Honors for Los Angeles Muslim leader draw controversy -- Dr. Steven Windmuller and Dr. Reuven Firestone comment in LA Times and LA Daily News - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

Honors for Los Angeles Muslim leader draw controversy -- Dr. Steven Windmuller and Dr. Reuven Firestone comment in LA Times and LA Daily News

Main Content
Friday, September 1, 2006

Dr. Steven Windmueller and Dr. Reuven Firestone comment on controversy surrounding honors for Los Angeles Muslim leader 

Firestorm grows; past recipient returns his own award 

LA Daily News 

The firestorm over the county Commission on Human Relations' decision to honor a local Muslim who has called Israel an "apartheid state" intensified Tuesday when a former recipient returned his award. 

Steven Windmueller, interim dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 honoree, said the commission's selection of Maher Hathout denigrated the legacy of the award's namesake, John Allen Buggs. 

"Buggs understood the art of negotiation, the value of integrity and the need for transparency. These themes should, in my judgment, reflect those who are so honored to receive this recognition. Sadly, I return this piece of art as my statement that in this instance the Commission has not met the standards set for us by John Allen Buggs," Windmueller wrote in a letter included with the award, which he returned by mail Tuesday afternoon. 

Hathout, a 70-year-old retired cardiologist, was known as a bridge builder locally. But last month, his sharp criticism of Israel was publicized, outraging many of L.A.'s largest Jewish organizations. 

"Everyone has their issues and their swords they want to fall on. I guess this is the one (Windmueller) wants to fall on," said the Rev. Zedar Broadous, a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Pacoima and one of the commissioners who voted for Hathout. "I don't see it as that big of an issue, but if he wants to make this his issue, I won't hold it against him. I'll keep him in prayer." 

Commission President Adrian Dove said it was unfortunate Windmueller had decided to return his award, which he received for work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

"We were looking to find anybody from the Muslim community that was discouraging terrorism, that was encouraging engagement in the dialogue and that was a potential bridge. While you may not have perfection, it is a starting point you can build upon," Dove said. 

"I challenge you to find another party in Los Angeles who is a practicing Muslim leader who would be less controversial." 

Hathout and the L.A.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, which he co-founded, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Buggs was the first executive director of what is now known as the Commission on Human Relations, the first of its kind nationwide. He later left for Washington, where he led the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. 

Windmueller sent the commission a letter last week stating his intention to return his award if Hathout's selection was affirmed at a hearing Monday. It's not clear whether the commissioners saw his letter. 

"We have just been getting hundreds of letters both for and against," said Robin S. Toma, the executive director. "That one could have just slipped between the cracks." 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu