Jacob Bender Is First Jew To Lead Chapter of Muslim Advocacy Group CAIR

Philly Activist Faces Hostilty From Jewish Establishment

courtesy of jacob bender

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 17, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Jacob Bender is set to be the voice of Philadelphia-area Muslims, to take on discrimination they encounter in workplace and in the public sphere, and to fight expressions of hate.

And his Jewish faith, Bender believes, can only help him do the job effectively.

“The Muslim community is under attack from Islamophobic forces, and it is the obligation and responsibility of people of good will to stand up and say this is a bigoted attack,” Bender said. “This is fully in keeping with my life goals.”

The Council on American Islamic Relations’ Philadelphia branch announced the appointment of Bender as its executive director October 15. Bender is the first Jew, and the first non-Muslim, to serve as director of a CAIR branch.

“The needs of the Muslim community are really the needs of any minority community in the United States,” said Iftekhar Hussein, chairman of CAIR-Philadelphia’s board of directors. “Jacob, being Jewish, understands that from his own background.”

An activist on Jewish-Muslim interfaith issues who has been involved in the past on the progressive end of Middle East peace advocacy, Bender will face two entirely different sets of expectations in his new position.

He will meet a local Muslim community expecting a non-Muslim to represent its needs just as well as would a member of their own faith.

He will also face a national Jewish leadership that has all but deemed CAIR off-limits for any dialogue.

In a lengthy document published in 2006, the Anti-Defamation League accused CAIR of holding extreme positions on Israel and of having links to individuals and groups that expressed support for terror organizations.

Jewish groups have also pointed in the past to the fact that CAIR was initially named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case of the Holy Land Foundation, an American-based charity charged with raising funds for Hamas. But in 2012 a circuit court ordered that the reference to CAIR be expunged.

“CAIR is far off the radar screen of the Jewish community,” said Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The Jewish community looked at their record and said, ‘We won’t work with this group.’”

While no official policy has been adopted, the Jewish community has excluded CAIR from all joint interfaith activities with the Muslim community and has focused on ties with the Islamic Society of North America and with local mosques and imams.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.