The Society of Americans for National Existence (also known as SANE Works for US) is an Arizona-based anti-Muslim advocacy group founded by David Yerushalmi, a Hasidic Jew who has spearheaded efforts to pass state legislation that would criminalize the practice of Sharia, or Islamic law, and has called for a "war on Islam." The SANE website, which was made password protected after Yerushalmi started gaining notoriety in 2009, once proposed, "No Muslim shall be granted an entry visa into the United States of America."
Despite its clear Islamophobic raison d'être, the group provides the following anodyne mission statement on its tax forms: "The Society of Americans for National Existence is dedicated to preserving & strengthening America's national existence through communication, teaching & policy."
According to its 2009 IRS Form 990, SANE had five officers that year: Yerushalmi, president; Miriam Yerushalmi, board member; Cindy Page, secretary/treasurer; Robert J. Loewenberg, SANE chairman and head of the Likud Party-aligned Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies; and Gregory Bitterman, board member. The tax document reported that the group's total revenue as of 2009 was just over $310,000.
According to the New York Times, Yerushalmi founded SANE in 2006 as a non-profit vehicle for his campaign against Sharia law. "On the group's Web site, he proposed a law that would make observing Islamic law, which he likened to sedition, a felony punishable by 20 years in prison. He also began raising money to study whether there is a link between 'Shariah-adherent behavior' in American mosques and support for violent jihad. The project, Mapping Shariah, led Mr. Yerushalmi to Frank Gaffney, a hawkish policy analyst and commentator who is the president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) in Washington. Well-connected in neoconservative circles, Mr. Gaffney has been known to take polarizing positions (he once argued that President Obama might secretly be Muslim). Mr. Gaffney would emerge as Mr. Yerushalmi's primary link to a network of former and current government officials, security analysts and grass-roots political organizations."
The group first drew public attention in 2009 when it helped launch a public campaign about the purported effort by the Council on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR) to "infiltrate" the U.S. government. The "Muslim spy" story, which was ridiculed by critics as a fear-mongering campaign on par with McCarthy-era Red Scare tactics, was based in part on information obtained by SANE and other conservative activists when Chris Gaubatz, son of SANE researcher David Gaubatz, pretended to be a Muslim in order to do an internship at CAIR. Among the purportedly damning pieces of evidence he uncovered was a CAIR memo stating that the organization should seek to assist Muslims in getting internships in congressional offices.
This information served as the basis of a 2009 book, Muslim Mafia, published by the neoconservative group Family Security Matters and co-authored by David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry. The book was heralded by a number of neoconservative and other rightwing figures, including Tom Tancredo, Daniel Pipes, and Steven Emerson. It also was used by a group of four congressional representatives as part of a quixotic October 2009 campaign to "root out" Muslim infiltrators. Commenting on the episode, Suhail Khan, a political appointee in the George W. Bush White House and a Fellow for Christian-Muslim Understanding at the Institute for Global Engagement, told Talking Points Memo, "Some perfectly well-meaning [congressional] members—Myrick, Shadegg, Broun, and Franks, who I've met and are good people—have been really duped by this Gaubatz character." About Gaubatz and his colleagues, Khan said, "Really what they're trying to do here is to scare otherwise thoughtful members and chiefs of staff from hiring Muslims." He added: "Their MO is very insidious. They try to either smear Americans by guilt-by-association tactics, as they are in this case. Or they just kind of fear-monger by raising the specter of terrorism and extremism."
SANE appears to have funded Gaubatz' research. According to its 2007 Form 990, the group paid Gaubatz nearly $150,000 that year for unspecified research.
SANE's founder Yerushalmi has himself authored several controversial texts about purported Muslim influence in the United States, including a September 2010 CSP report titled Shariah: The Threat to America. The report, which was endorsed by several Republican Party figures like Pete Hoekstra and Michele Bachmann, "proposes the alarming conclusion that many apparently-lawful U.S. Muslims are waging a 'stealth jihad' to impose sharia on the U.S. through peaceful means, and that virtually all major Muslim-American organizations are affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni fundamentalist organization." The report advocates banning those who espouse Sharia from holding public office or serving in the U.S. armed forces, and prosecuting those who practice sharia.
