Mr. Phillip A. Talbert
United States Attorney, Eastern District of California
Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
501 I Street, Suite 10-100
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Mr. Talbert:
We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., to urge you to immediately investigate Imam Ammar Shahin and, if the evidence warrants, prosecute him for violating 18 U.S.C. § 1091(c), which makes it a criminal offense to incite genocide against the Jewish people. Especially at a time when anti-Semitism and violence against Jews are rising in the U.S. and around the world, Imam Shahin – who, from his podium at the Islamic Center of Davis, CA, wields considerable influence over his followers and supporters – must be held accountable for his criminal conduct under U.S. law.
Imam Shahin’s Call for the Annihilation of the Jewish People
On July 21, 2017, Imam Shahin delivered a horrifying sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis. He prayed to Allah to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “annihilate them down to the very last one.”
Alternating between English and Arabic, Imam Shahin said,
The prophet Muhammad said: “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah. . .” They will not say: Oh Egyptian, oh Palestinian, oh Jordanian, oh Syrian, oh Afghan, oh Pakistani. . . The prophet Muhammad says that the time will come, the last hour will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews. We don’t say if it is in Palestine or another place. Until they fight.
He then addressed Allah directly, stating [emphasis added]:
Oh Allah, support the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Muslim lands. Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh Allah, show us the black day that You inflict upon them, and the wonders of Your ability. Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.
Then he cried: “Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this.”
Imam Shahin Must Be Held Accountable for Violating U.S. Law Prohibiting the Incitement to Genocide
Imam Shahin’s sermon could not be clearer: It was a call for the Nazi-like genocide of the Jewish people. The imam incited his followers – and Muslims everywhere – to destroy and annihilate Jews wherever they are, stating, “Do not spare any of them – make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this.”
Imam Shahin’s incitement to genocide is a violation of federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 1091(c).
Section 1091(a) provides: “Whoever, whether in time of peace or in time of war and with the specific intent to destroy in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such . . . kills members of that group . . . [or] causes serious bodily injury to members of that group . . . shall be punished . . . .”
Subsection (c) of Section 1091 makes it a crime to incite such actions: “Whoever directly and publicly incites another to violate subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
Violence against Jews is a Serious and Growing Problem
It is crucial that the U.S. law against the incitement to genocide against Jews be vigorously enforced. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the U.S. and, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), is a “global phenomenon.” The ADL reported that since January 2017, there have been 167 bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the U.S., including Jewish community centers, schools and synagogues. In its latest annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the ADL reported that anti-Semitic incidents “surged” in 2016 and the first quarter of 2017; according to the ADL’s poll of Americans of all faiths, a majority expressed concern about violence in the U.S. directed against Jews.
Violence targeting Jews is serious – and deadly. Just last week, for example, two New Jersey men were sentenced to 35 years in prison after they were convicted of spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti at synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack, attempting to burn down synagogues in Paramus and Rutherford, NJ, and throwing Molotov cocktails into the Rutherford home of a rabbi, while the rabbi, his wife, their five children and other members of their family were asleep.
The FBI’s statistics on hate crimes are equally sobering. For as long as the FBI has been collecting data on hate crimes, Jews, more than any other religious group, have always been the biggest targets. In 2015, the most recent year for which the FBI has released its hate crime statistics, more than half of all religious hate crimes were directed against Jews; Jews were the targets almost twice as many times as the next most targeted religious group.
The world has seen how the Palestinian Arab leadership’s incitement of violence against Jews in Israel has led to the murder of innocent people, by car rammings, stabbings, and shootings. The president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, incited a wave of terror against Jews when, in 2015, he declared, “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque on the Temple Mount] is ours . . . and they [Jews and Christians] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem. . . . We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.”
The incitement has not stopped. Just weeks ago, the official PA daily paper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reported that Abbas was inciting more riots in Jerusalem, stating: “We are with you in everything that you have done and are still doing, as you are causing us pride, and you are taking care of your Al-Aqsa Mosque, your land, your dignity, your people, your religion, and your holy sites.”
After Imam Shahin called for the annihilation of all Jews in the sermon he delivered at the Islamic Center of Davis, a firestorm erupted. There were calls for the termination of his employment at the Islamic Center– including from U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman who also called for Imam Shahin to be barred permanently from the Islamic Center, as well as from the University of California, Davis (located across the street from the Islamic Center), the Council on American Relations (CAIR), and several other organizations.
Imam Shahin eventually apologized for his actions. But an apology, even when it is sincere, does not give a criminal a pass for his criminal conduct.
Indeed, the sincerity of Imam Shahin’s apology is more than questionable. He initially denied that the statements in his sermon were anti-Semitic and inciting violence against Jews. He actually claimed that his statements were taken out of context and erroneously translated by “an agenda-driven organization.” The Islamic Center of Davis was equally deliberately blind to the imam’s Jew-hatred, claiming that his statements had been taken out of context by “Islamophobic news organizations.” Of course, all these claims by Imam Shahin and the Islamic Center are false. The imam’s statements are crystal clear – and chilling.
It’s also not the first time that Imam Shahin delivered a sermon demonizing Jews and encouraging violence against them. Only the week before, in a sermon delivered on July 14th, he again called for the annihilation of the Jewish people [emphasis added]:
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is besieged, and there are not prayers in it. Those wicked Jews are prohibiting prayer there. . . . Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, show us the wonders of your ability that you inflict upon them. O Allah, show us the black day that you inflict upon them. . . . Oh Allah count them down one by one and destroy them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them. Oh Allah, destroy then and do not spare their young or their elderly.
Imam Shahin’s apology was plainly delivered to quiet the outrage and condemnation he faced and deserved. The apology cannot undo the fact that he incited the genocide of the Jewish people. The apology cannot undo the fear he has instilled in Jews in Davis, in California, and all around the U.S.
Imam Shahin – and anyone else who incites the genocide of the Jewish people – must be sent a clear and uncompromising message: that the conduct is morally abhorrent and intolerable, as well as illegal under U.S. law, and that the wrongdoers will pay the price for their criminal actions. Please investigate and determine whether Imam Shahin should be prosecuted and punished for violating 18 U.S.C. § 1091(c). As our colleagues at the Simon Wiesenthal Center so aptly put it after the organization called on the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney to immediately investigate Imam Shahin’s call to murder Jews, “When someone threatens to kill you – take them seriously.”
We look forward to your response.
Morton A. Klein Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
National President Director, Center for Law and Justice