If it's an imam trashing Jews, not all editors agree that his words are hate speech

A California imam has made some waves in recent days by suggesting all Jews be killed in an apocalyptic battle in some future time.

Needless to say, this did not go over well with some of those who viewed a video of the speech -- but its combustible content got almost no national coverage. (See addition at the end of this post)

Even coverage within California was limited, causing some to wonder that had the roles been reversed -- with the speaker a rabbi or a Christian preacher, attacking Muslims -- news media professionals would have been all over the story.

The Sacramento Bee had the clearest account of the sermon with a bit of theological punch:

A Davis imam is under fire after giving a sermon last week that combined end-of-days prophecy with the current religious conflict over a Jerusalem holy site, causing critics to condemn him as anti-Semitic.
Imam Ammar Shahin on Friday gave a nearly hour-long sermon to worshippers at the Islamic Center of Davis calling for congregants to oppose restrictions placed by Israel on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and citing Islamic texts about an end-times battle predicted by the prophet Muhammad.
The sermon included a prayer to Allah to “destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” according to the translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which first posted an edited clip of the sermon.
Shahin’s prayer continued, “count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

After the Islamic Center claimed that MEMRI had misconstrued the remarks, the Bee got its own translator who sided mostly with the Center, but said the imam was unwise at best to give such a sermon. I watched the video (which is included above) and got the impression the imam was trashing all Jews everywhere and anytime. I couldn’t see how anyone could whitewash those remarks.

Back to the coverage. The Los Angeles Times included some past history about the Islamic Center in its lede.

A Davis, Calif., mosque that was targeted recently in a vandalism hate crime found itself at the center of controversy this week after an imam delivered a sermon with inflammatory remarks about Jews.
“Oh Allah, liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews...” Imam Ammar Shahin said in Arabic in his July 21 sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis.

The Jerusalem Post assumed its audience had some religious background:

In a July 21 lecture posted on the Davis Masjid YouTube channel, Muslim preacher Ammar Shahin spoke in English and Arabic about how all Muslims, not only Palestinians or Syrians, will be called upon to kill all the Jews on "the last day." 
In a video translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Shahin also stressed that the Hadith (oral tradition of sayings attributed to the prophet of Islam) does not say where the final battle will take place. "If it is in Palestine," for example, "or another place," hinting at the possibility that such a battle could happen in the United States or Europe as well. 

A local outlet, the Davis Vanguard, decided to blame MEMRI for having the audacity to translate the document.

The Islamic Center of Davis has once again received national media coverage, after a translation of a sermon posted online purports that an Iman’s sermon called for the annihilation of Jews.
The problem is that the video that is available has subtitled translation from Arabic into English.  And the group that provided the video, the Middle East Media Research Institute or MEMRI, is considered right-wing and anti-Islamic.

“Purports?” Was the Vanguard offering an alternate Arabic translation that didn’t have the inflammatory words?

A statement from the Islamic Center (included in the article) also complained about MEMRI and said the whole exchange was taken out of context. But enough people weren’t buying that excuse to cause the center to issue an apology. And the Vanguard did run MEMRI’s response

The National Review, in an editorial, pointed out that local Jews have suffered anti-Semitic incidents in addition to the vandalism that the Muslims endured. The Jewish Press found an evangelical Christian leader who called for the Islamic Center to be shut down and its imam arrested. And Front Page magazine noted that while many national media groups covered the Islamic Center when there were some torn pages from a Quran thrown at it earlier this month, that same national media has ignored the imam’s statements. It said:

Now these are not allegations or claims. There is a video up. And you can't get the AP or the Washington Post or any of the usual outlets to touch the story with a ten foot pole. Islamophobia is a serious problem. But Islamic anti-Semitism gets blacklisted.

Front Page has a point: Other than Jewish outlets and some California newspapers, there was very little coverage out there.  

The Davis Enterprise had a particularly convoluted piece, one that I suspect an editor rewrote (and ruined the top half).

A sermon delivered last week at the Islamic Center of Davis in the wake of violence at a Jerusalem holy site is gaining widespread attention -- and calls for a Homeland Security investigation -- for what critics say is its hateful, anti-Semitic tone.
Imam Ammar Shahin says brief excerpts of his nearly hourlong remarks were taken out of context, edited and mistranslated by “an agenda-driven organization” to appear inflammatory.
“It was clear to all who listened to the entire sermon that Imam Shahin was not calling towards anti-Semitism nor towards violence against any religion,” Shahin and the Islamic Center’s executive board said in a written statement released Tuesday morning.

As the folks who trained me in journalism used to say, don’t tell the end of the story before you tell the beginning. We get a lead paragraph about the sermon and then we get the defense before we learn what the actual content was.

It was 13 paragraphs into the story before we get a hint of what the imam said. Below is the 15th and 16th paragraphs:

Excerpts of the sermon that triggered controversy show Shahin, speaking in both Arabic and English, citing a hadith calling for a Judgment Day fight between Muslims and Jews. According to the MEMRI translation, he prays for Allah to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and “annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.”
“Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this,” Shahin says.

Now why wasn’t that way up in the article below the lede? The article improved further down when it described the imam’s background (born in Egypt, he’s a doctoral student at an Islamic institution in Minnesota) and got a former member of the Islamic Center’s board to criticize the imam.

The bottom line: Hate speech against Jews has to pass a higher bar with editors before it's considered news these days, as opposed to hate speech against Muslims. Few people outside of California seem all that concerned about this imam.

Where is the Southern Poverty Law Center when you need them? Or is hate speech only hate speech when it targets Muslims?

LATE BREAK - On Friday (today), the Washington Post published a story on the issue with some updates. 

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