Critics of the report pointed out that all Muslims adhere to some version of Sharia, which broadly refers to Islamic religious ideas and beliefs, and that adopting the kind of recommendations advocated in Yerushalmi's report for CSP would in effect mean criminalizing people for their religious beliefs. According to Sumbul Ali-Karamali, author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing, "Assuming all Muslims follow medieval Islamic rules today is like assuming that all Catholics follow 9th century canon law. Being Muslim does not require a governmental imposition of something called 'sharia law,' any more than being a Christian requires the implementation of 'Biblical law.'"
In March 2011, right-wing legislators in Tennessee introduced SB 1028, a bill based on draft legislation produced by Yerushalmi. According to one report, SB 1028 would make "material support" for Islamic law punishable by 15 years in prison, define traditional Islamic law as anti-constitutional, and authorize the state's attorney general to freeze the assets of groups that support sharia.
After the Tennessean criticized the bill, SANE posted a diatribe against the newspaper on its website: "The Tennessean newspaper lies, the left-progressives join hands with the Muslim Brotherhood sharia advocates and all shed crocodile tears wishing for the demise of good law, good sense, and this nation's national existence."
Discussing Yerushalmi's role in promoting this kind of legislation, which has been passed in Oklahoma and proposed in several other states, Mother Jones reported, "Reports about the rise of the anti-Sharia movement have typically focused on Oklahoma's voter-approved constitutional amendment, which explicitly prohibited state courts from considering Islamic law (a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the amendment in December). But the movement began much earlier, with a sample bill Yerushalmi drafted at the behest of the American Public Policy Alliance, a right-wing organization established with the goal of protecting American citizens from 'the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law.'"
In a July 2011 story on the anti-sharia legislation campaign, the New York Times reported, "despitehis lackof formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence overAmerican public discourse about Shariah.Working with a cadre of conservative public-policy institutes and former military andintelligence officials, Mr. Yerushalmi has written privately financed reports, filed lawsuitsagainst the government and drafted the model legislation that recently swept through thecountry—all with the effect of casting Shariah as one of the greatest threats to Americanfreedom since the cold war.The message has caught on. Among those now echoing Mr. Yerushalmi's views are prominentWashington figures like R. James Woolsey, a former director of the C.I.A., and the Republicanpresidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, who this month signed apledge to reject Islamic law, likening it to 'totalitarian control.' Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined thanreal. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advanceIslamic law. Instead, they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen inEurope, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is anoveraccommodation of Islamic law."
As his views have gained notoriety, Yerushalmi has appeared to restrict access to his writings. The website of SANE, for instance, s password protected. And according to blogger Charles Johnson, Yerushalmi has tried to remove content from racist publications he has penned, including an article called "On Race," which was published in a right-wing political zine called The McAdam Report. The article, according to Yerushalmi, aims to address "the troubling question of race. I choose to do so because several visitors to our SANE Works for USwebsite have commented on the dangerous line they suggest we tread here. What they mean by this in the main, if I may read a bit between the lines, is that a discussion of Islam as an evil religion, or of blacks as the most murderous of peoples (at least in NewYork City), or of illegal immigrants as deserving of no rights, is, if not racist, so close to being so as to be alienating."
Yerushalmi holds many of the same views of hardline neoconservative writers like Rachel Abrams and Jennifer Rubin, including an intense dislike for liberal Jews. He once wrote, "One must admit readily that the radical liberal Jew is a fact of the West and a destructive one. Indeed, Jews in the main have turned their backs on the belief in G-d and His commandments as a book of laws for a particular and chosen people. … Most Israelis are raging Leftists, and this includes the so-called nationalists who found a home in the 'right-wing' Likud political bloc or one of the other smaller and more marginal right wing parties."
According to Alex Kane of Mondoweiss, "Yerushalmi was a member of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, which was instrumental in the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim smear campaign that brought down Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a dual-language Arabic school in Brooklyn. He has followed his Islamophobic buddies Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in joining in their war against the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, and is an attorney with the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is run by Geller and Spencer."
Yerushalmi's work has been promoted and/or published by a host of neoconservative-affiliated groups. He claims to have "designed and co-authored a ground-breaking peer reviewed empirical investigation on sharia-adherence and the promotion of violent, jihadist literature in U.S. mosques published in the Middle East Quarterly," which is published by the Daniel Pipes-led Middle East Forum. His SANE website is promoted on the website of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. And the Center for Security Policy published various writings by him, including a monograph entitled "Financial Jihad': How Should America Respond?"