Right of Reply: Jewish-Muslim dialogue works

Even when we do not share a common faith, we share a common fate, and our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other.

In the March 17 edition, Isi Liebler, in his column “A Jewish-Muslim alliance?” alleged that the activities to promote mutual understanding and tolerance with moderate Muslim leaders with which I am involved are wrongheaded and antithetical to the interests of world Jewry.
Despite the tone of the column, which appears to argue that efforts at building Muslim-Jewish partnerships is dangerous to the well-being of Jews, the successes we have achieved in building ties of friendship and trust are authentic. We have inspired Muslim and Jewish leaders to speak out in defense of the other.
For example, Imam Shamsi Ali, spiritual leader of the largest and most prominent mosque in New York, with whom I am coauthoring a book on Judaism and Islam, made unmistakably clear that the Jewish-Muslim alliance we have worked so hard to create is, in reality, a two-way street. Shortly after the murderous terror attack against the Fogel family in Itamar, Ali issued a widely disseminated statement strongly condemning the attack and emphasizing, “We expect all decent people to unequivocally condemn this brutality. There is no way to contextualize this outrageous crime. Political differences never justify terrorism.”
The fact that a prominent Muslim cleric would speak out so unequivocally against a terror attack on Israelis in such a public fashion and without reservation is an important example of the willingness of top Muslim leaders to speak out for Jews in a manner that almost never occurred before we began our coalitionbuilding efforts five years ago.
Another example of the same important trend came earlier this month by another important ally of ours in the effort to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations: Dr.
Sayyid Sayeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest and most prestigious Muslim organization in the US and Canada.
After representatives of both Hamas and Fatah each issued vile statements on March 1 calling the Holocaust a “lie” and vowing to prevent teaching about it to Palestinian youngsters in UN-sponsored schools in Gaza, Sayeed immediately sent me a letter condemning Holocaust denial and declaring his support for young Muslims all over the world who want to become better educated concerning the bitter realities of the Holocaust.
To quote directly from Sayeed: “We at ISNA reiterate our position denouncing Holocaust denial, and we support any efforts toward teaching students the horrific consequences of this great human tragedy.”
SUCH EXPRESSIONS of Muslim sympathy are not confined to the US. Last December in Brussels, Imam Abduljalil Sajid of Britain, European representative of World Council of Muslims Interfaith Relations, opened his remarks at the first annual Gathering of European Muslim and Jewish Leaders organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and World Jewish Congress with a prayer dedicated to the victims of the Carmel fire in December.
I recognize that much remains to be achieved in Jewish- Muslim relations and, as the chilling Hamas and Fatah statements make clear, there is still a great deal of anti- Semitism emanating from the Arab and Muslim worlds.
However, we would be doing both our Muslim friends and allies and our own Jewish community a grave disservice if we failed to point out the growing willingness of Muslim leaders to denounce anti-Semitism and speak out in support of Jews. .
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding has instituted programs like the Weekend of Twinnings of Mosques and Synagogues that have brought tens of thousands of Muslims and Jews in 22 countries together for joint activities that celebrate commonalities and recognize differences. Something exceedingly important is happening here, and it would be a tragic mistake if we were to forgo this historic opportunity to advance relations with moderate Muslims who oppose violence and stand with people of all backgrounds – including Jews – in opposing terrorism.
I am proud that the World Jewish Congress is working closely with us in this effort, as are hundreds of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis and many thousands of Jews around the world, including Israel.
The tragic killings in Itamar remind us how inextricably the destiny of the individual Jew is intertwined with the fate of all Jews. The tragic events in Japan stress the theme of human interdependence. Even when we do not share a common faith, we share a common fate, and our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other. This is the spirit and substance we bring to the Muslim-Jewish alliance; Muslim and Jewish leaders standing up for one another and affirming in one voice, “Bigotry against any Jew or any Muslim is an attack on all Muslims and all Jews.”
The writer is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and vice president of the World Jewish Congress.