When 11 Jews were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in late 2018, Imam Taha Hassane of the San Diego Islamic Center positioned himself as a staunch ally of the local Jewish community. “One of the first personal outreaches we had was from Imam Taha,” a rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue told the San Diego Union-Tribune in a 2019 article. “His love and support was so important.”
Hassane parlayed his newfound prominence as a friend of the Jews into profile-raising public appearances, participating in a 2018 prayer breakfast a few weeks after the massacre. A few months after that, he was honored as a community hero by local television station KPSB and shared the podium with a Catholic bishop in a lecture about immigration at UC San Diego. Last year, he participated in another prayer breakfast where he displayed his interfaith bona fides. The work paid off with affirmations from public officials. Hassane now serves as co-chair of the city’s Interfaith Justice Coalition, and is currently featured as a in the Justice Department’s San Diego Stands United Against Hate campaign.
But in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre, this celebrated stalwart of interfaith coalition building has portrayed the killing, rape and kidnapping of Jews by an Islamist organization as an act of “resistance.”
On October 8, just one day after the slaughter, Hassane wrote in a now-deleted post on Instagram: “Resistance is the only option for a people under occupation.” Hassane declared in an October 21 post on Instagram that Israel is guilty of “genocide” and reiterated his “resistance is justified” messaging. Aside from this, he has kept a low profile. He has not publicly condemned the massacre or the subsequent increase in public expression of Jew-hatred it has elicited throughout the world.
The only mention of him in the local news in the past month has been as the victim of a purported hate crime: on October 11 Hassane reported that two individuals attached posters of hostages held by Hamas to trees and a fence at the mosque’s property line. “Our community has yet again fell (sic) victim to the recent Islamophobic and anti-Arab rhetoric being spewed by racist individuals and false media news coverage,” the Islamic Center stated. The center, by the way, has, according to a federal database, received $400,000 administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 2015. It received $150,000 of this amount in 2023.
Lallia Allali, Hassane’s wife, has garnered more media attention than her husband since the attacks due to an antisemitic cartoon she posted to Facebook soon after October 7.
A lecturer at the University of San Diego, board member and contributor for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the chair of the District English Learner advisory committee at San Diego Unified School District, Allali has quit or been removed from her posts despite widespread outcry from her supporters, including allegations of a “zionist witch hunt” and threats of a district-wide walkout.
In an op-ed submitted to the Union-Tribune that was declined for publication (and subsequently published in the San Diego Jewish World), former San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman noted that it took the newspaper a week to announce it had split with Allali, and that it did not use the opportunity to comment on the rise of antisemitism. An additional question for the Union-Tribune and other local press is why they haven’t reported on Hassane’s statements and sermons on the October 7 attacks in light of his reputation as an interfaith coalition builder.
While faith leaders in San Diego haven’t commented publicly on Hassane’s statements, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned Hassane’s sermons and posts. “This is a time in American history when we need faith leaders representing all the children of Abraham to take the lead against antisemitism and for reconciliation. Imam Taha should not be part of any such effort,” said Cooper.
Cooper currently serves as the chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which he noted includes two Muslim colleagues. “While I am making my statement only on behalf of the Wiesenthal Center, you can be sure that any faith leader who would excuse mass murderers whose evil matches and exceeds those of the Nazis has forfeited the right to be considered a peace seeker,” he said. “Hatred is a cancer. It metastasizes. It spreads unless you intervene. The notion that you can be a partner in fighting this cancer when you contribute to the growth of half the problem is ludicrous.”
Melissa Schneider is a journalist whose work has appeared in the Jerusalem Post and the Forward.