Unity at the polls

Jews and Muslims share the common trait of both backing Obama at the polls by huge margins.

Obama smiles after winning re-election 370 (R) (photo credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)
Obama smiles after winning re-election 370 (R)
(photo credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)
In addition to having similar dietary laws, customs and rituals, American Jews and American Muslims found out on Tuesday, November 6 that they have another thing in common; each community gave 70 percent or more of its vote during Tuesday’s election to re-elected President Barack Obama.
According to two national exit polls, about 70 percent of American Jews supported Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. A poll conducted in the Muslim community in October showed that 68 percent of American Muslims backed Obama, 7 percent supported Romney and 25 percent were undecided. This likely means that Muslim support for the president reached 80 percent or more on Election Day..
What do these similar vote totals in support of Obama say about our two communities? First, the results show that the majority of American Jews and American Muslims support Obama’s vision of an inclusive society: a place where people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds have a chance to succeed. Jews and Muslims alike embrace the vision that the President has articulated, “we are all in this together” and that government—as well as religious communities—should be ready and willing to extend a helping hand to members of our society in desperate need. Both Islam and Judaism contain the injunction, "If you save one life, it is as though you have saved the entire world." This is a vision that resonates in the ethics of interdependence and mutual support and one that Obama embodies.
It is a common moral imperative to want to repair the world. Jews call it tikkun olam and Muslims call it islah. This idea inspired Muslims and Jews in 16 cities across the United States, and also in Canada and Britain, to schedule a joint venture called "Feeding the Hungry and Homeless Together" slated to begin on November 18. The program will highlight the "Weekend of Twinning," an annual event created by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding which is held every November. During this time, over 250 Muslim and Jewish congregations and organizations hold joint events involving thousands of Jews and Muslims in 26 countries around the world.
There is, however, a second reason for the overwhelming support for Obama among American Jews and Muslims; namely that both communities strongly reject the anti-Muslim rhetoric articulated by prominent Republicans during the past several years. For example, former House of Representatives speaker, Newt Gingrich, and 2008 republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, shamelessly tried to capitalize on and sensationalize the bogus “Ground Zero mosque” controversy of 2010, calling for outrage and insensitivity to the building of a mosque next to the sight of one of the gravest tragedies of Islamic terrorism. Then in 2011, Representative Peter King (R-NY) held congressional hearings based on the false claim that 80 percent of American mosques support Islamic radicalism. The King hearings—a smear on the vast majority of Muslims who are patriotic Americans—led many to gather in Times Square for an interfaith, during which demonstrators proclaimed, “Today, I am a Muslim too.”
Meanwhile, Representative Michelle Bachman of Minnesota absurdly claimed earlier this year that that the Muslim Brotherhood had made a “deep penetration in the halls of our United States government” while Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Oklahoma and Kansas passed  wholly unnecessary and unconstitutional bans on Sharia (Islamic) law.
The Jewish community’s rejection of the campaign to stigmatize Muslims is heartening because it battles the present purveyors of  Islamophobia as a tool being used to drive a wedge between the two communities. Recently, advertisements were put up in subway stations in New York City and Washington referring to Muslims collectively as “the savage” and bearing the slogan, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”  The campaign was undertaken by Pamela Geller, co-founder of "Stop Islamization of America," in order to incite fear and loathing between our two communities, but was denounced as bigoted by Jewish defense organizations and viewed with distaste by most American Jews.
The reason is simple: not only is the Islamophobia campaign contrary to basic Jewish moral injunctions such as "Welcome the Stranger," but Jews also know in their kishkes (guts) that if another religious or ethnic group is attacked today, they themselves may be targeted tomorrow.
Over the past five years, the two of us have successfully galvanized Muslims and Jews in North America and Europe to stand together against both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. We are hopeful that in the wake of President Obama’s electoral victory America’s celebration of racial, ethnic and religious diversity is reasserting itself. That is a development which both of our communities can take heart from and celebrate together.Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (www.ffeu.org). Imam Shamsi Ali is imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, one of the city’s largest and most influential mosques.