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By Maha Elgenaidi, Founder & Innovation Director [Bio]
May 18, 2022
It saddens me to no end that the human rights abuses against the Palestinian people continue to escalate and spark new cycles of horrific violence that impact both Palestinians and Israelis. In just the past few months, we have seen Israeli military attacks on worshippers at Masjid Al-Aqsa during Ramadan which injured more than a hundred Palestinians and raids on Palestinian cities that have killed dozens of Palestinians. We have also seen a surge of shooting and stabbing attacks on Israelis that have claimed the lives of eleven people. And just days ago, a beloved Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was shot and killed while she was reporting on Israeli raids in Jenin. This escalating violence, along with Israel’s enactment of new laws that further restrict the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and a new wave of evictions, have made prospects for peace seem all the more distant.
This devolving situation between Palestinians and Israelis has also contributed to a growing rift right here in the United States between prominent Muslim American and Jewish American organizations, with the latest statement by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) comparing one of the largest Muslim American advocacy organizations, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), with White nationalist extremists. The head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, even suggests that CAIR is partly responsible for growing anti-Semitism, even though that prejudice is centuries old and rooted primarily in White Christian narratives about Jews. Scapegoating a Muslim American organization for growing anti-Semitism is extremely dangerous not only to CAIR staff but to all Muslim Americans. Therefore, we have joined with other Muslim American organizations and allies to object to ADL’s erroneous characterization of CAIR.
But division and acrimony are nothing new between organizations that seemingly stand on opposite sides of the spectrum on Palestinian-Israeli issues. ADL has a critique (now seven years old) of CAIR on its website. Meanwhile, CAIR is a signatory to a recent ban of ADL. The hostility between some of the major Jewish and Muslim American organizations has gone too far, for too long.
There are several other Jewish, Muslim, and Arab American organizations involved in this ongoing battle. While it’s being led by the heads of organizations, it is hurting the hundreds of people who work for them who are not monolithic, and don’t necessarily subscribe to or agree with the views reflected in their organizations’ statements against each other.
There seems to be no end to these conflicts which naturally draw the rest of us into them as we work with Jewish and Muslim American organizations on mutual interests and concerns.
The Muslim-led organization I work for, Islamic Networks Group (ING), does work on religious literacy in which we include Jewish Americans as a matter of course, and we also sponsor joint study by Muslims and Jews of the scriptures of our two traditions. Personally, I have also written and given speeches about Muslim-Jewish relations calling for greater understanding while promoting dialogue and persuasion instead of lobbing insults or banning each other, especially when we confront issues that divide us.
It bears acknowledging that the Jewish and Muslim American organizations that attack each other are all doing critical work outside of the issue of Israel and Palestine; they are countering bigotry here in the US and helping their communities maintain their identities and stay secure.
As these organizations represent the two largest religious minorities in the country, these attacks are counterproductive when we have so many shared challenges we must confront together, including the threats of White supremacy and Christian nationalism that have increased dramatically in recent years.
As an Egyptian-born Muslim American, this conflict is nothing new for me. I grew up in Egypt, which was at war with Israel since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. While still living in Egypt as a child in 1967, I vividly remember the air raids that had us running into bomb shelters during the Six-Day War. During all-day curfews, my father, who was a medical doctor, was often called into hospitals with special military escorts to care for the injured. Before and since then Egyptian nationals have felt the brunt of war with Israel, with the last one in 1973 that finally led to the peace agreement, but not without upheaval in Egypt, including American USAID that poured money into the country and the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat by Muslim extremists who were against peace with Israel, an event that has kept Egypt under the rule of military dictatorships since its independence.
All Arab nations have experienced some form of internal upheaval from wars with Israel. And now as an Egyptian, Arab, and Muslim American, I am still feeling the brunt of this conflict as we’re constantly pushed and pulled to reject dialogue and simply choose between the two sides.
And both sides are all too eager to pounce on anyone who is perceived as not being exactly in line with their expectations. If you frame Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians in a particular way that doesn’t satisfy certain Jewish organizations, you risk being called anti-Semitic by pro-Israel groups. And if you work with Jewish groups who are pro-Israel—meaning they support the existence of Israel while supporting a Palestinian state—then you’re considered a traitor to Palestinian causes.
Many Muslim and Jewish American organizations and individuals have wrongly suffered attacks from organizations in their own community, labeled as traitors or persona non grata by their own people or by the other “camp.” All this has hurt a lot of innocent people without helping one bit to resolve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis!
The Way Forward
Living in the United States, in relative freedom and comfort, affords us many possibilities to choose from. If we are to choose the hard path of making peace with our neighbors, then the organizations engaged in this battle need to drop the rhetorical weapons they’re wielding against each other and come together to learn what the other side considers anti-Semitic and Islamophobic, something I am hoping to organize myself within my own circles.
And if you are advocating for Palestine or for Israel, then for the sake of our own and all future generations, consider coming together to discuss the way forward for peace between the two peoples.
Invite intermediaries who can help mediate among Jews, Israelis, Arabs, and Muslims who are directly impacted by the continuing conflict. We all have a stake in that conflict because what happens in the Middle East impacts relationships here between Muslim American and Jewish American individuals, organizations, and communities, relationships that I for one will not compromise because there is too much at stake for the good we have already done together in countering bigotry towards our two communities, and the good we can do together in the future.
I am comforted by the fact that the first group of lawyers to come out in defense of Muslims during the 2017 travel ban were Jews, and that the head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt himself (the same person who just condemned CAIR), said he would declare himself a Muslim if the government started registering Muslims.
I am also comforted by the fact that one of the first groups to stand against the surge in anti-Semitic attacks were Muslim Americans, including Muslims who helped restore Jewish cemeteries that had been vandalized, Muslims who worked to defuse the hostage situation at Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and CAIR itself, which has repeatedly commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day and called for united action against anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia and White supremacy.
These are just a few examples of how well we can work together, which we can extend to helping create either a two-state solution or one democratic nation-state to bring peace to both Israelis and Palestinians.
If you can imagine peace between Israelis and Palestinians as I do, then it is possible to achieve that peace. It may help you focus on the welfare of all our children if you consider the alternative to peace that we’re witnessing in conflicts, wars, and destruction all over the world. Let’s show the world that we can make peace with one another despite our differences. If we can’t do this in America, how can we expect the people in Palestine and Israel to resolve the conflict that has for so long dominated their lives?
All our faiths teach us that peace is both possible and necessary. The opportunity for peacemaking, starting with our nearest neighbors, is right within our grasp.
ING offers panels to schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions from our Interfaith Speakers Bureau (IFSB) with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim Americans who introduce their respective faiths and discuss a variety of topics while modeling interfaith understanding and diversity. Our “Muslim-Jewish Relations in the U.S.” panel focuses on our common interests as Americans, including maintaining our religious identities as two of the largest religious minorities in the country and addressing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.