Some American Jews have reacted angrily, including Abraham Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It's a big lie, set out there maliciously to deflect what many in the Arab world saw and realized would be an anger directed at the Arab world," he said Monday. "It has taken on a life of its own. People talk about it as if it is a fact, and that's very, very dangerous."

But not all Jewish leaders think there's much to worry about.

Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a Jewish think-tank, says what's going on in the Islamic community is simply the same demon that Christians and Jews have also wrestled with. "Every community has its dark side," he said. "It happens to be that this is a particularly bad strain going on in the Islamic community and we're caught in the middle."

But Kula contends that the rhetoric isn't necessarily anti-Semitic. He thinks it's mostly anti-Israel--which is not the same thing. "This isn't about being Jewish," he said. "If Israel were a democratic Christian country, it would still be the outpost of the infidel. And a large number of the power centers of American Jewish life do not want to make a credible offer for peace. Therefore, the vested interest right now is in ensuring the anti-Semitism, the worst parts of Islam, are out there."

What's more, he said, "there are a lot of Jews around America who say a lot of weird things that just don't get made public."

Ironically, some Muslim leaders argue a mirror-image of Kula's position: that Muslims need to behave better.

"Whenever you talk about Israel, it's not a neutral issue for Jews or Muslims," says Amir Hussain, a scholar of American Islam who teaches at California State University at Northridge. "Muslim Americans have to be very careful when they criticize the policies of the United States with regard to Israel that they know what they're talking about, and they do it in an appropriate manner.

"They may say things in an emotional way that may not hold up on an intellectual level."

That is what appears to have happened to Salam Al-Marayati. In the hours after the attacks on Sept. 11, Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, was asked who he thought was responsible. According to a transcript provided by Jewish groups, this is what he said: "If we're going to look at suspects, we should look at the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what's happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies."

He quickly apologized, saying the remark "gave regrettable and unintended offense to Jewish Americans."

On Monday, Al-Marayati said the comment erupted in a heated moment during an angry debate. "It was an unfortunate use of language," he said. At this point, "I prefer to just let go of it."

Al-Maraytati is worried the controversy will spin out of control, particularly because "the American public does not have the patience for a Muslim-Jewish shouting match. I think the complications have arisen since the beginning of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The distinction needs to be made between the notion of anti-Israeli sentiment versus anti-Jewish sentiment. Obviously, there are going to be a handful of extremists among Muslims who will not make that distinction, and that's wrong."

The scenario was different for Imam Gemeaha, a normally mild-mannered speaker who delivered a sermon in English in mid-September calling for peace among people of all religions--and then in early October proceeded to blame Jews for the terrorist attacks on an Arabic-language website.

"Jews dominate the political decision-making and they own the economic and media institutions," Gemeaha reportedly said in the later statement.

Sells said both remarks set off warning bells--Gemeaha's more blatantly so, although because he isn't an American it may ultimately be easier to overlook. Al-Marayati's statement, however, is troublesome, Sells says, because it occupies a "middle ground"--not quite anti-Semitic, but still unacceptable.

"Once people start making that leap from being anti-Israel to assuming that anything that distracts from the Palestinian cause is some kind of Israeli plot--and he's getting pretty close there--I think he's in the middle ground," Sells says. "He's moving toward the conspiratorial view."

Sells chalked up Al-Marayati's comments to a "bad habit of thinking" that he will be able to overcome. But Sells says the controversy lays bare a larger problem among American Islam: its leadership. "For a long time, a certain kind of Muslim leadership has been made the only voice, and this kind of leader is sometimes fallible. The current Muslim American leadership represents "only a very thin strand of what Islam is," Sells says.

Sells sees some good coming from the stew of anger, confusion, and prejudice welling up in American Muslims, however.

"A lot of Muslim leaders are saying, 'Wait, this is inaccurate and it's radicalizing elements of the community and hurting everyone,'" Sells says. "There's a really strong rise against this in the last week."

And that, he says, means a more diverse, more intellectual--and more tolerant--American Islam may finally be born.