Jews, Muslims unite to fight impact of campaign rhetoric

“What’s happened as a result of the poisonous atmosphere that Trump has created is that American Muslims are desperate for allies.”

November 16, 2016 03:23
3 minute read.
Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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NEW YORK – A week after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, and as thousands continue to protest throughout the country, close to 45,000 people signed an open letter from American Jews expressing their solidarity with Muslims, who feel threatened by Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

The letter, which in addition to Muslims also addresses “people of color, LGBT people, women [and] people with disabilities,” was written by the Jewish progressive social justice organization Bend The Arc.

“We are with you now. And we will be with you every day for the next four years,” it states.

“[...] we know all too well the dangers of fascistic regimes that rise to power through stigmatization and scapegoating of vulnerable minority populations. And we felt – in our bodies and in our bones – that Trump was presenting a vision of the country completely at odds with our Jewish and American values.”

The letter then explains that, in the event of any attempt by the Trump administration to “wrongfully abridge the safety, liberty, or dignity” of Muslims and other minority groups, the Jewish community pledges to support them, “using all of the spiritual, political and intellectual resources we possess.”

On Monday, the American Jewish Committee announced it has partnered with the Islamic Society of North America in forming an advisory council in order to “bring together recognized business, political, and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”

Among the council’s initial action items, it will “highlight the contributions of Muslims and Jews to American society, and aim to celebrate their contributions in the best traditions of American democracy; develop a coordinated strategy to address anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism in the US; and work to protect and expand the rights of religious minorities in the US.”

AJC’s head of Muslim-Jewish relations, Robert Silverman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the initiative of forming the alliance was not a reaction to the election results and although its meaning is amplified now, it was already on AJC’s agenda for a while.

“AJC made a strategic decision to invest in Muslim Jewish relations well over a year ago,” he said. “There is a strategic need to do outreach to the American-Muslim community.

“The common domestic policy agenda is important, but the reason for these two communities to do it together as opposed to parallel, is so we can build trusting ties between the two communities that haven’t really done much together,” Silverman added. “It sets an example at a time when there is a lot of fractures in our society, that two communities that were previously distant can work together.”

In light of the election, Silverman also stressed that the new council is non-partisan.

“We want to be effective,” he explained. “To do that, we are not going to start lashing out at the new administration. We are also not gonna be silent, we are gonna talk about issues and push back against bigotry and hate speech, but we are not gonna start by assuming that [about the new administration].”

The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council has 31 initial members including rabbis, imams, scholars, company CEOs and legislators.

Beyond the AJC, more Jewish and Muslim organizations have ramped up cooperation around the time of the elections.

The Anti-Defamation League is also planning to increase its efforts to provide support for legal and legislative aspects of the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry. In addition, Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), which educates young Muslim leaders about Judaism and Israel, held a retreat over the weekend titled “Living in Trump’s America: Muslim Vulnerability and Jewish Echoes.”

“What’s happened as a result of the poisonous atmosphere that Trump has created is that American Muslims are desperate for allies,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, the initiative co-director.

“And the argument that MLI has made to the Muslim community – which is that the Jews are, at least in theory, natural allies for embattled Muslims – now has become compelling.”

Since the election last week, multiple antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents have been recorded throughout the country.

In the village of Wellsville in upstate New York, a softball field near a high school was vandalized with antisemitic graffiti featuring a swastika and the words “Make America White Again.” A prayer room for Muslim students at New York University had the word “Trump!” written across the front door and swastikas were drawn on a dorm room at the New School in Manhattan.

JTA contributed to this report.

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