Op-Ed

Dear Father Pfleger,

My name is Ari Hart and I am the rabbi of Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob. I write to you as a fellow faith leader who cares deeply about issues of justice, spirituality and addressing the problems of our world with faith. We have not met, though I hope we have the opportunity to do so, to continue a public conversation you began at your Church last week when you gave Louis Farrakhan an hour long platform to preach anti-semitic hate to the world.

Since you made a choice to give Louis Farrakhan a very public platform at your Church, and you made the choice to personally broadcast, and to encourage the hundreds in attendance to broadcast, his hour plus message, I believe this public response is necessary.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich’s condemnation of what you did was effective, clear and strong, but I believe more is necessary. I share this with you as a concerned Jewish clergy who is affected by the anti-semitism that you permitted to be shared from your pulpit.

I understand you have done deeply impactful work in your parish addressing the physical and spiritual needs of a community that so many others have neglected. You have many admirers and supporters across this city for your good and trailblazing work.

Your good work and reputation are precisely why what you did was so dangerous. By inviting, supporting, and applauding Farrakhan at a time when antisemitism is on the rise nationwide, you helped move antisemitism from the fringes into the mainstream.

Let’s not pretend for a second that his speech, in your Church, by your altar, was not antisemitic. Nor was the antisemitism peripheral to his message; it was central. He spoke about being sent by God to separate Jews. He brought to life the antisemitic trope that has led to the deaths of millions of my people: Satanic Jews. He spoke multiple times about the Talmud corrupting the Church and sanctioning pedophilia. He lied and distorted about my people and our sacred texts from your pulpit, all while you smiled, clapped, and stood behind him.

You invited him under the pretense of “free speech” after he was banned by facebook for his well documented bigotry, antisemitism and homophobia. To so many of us, this “free speech” cover seemed disingenuous.

Would you give David Duke, also banned by facebook, an hour long pulpit? Duke would have actually sounded quite similar to Farrakhan when speaking about the Jews. Would you have stood up and applauded behind Alex Jones? Would you encourage your community to stream the words of Milo Yiannopoulos and not even give someone a chance to respond to his bigotry? Of course not. You know and I know that a house of worship is not a free speech arena for anyone to say whatever they want. A house of worship gives platform to the values and teachings of its leadership and community: are Farrakhan’s 90, uninterrupted, unchallenged minutes what you want St. Sabina to stand for?

Let’s also not pretend that these are just harmless words. Words lead to deeds. He spoke these words just days after shiva, the 7 day mourning period, ended for the family of Lori Kaye. Lori was murdered by a white Supremacist in her synagogue in Poway, California. Her murderer is on the other end of the political spectrum as Farrakhan, yes they share very similar ideas about Jews. Both believe we are satanic. Both believe we are the ultimate enemy. Both believe we must be defeated or destroyed. These are the words on Farakkhan’s pinned Tweet: “Jesus died because he was 2,000 years too soon to bring about the end of the civilization of the Jews.”

Farrakhan speaks and writes and tweets this hate as an unprecedented, ongoing wave of random, unprovoked assaults on Jews continues in New York City. It’s not being reported by the mainstream media, but dozens of visibly Jewish men and women have been randomly beaten in New York in the past few months. My friend, a rabbi in New York, was nearly assaulted by a group of men directly quoting Farrakhan’s rhetoric.

Words lead to deeds.

Which is why we need your words now.

It is not too late. You can repair the damage that was done. You fight racism and bring hope with your words. Use your words to continue to call out White Supremacism, and then call out the Black Supremacism of Farakkahn. Call out any and all forms of Supremacism – Jewish, Asian, Male, Female – call out any and every form of lifting up one group at the expense of another!

Remind your community and remind the world that just as fighting racism is fighting for social justice, so too fighting antisemitism is fighting for social justice.

Give new life to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King – “Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that,” and disavow the antisemitism, bigotry and hate that drives Louis Farakkahn.

With anger, sadness and yet hope,
Rabbi Ari Hart