Forum Weighs Strategies For Jewish-Muslim Talks

By Eric J. Greenberg

Published October 22, 2004, issue of October 22, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In an emerging national conversation about the future of Jewish-Muslim relations, several experts this week debated the appropriate conditions under which Jewish community officials should break bread with Islamic groups.

The issue is a growing concern for Jewish leaders across the country as Islamic groups are increasing their visibility in national and local politics in the wake of September 11 attacks, which increased the mistrust between Jews and Muslims.

The October 17 forum, sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, centered on a new study by Raquel Ukeles, a doctoral student in Jewish and Islamic studies at Harvard University who is critical of the current standards used by American Jewish defense organizations in determining which Muslims should be included in dialogue.

Citing her report, “Locating the Silent Muslim Majority: Policy Recommendations for Improving Jewish-Muslim Relations in the United States,” Ukeles told a gathering of about 75 Jewish community representatives from across the country that they have a rare, small window of opportunity to take some risks and engage Muslim organizations that were previously deemed unacceptable for dialogue.

At issue is whether to dialogue with moderate Muslims who are linked to organizations or coalitions that do not renounce terrorism against Israel or that are associated with terror-funding groups — a policy dubbed a “secondary boycott.”

Ukeles argued that by limiting the number of conversation partners, the Jewish community is missing a historic chance to build relationships with the next generation of American Jewish Muslim leaders, who see the Jewish community as their bridge to American society.

She recommended a two-pronged strategy: that national Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee continue to guard against American Muslims who actively work with terrorist organizations, but local interfaith and community relations experts take greater risks and focus on building bridges.

David Gad-Harf, executive director of Detroit’s Jewish Community Council, agreed with Ukeles, citing his criterion: “The [Muslim] organization must not condone terrorism, accuse Israel of being a terrorist state or make anti-Jewish statements. This criterion would not necessarily apply to large coalitions.”

But Yehudit Barsky, director of AJCommittee’s Middle East and international terrorism department, warned that Ukeles’s approach is fraught with problems — most importantly, validating and empowering Muslim groups linked to terror, who use the Jewish dialogue to seek legitimacy in the wider community.

“What kind of Islam are they promoting? That should be the criteria,” Barsky said. Besides renouncing terrorism against Israel, she also pointed to their views on women and democracy.

Barsky said that now is the time to reach out to emerging Muslim organizations such as the Muslim American Congress and American Islamic Forum for Democracy, instead of existing national Islamic groups that have proven links to groups that fund terrorism in the Middle East.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • 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.
  • 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.