a victim of censorship.
“Whatever your position is, this is free speech, and this is a war on free speech, and the few that speak to these issues are demonized, marginalized, and rendered radioactive,” Geller said.
Now, Geller has been invited by the men’s club at Great Neck Synagogue to speak Sunday. Critics defended her right to free speech, but said inviting her to a house of worship provides a platform for hate.
“We teach that you stand up to hate speech, and what she writes and what she says is absolutely hate speech,” said Rabbi Michael White of the Temple Sinai of Roslyn.
In a chorus of interfaith opposition, Islamic leaders have called on the synagogue to reconsider their invitation.
“She calls Muslims savages. She uses the Quran as a door stopper,” said Dr. Faroque Kahan of the Islamic Center of Long Island. “Her language is very abrasive and she claims Muslims are out to take control of the whole country.”
The synagogue issued a statement: “We believe that it is important to hear what she has to say and we are confident that intelligent and fair minded individuals will consider her views in reaching their own conclusions…. We reject the categorizing of any religious majority based on the actions of a minority. …. We do, though, believe that it is appropriate to speak about the actions of that minority.”
And around Great Neck, there was a great divide over the issue.
“Freedom of speech is something that we should never give up,” one person said.
“This kind of debate doesn’t belong in a holy place,” another said.
Geller will be joined inside the synagogue by the father of a U.S. Marine corporal killed in Afghanistan last year. Outside, demonstrations are expected on both sides.
The subject of Geller’s speech at the synagogue will be Sharia, the religious and moral code of Islam.
What do you think of the synagogue’s choice to let Geller speak? Leave your comments below…