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Davis imam publicly apologizes for anti-Semitic sermons

A Davis imam publicly apologized Friday after using anti-Semitic language in recent sermons delivered at the Islamic Center of Davis.

A Davis imam publicly apologized Friday, July 28, after using anti-Semitic language in recent sermons delivered at the Islamic Center of Davis.

Imam Ammar Shahin spoke at the Davis Community Church on a stage with other local religious leaders of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.

“I do understand now how words were hurtful, and I’m sorry. I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this, I truly apologize,” said Shahin.

Clips from two of Shahin’s recent sermons from earlier this month had been shared by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

In one of the sermons, Shahin says in English, “The last hour will not take place, until the Muslims fight the Jews. We don’t say if it’s in Palestine or other [place].” Other parts of the sermons, which MEMRI translated from Arabic, used more inflammatory language against Jewish people.

The sermons had been focused on the conflict at the Muslim holy site known as Al-Aqsa mosque, which Jewish people refer to as the Temple Mount. Two Israeli police officers were shot and killed at the site earlier this month. Israeli authorities placed metal detectors at the entrance following the killings, leading to protests by Muslims. The detectors were taken down on Tuesday.

“I let my emotions get the best of me and cloud my better judgment,” said Shahin. “I said things that were hurtful to Jews. This was unacceptable.”

Shahin added in his prepared comments that he has been humbled by the experience, and the he hopes to become a more worthy leader of the community. As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,800 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for Shahin to be fired from his position at the Islamic Center of Davis.

Rabbi Seth Castleman, who was instrumental in organizing Friday’s press conference, said he appreciated and accepted the imam’s apology.

“I feel it was very sincere. I feel his words were very meaningful. I’m sure there are others who are not going to agree with me, certainly in the Jewish community, who are going to feel not satisfied. I say to them, the proof is in the pudding,” said Castleman, who's president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Sacramento.

The controversial sermon, and its aftermath, underscore the ways in which conflict in the Middle East can lead to tension for religious communities in the United States. A 2016 study found the University of California Davis campus to be one of the universities with the highest incidence of anti-Semitic activity.

Davis officials told ABC10 that police took approximately 24 hate crime reports in 2016. As of July 2017, the department had already taken approximately 19 hate crime reports.

For some, questions remain as to why the imam’s sermons were not flagged by members of the mosque.

“It’s interesting. There were some [statements] that were in English. The fact that the congregation was hearing it in English and not concerned about it is very concerning,” said Castleman.

Basim Elkarra, Sacramento executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that most sermons given in mosques do not contain similar language. He said he hopes that if language like Shahin’s is used in the future, that members of the mosque will come forward.

“People have to report these incidents to boards or the regional councils. I believe that will happen,” said Elkarra.