Rabbi Nachum Shifren
A rabbi’s declaration that he is an "Islamaphobe” and an accompanying speech at a Tea Party forum in San Mateo earlier this month has been called racist and hateful by the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Rabbi Nachum Shifren and all the other candidates for U.S. Senate were invited to a candidate’s forum May 3 at the American Legion Hall in San Mateo, co-sponsored by the San Mateo County Republican Party and My Liberty, a local Tea Party group.
Shifren told a cheering audience, "I am an Islamaphobe and everything we need to know about Islam, we learned on 9/11.”
Segments of his seven-minute speech have been posted on YouTube.
When asked directly by the Daily Journal Tuesday, Shifren responded: "Did I say that?”
He told the Daily Journal that he is not an Islamaphobe but stood by his comments about 9/11.
"I may have made the comment in the heat of the moment,” Shifren said. "I’m a Jew. I hate no one. I’m not a racist. I don’t hate Muslims.”
The group calling him a racist, CAIR, might be racist themselves, Shifren said.
My Liberty and the local GOP invited as many candidates as they could to the May 3 forum, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who did not attend.
Most did not show but a handful did including Dr. David Levitt and third-party candidate Marsha Feinland from the Peace and Freedom Party.
Feinland declared herself a "socialist” at the San Mateo forum and was immediately booed.
Shifren’s comments, however, were applauded.
"We’re getting sucker-punched because we as white — yes I said it! — as white, Christian Americans are being taught that somehow we are to blame for all the problems,” according to the YouTube video.
Shifren, also known as the "Surfing Rabbi,” is an Orthodox Lubavitcher Chassidic rabbi and has been aligned with the conservative English Defense League, which opposes the spread of Sharia law.
Local GOP Chair Chuck McDougald did not attend the May 3 event and had not heard that Shifren’s speech was considered hateful until Tuesday.
"He traveled 600 miles just to spew hate? His comments do not come from me or the Republican Party I represent,” McDougald said Tuesday.
Although Shifren is running for Feinstein’s seat as a Republican he told the Daily Journal Tuesday "the GOP can go straight to hell.”
My Liberty’s Leonard Stone was the moderator of the May 3 forum.
"We invited all candidates to speak without restriction,” Stone told the Daily Journal. "The whole purpose of the meeting was to allow people to hear the candidates’ messages.”
Stone said Shifren made other comments related to serving in the military that turned him off even before he made the "Islamaphobe” comment.
"I don’t support him. He’s not a viable candidate,” Stone said.
The forum did get a little unruly, he said, as some audience members interrupted candidates with whom they did not agree.
He also said some applauded during Shifren’s speech while others "did not.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations along with Jewish Voice for Peace and Progressive Christians Uniting released a joint statement Monday about the rabbi’s comments.
"There should be no place for hate speech of any kind in our nation’s political discourse. Whenever one faith or ethnicity is targeted by hate, it is our duty as Americans to challenge that hatred and to instead promote mutual understanding and tolerance,” the three groups wrote in a statement.
CAIR’s Bay Area chapter Executive Director Zahra Billoo said Shifren is another example of a conservative candidate who is not selling ideas but rather hate.
"The Republican Party has had a number of candidates use hate speech in recent campaigns,” she said. "We are frightened to see it here in California.”
CAIR has some comfort that Shifren is not a viable candidate, Billoo said. The bigger danger, she said, is the people who rally around hate speech.
But Shifren said he just says things that others are afraid to say.
After the San Mateo forum, audience members told the rabbi "you say what we think,” Shifren said.
There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, Shifren said, and only 1 percent of them "want to kill us. That’s 1.5 million people. That’s a lot.”
Shifren is one of 24 candidates on the June 5 primary ballot for Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat.
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