In the wake of rising anti-Semitic incidents in France and elsewhere, there is an element of hope: Jewish and Muslim groups are exchanging ideas, books and films in an effort to combat this longstanding prejudice.
The rise in anti-Semitism, highlighted by murderous attacks on Jewish targets in Paris and Copenhagen earlier this year, suggests a looming concern on the global stage, and a conflict between elements of radical Islam and Jewish people. But in several corners of the world, Jews and Muslims are working together to combat the scourge, and those involved say they’re seeing positive results:
— On the afternoon of April 19, at the King Fahad Mosque on the west side of Los Angeles, dozens of Muslims gathered for a “multi-faith harmony program” that featured Jewish and Muslim “reflections” of Passover, the Jewish holy day celebrating the Exodus. Among speakers at the program was William Harvey, a 91-year-old Jewish survivor of the Nazi-led Holocaust.
— In Israel, where 1.4 million Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population, Muslims and Jews are sitting down regularly in small group discussions organized by the Interfaith Encounter Association, or IEA, sharing experiences and gaining an understanding of one another’s lives. Association officials say the discussions help combat anti-Jewish feelings among some Muslims residing in Israel, and claim that if more of the 11 million people who live in the region can be encouraged to participate in such groups, “we can expect to see overall change” in attitudes and, perhaps, a move towards peace, as founder Yehuda Stolov, an Israeli academic, put it.
— And in Turkey, Morocco, the Persian Gulf and Iran, a French-based group called the Aladdin Project is broadcasting Arabic-, Turkish- and Persian-language versions of a landmark 10-hour documentary, “Shoah,” to help combat Holocaust-denial in the region. According to executive director Abe Radkin, the effort was so successful that Iran’s official news agency published a lengthy report claiming the group was a Zionist front.
These admittedly modest interfaith efforts, bringing Jews and Muslims together, may seem inconsequential. But a key observer said such measures are essential to building understanding in the face of a global problem.
“The majority of anti-Semites in the world happen to be non-Jews,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. “Looking purely at anti-Semitism, (if we) want them to regard it as a social malady and a moral wrong and even as a threat to the fabric of society, it’s non-Jews who have to be convinced.”
Fifty years after the Roman Catholic Church’s “Nostra Aetate,” in which Pope Paul VI declared Christ’s crucifixion “cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today” opened the way for reconciliation between Christians and Jews. It is through outreach to the general Muslim population that advocates believe another potential pool of anti-Semitism can be drained.
The issue of anti-Semitism is, clearly, a troubling subject for many Muslims as well as for Jews. In its 2014 Global 100 survey, the Anti-Defamation League found that 200 million people, or 74 percent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa, agreed with enough anti-Jewish statements in a survey to be considered anti-Semitic. At the same time, anti-Semitism is not limited to Muslims or to the Middle East. The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg noted this year that, “In Greece, a recent survey found that 69 percent of adults hold anti-Semitic views, and the fascists of the country’s Golden Dawn party are open in their Jew-hatred.”
In March, the Pew Research Center reported harassment of Jews “reached a seven-year high” in 77 countries around the world during 2013, long before this year’s attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. The 2014 National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students, conducted by Trinity University and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, found that 54 percent of those surveyed said they’d either witnessed or received anti-Semitic attacks on campus.
Several Muslim scholars note that anti-Semitism is not an Islamic imperative. Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said Islam teaches its followers to judge people’s behavior as individuals, and not assign responsibility based on group affiliation.
“To collectively express hatred for Jews is not only illogical and immoral, but is a form of extreme bigotry,” Moosa said. “Those who engage in anti-Semitism are violating Qur’anic teachings and the practice of Islamic teachings, per se.”
Noting that many of the anti-Semitic attacks in France, Sweden and other European countries are traced back to radicalized young Muslim immigrants, Afridi said, “It comes from being marginalized, a whole historical context of an immigrant community being marginalized.”
Dialogue and understanding are vital to stemming the tide of anti-Semitism, Rabbi Adlerstein said. “The interfaith alliances … are crucial,” he declared.
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