Yerushalmi, National Review, and a Conservative Fight Over Shari’ah

David Yerushalmi, the mastermind of the (largely failed) anti-shari’ah laws that started appearing in state legislatures across the country, is drawing scrutiny for his writing over the past week at National Review. Adam Serwer at Mother Jones sums it up:

At National Review, Yerushalmi is currently debating conservative writer Matthew Schmitz, who has made the perfectly reasonable argument that anti-Shariah laws at best “solve” an issue that doesn’t exist (the implementation of Taliban-style Islamic law in the United States) and at worst could be used to restrict the religious freedoms of Americans who are not Muslim as well. Worst of all, Schmitz worries that “the anti-sharia movement’s implication that all Muslims are radicals amplifies resentments and fuels hate by encouraging Americans to view their neighbors with suspicion and distrust.” He is hopelessly outnumbered at National Review, where most of the writers and commenters weighing in are confused at Schmitz’ inability to perceive Muslim Americans as the collective Fifth Column everyone understands them to be. 

No one, however, is more outraged at Schmitz’ suggestion that anti-Muslim prejudice might be at work in the Shariah-panic industry than Yerushalmi, who writes, “To even suggest, as Mr. Schmitz does, that those of us confronting the reality of transnationalism and Islamism are harboring some darker motives is, to put it mildly, patently offensive.”

Schmitz is the deputy editor of the conservative site First Things. His fight with Yerushalmi (as well as National Review contributor and lawyer David French) is a part of an ongoing intra-conservative battle over Islamophobia. In his latest post at National Review, Schmitz writes, logically dismantling Yerushalmi’s panic:

It remains the case that anti-sharia activists have identified a grand total of seven cases in 35 years in which American courts have allegedly enforced sharia or other foreign-law based judgments. In none of them were the serious injustices that advocates of anti-sharia laws typically invoke (honor killings and the like) remotely at issue. Scholars of religious liberty — some of them conservatives, all of them respected by conservatives — worry that the laws as written could threaten religious liberty. That’s a risk not worth taking to address a non-existent threat.

As Matt Duss notes, Yerushalmi has lamented the absence of “‘a discussion of Islam as an evil religion, or of blacks as the most murderous of peoples (at least in New York City), or of illegal immigrants as deserving of no rights.’ He also wrote that the American founders were on to something when they limited the vote to white men. ‘There is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote.‘” (emphasis added) Yet Yerushalmi brought his fear-mongering about shari’ah to Capitol Hill staffers in 2010, claiming it threatened the Constitution. 

Interesting side history on Yerushalmi: in 1995, he employed the services of the then-wife of then-House Whip, and later Speaker Newt Gingrich, as a consultant to his company, the Israel Export Development Company, later elevating her to vice-president. At the time, Yerushalmi claimed, according to press reports, that his retention of Gingrich’s wife — who before getting the job with his company was selling cosmetics from her home — had nothing to do with her connections to Washington power. According to a report [PDF] by the Center for Public Integrity, the purpose of the company was to create Israel’s first “Free Export Processing Zone,” intended to promote business enterprise there. Contemporaneous news reports signaled the ideological heart of his efforts was to bring American-style conservatism to “socialist Israel:”

“Israel is a country that was founded on statism, socialism and collectivism,” said David Yerushalmi, chairman and chief executive officer of the IEDC, which is backed by more than two dozen prominent U.S. Jewish corporate investors. “What we are trying to do here is revolutionary.”

A former Los Angeles-based real estate developer, Yerushalmi preaches a philosophy of bare-bones government, free-market economics and charity instead of welfare that would make any fiscal conservative’s spine tingle.

No doubt Yerushalmi has many fans among conservatives, and the National Review, which of late has been under heightened scrutiny after it fired the racist columnist John Derbyshire, feels it somehow appropriate to publish Yerushalmi’s conspiratorial rants. Although it might look like he’s alone, though, Schmitz is not the only conservative decrying the push to ban shari’ah law. Robert George, the Princeton professor who drafted the Manhattan Declaration and is a leading conservative light on religious freedom, has called such attempts at banning shari’ah “terribly misguided.” Schmitz cited George and other conservatives in one of his NR posts responding to Yerushalmi. (Board members of the Conservative Political Action Conference have sought to ban Yerushalmi’s colleague Frank Gaffney, and Gaffney has clashed with fellow conservatives at other events.)

Will Schmitz et al. have an impact on Republicans? Tomorrow, Rep. Peter King is holding his fifth Islamophobia hearing, again with his previous star witness, Zuhdi Jasser, who believes the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated all American Muslim organizations to “advance Sharia, to advance political Islam and the collectivism of a Muslim political movement in America that’s different from our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email