- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A premier research organization known for exposing jihadi extremist chatter is expressing vindication for its work to out two California imams who were forced to apologize for their calls for mass violence against Jewish people.

The Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute obtained videos of Muslim preachers Ammar Shahin and Mahmoud Harmoush delivering incendiary sermons last month at California mosques in Davis and Riverside.

While the backdrop was the Palestinian-Israeli crisis on access to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the two Muslims’ tirade went well beyond how to respond to that specific conflict. Instead, Imam Shahin called for the annihilation of Jews and their “filth.” Imam Harmoush said the Prophet Muhammad should “destroy them” and “turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.”

The standoff in east Jerusalem eased last week after Israel lifted restrictions on entering the mosque, a sacred shine at what Israelis call the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary.

MEMRI, which picked up the imam videos in its constant searches of jihadi websites and social media, posted the clips on its TV channel and on YouTube.

The news media picked up the story and confronted both Islamic centers.

But in some cases, the stories’ narrative turned against MEMRI after the imams claimed they were quoted out of context, even though the research group published extended remarks.

A national newspaper quoted one scholar as saying MEMRI was trying to divide Muslims and Jews. Another questioned MEMRI’s translations from Arabic to English.

What irked Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director, was that few reporters came to his nonprofit to obtain its side of the story, which was that there were no mistranslations or distorted editing.

“Reporters have not asked for any kind of statement from MEMRI, have not bothered to ask about MEMRI’s perspective on the matter and have not even contacted MEMRI in any way,” Mr. Stalinsky told The Washington Times. “This has been very surprising and deeply troubling as many media outlets we frequently help are among those who have not bothered to speak with us about the story.”

Then vindication came.

Imam Shahin said Friday at a press conference: “To the Jewish community here in Davis and beyond, I say this deeply: I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused.”

After receiving criticism from California elected officials, Imam Harmoush released a semi-apology. According to the Los Angeles Times, he said: “All life is sacred, and every person has a sacred right to respect, safety and liberty. Members of all faiths, including my own, rest firmly on these principles, and I believe in promoting them with justice and empathy. Interfaith dialogue has demonstrated resounding successes in fostering positive change and communal insight while incorporating people of all faiths in a humane, genuine and sustainable path forward.”

Mr. Stalinsky said both preachers have delivered other hard-edged sermons, which may be posted in the coming days.

MEMRI’s daily reports focus on extremist strategies, propaganda and threats issued in Syria, Iraq, North Africa and Europe. Many postings come from the Islamic State, the modern world’s first functioning terrorist army.

But last month, MEMRI published content closer to America.

Mr. Stalinsky wanted to show that Islamic extremist dialogue is happening in the U.S. too — and not just from online jihadi wannabes but from senior Islamic leaders.

“Oh, Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and the occupiers,” Imam Harmoush said during a July 21 sermon at the Islamic Center of Riverside, California. “Oh, Allah, destroy them; they are no match for you. Oh, Allah, disperse them and rend them asunder. Turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.”

Imam Harmoush told followers that Israel’s ultimate goal is to conquer Saudi Arabia’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina — an unfounded allegation.

At the Islamic Center of Davis, California, Imam Shahin spoke in Arabic of the “filth of Jews” and “wicked Jews.”

“Turn Jerusalem and Palestine [into] a graveyard for the Jews,” he said, according to MEMRI’s translation.

“Oh, Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one,” Imam Shahin said.

At a July 14 sermon, the Egyptian-born Imam Shahin, made explicit calls for violence against Jewish people and accused them of raping women in Gaza.

“Oh, Allah, destroy them and do not spare their young or their elderly,” he said, according to a translated video on MEMRI TV.

Saying his talk was focused on the Al-Aqsa mosque, he then went on a rhetorical tirade of crimes that he said were committed by Jews.

“We are not talking about children who are dying from hunger because of what the Jews are doing to them,” he said. “We are not talking about Gaza and the women who are getting raped.”

The Syrian-born Imam Harmoush told his audience that the exodus of Jews from Europe was a long-held plot “to take over that beautiful land in the way that we all know, with killing, crime and massacres.”

MEMRI President Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli army intelligence officer and counterterrorism adviser to two prime ministers, told The Times that these two clerics are not alone in North America when it comes to trying to incite violence.

“We translated more than one sermon by Imam Shahin, and these statements in sermons are identical to those by imams and sheikhs all over North America and Europe, many of which were exposed by MEMRI itself,” Mr. Carmon said. “And in those countries, authorities have taken legal steps against them. In effect, these imams comprise a group of inciters, and the Muslim communities that do not subscribe to these ideas are a captive audience for them.”

He said one scholar quoted in the liberal press as doubting MEMRI’s translations is “simply erroneous according to all the rules of professional translation.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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