A Holocaust survivor wears a yellow star during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An Iranian American academic’s initiative to combat Islamophobia through the use of yellow Stars of David marked with the word “Muslim” has drawn harsh criticism from Jewish organizations, which accuse her of cheapening the Holocaust.
Last week Bahar Davary, an associate professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego, began her initiative by distributing the stars, which were patterned after the ones Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis, to students.
However, instead of Jude, German for Jew, the stars were emblazoned with the word “Muslim” and an Islamic crescent.
“What it symbolizes is that there have been people who have been made to be the ‘other’ throughout history,” Davary told The Times of San Diego.
“It’s not only Trump. It’s not only Ben Carson,” she said, referring to two of the candidates contending for the Republican Presidential Nomination. “There have been anti-Muslim actions taking place. In some ways it’s frightening.”
Trump has called for Muslims, including American citizens traveling abroad, to be banned from entering the country and said that he supports a national register for Muslims.
According to the Times, around 100 students have worn the badges, which she reportedly recommended only be donned off campus so that their intent is not misconstrued.
The university subsequently issued a statement to a local ABC affiliate explaining that the choice of a yellow star was “used as a learning tool” and that it was “adapted as a respected symbol of all three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to represent unity and solidarity, and it was not intended to make an analogy between discrimination against Muslims and the persecution of Jews in Germany and throughout Europe during the Holocaust.”
“The university acknowledges the historic significance and emotional impact of the use of the yellow star, and the professor regrets the pain and misunderstanding this has caused,” the statement concluded.
“While the professor’s intention to combat bigotry is laudable, the comparison is offensive,” a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League told The Jerusalem Post.
“It both cheapens the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust and, by implication, draws inapt comparisons to Nazis. We welcome the university’s statement acknowledging the historic significance of the yellow star, and apologizing for any pain for misunderstanding the professor might have caused.”
“The Holocaust is a distinct tragedy. No other genocide spoke of a final solution and it should not be used as a comparative calamity,” agreed Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a group focused on Muslim- Jewish dialogue.
“The spirit of Professor Davary’s initiative is a dramatic response to growing concerns by Americans to the exponential growth of Islamaphobia in the United States.”
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, also condemned the use of the stars but disagreed with Schneier’s statement that Islamophobia is experiencing a surge to the degree that the rabbi asserted.
Calling the stars a “disgraceful, insulting and inaccurate appropriation of a symbol of irrational and violent anti-Jewish hatred,” Klein quoted recent FBI hate crimes statistics and asserted that “there is minimum irrational hostility toward Muslims.“ “Any existing hostility toward Muslims is based on rational truths – that most terrorist attacks are committed by Muslims in the name of Islam; 26% of young US Muslims support suicide bombings; large percentages support ISIS, al-Qaida and Hamas; large percentages support Islamic law to be the law of the land; and large percentages are hostile to Jews, Christians, and gays,” he said.
According to the FBI, 57 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States in 2014 were Jewish while around fifteen percent of such incidents targeted Muslims.
Not everyone agreed with the condemnations, however, with Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, telling the Post that she “cannot condemn this action of the professor, because it is done for educational purposes , and to make students realize, at the same time, what it meant for the Jews to be ‘marked’ and singled out.”