MIM: The AJC announced that they are 'Monitoring terrorist groups to vet potential partners for Muslim - Jewish dialouge'
1992-1995 Urging action in Bosnia
In a series of letters and public statements from 1992 to 1995 and in numerous meetings with U.S. and foreign officials, AJC urges NATO intervention in Yugoslavia in order to prevent further mass killing of Bosnian Muslims and help bring an end to the continued violence in the region.
In an "Open Letter to World Leaders," AJC and two sister agencies lament the "the existence of Serbian death camps in which humans, forcibly incarcerated because of their ethnicity, are once again being systematically slaughtered" and urge the United States and the international community to act without delay.
AJC's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) plays a vital role in strengthening the human rights voice within the international community. In 1993, JBI director Felice Gaer leads a fact-finding mission to the region to document ethnic cleansing and related human rights abuses, including importantly sexual violence against women. In the following year, Gaer travels with the United Nations Association to assess official UN peacekeeping efforts in all parts of the area. JBI works extensively with the UN to ensure that those who perpetrated crimes in the former Yugoslavia be brought to justice and to help educate the public on the complex legal and ethical issues involved in this historic endeavor. Its involvement with the UN War Crimes Tribunal dealing with Bosnia and neighboring countries extends to this day.
AJC helps to build and set the agendas of a number of powerful coalitions around the issue of Bosnia. From 1993-1995, AJC and JBI issue numerous letters and statements with coalitions of diverse major religious and human rights organizations, laying out specific proposals for action.
1993 Condemning scapegoating
In the wake of the March 9 car bomb at the World Trade Center, AJC issues a statement warning against a potential backlash of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence in the United States. "Those who would implicate an entire people or religion because of the accusations against a few add grievous insult to murderous injury. Therefore, we call on all Americans of goodwill to denounce any form of ethnic, racial or religious scapegoating."
1993 Expressing solidarity with Muslim victims of hate in Germany
AJC executive director David Harris and director of community services Eugene DuBow travel to Germany for the sole purpose of attending the June 3 funeral at a mosque in Cologne of five Muslim victims of the hate-inspired firebombing of a house in Solingen a few days earlier.
"I am neither a Turk nor a German nor a Muslim, but an American Jew profoundly concerned with the evil of crimes inspired by hatred based on so-called 'differentness' or 'otherness' wherever they may occur," says Harris in his public comments. "I stand with you today on behalf of the American Jewish Committee…. As we are taught in Judaism, we are all - all of us - created in God's image."
1993 Promoting Muslim-Jewish understanding in the United States
AJC co-sponsors the first ever national conference on "Muslims and Jews in North America: Past, Present and Future" with the Institute for Islamic-Judaic Studies at the University of Denver in October. Academics and experts from major American universities, including Princeton, Howard, Syracuse, Colorado, and Syracuse, as well as from Tel Aviv University, join for groundbreaking discussions.
"It is time for Muslims and Jews alike to speak out boldly and honestly to each other, to come to know and understand each other as people and not as spiritual abstractions," says Rabbi A. James Rudin, AJC interreligious director, at the conference.
1994 Promoting Muslim-Jewish understanding in the United States
AJC sponsors a second national conference to foster understanding between Muslims and Jews entitled "Women, Families, and Children in Islamic and Judaic Traditions" at the University of Denver. The conference focuses on issues of commonality between the religions and cultures.
[A third national conference, however, is cancelled when irreconcilable differences emerge over a spate of deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.]
1995 Condemning scapegoating
Following the April 19 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, AJC issues a statement warning against any prejudgments about responsibility for the attack and condemns incidents of violence toward Arab and Muslim Americans.
1995 Forging contacts with the Muslim world
AJC becomes the first Jewish group to be invited on a diplomatic visit to Kuwait to meet with the foreign minister and other officials. Contact with Kuwait dates back to the Gulf War, when AJC vigorously supported U.S. efforts to oppose Iraqi occupation. In 1994, AJC had hosted a meeting with visiting members of Kuwait's National Assembly to discuss concerns about Kuwaitis missing since the Gulf War and suspected of being held in Iraq.
In 1995, AJC also becomes the first American Jewish group to visit the moderate Arab states of Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain and encourage the growing dialogue with the West.
Jason Isaacson, director of AJC's Office of Government and International Affairs, maintains close, ongoing contact with high-level members of the government of these and other moderate Arab and Muslim states.
1995-present Engaging in dialogue with Muslim influentials
Starting in 1995, AJC becomes a frequent stop for visiting delegations of Muslim clergy and Arab intellectuals on U.S. State Department-sponsored visits to the United States to study American pluralism.
1996 Aiding Muslim refugees
AJC takes a special interest in the welfare of a former senior Muslim government official forced to flee with his family from Sudan, offering needed aid for resettlement.
1996-2000 Forging contacts with the Muslim world
AJC representatives are invited to address the Diplomatic Institute of the Egyptian foreign ministry on a number of occasions to discuss Arab-Israeli relations and the status of Muslim-Jewish dialogue worldwide.
1999 Promoting Muslim-Jewish understanding in the United States
AJC holds meetings to launch an important relationship with the Islamic Supreme Council of America, a moderate American Muslim organization headed by Sheikh Kabbani.
1999 Aiding Muslims in Kosovo
A high-level AJC delegation travels to Macedonia at the start of the Kosovar refugee crisis to bear witness and show solidarity and support for Muslims forced to flee their homes. AJC draws attention to the plight of the refugees through ads in The New York Times depicting the children of Kosovo. Over $1.2 million is raised for humanitarian aid, which AJC directs in its entirety toward alleviating the plight of the refugees.
AJC publicly supports NATO's action against Serbian troops as a necessary last means of defending Albanian Muslims persecuted in Kosovo. In ads in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and New Republic, AJC states: "With determination and courage, NATO weighed the difficult choices and chose to act - because it was right, because the alternative would give tyrants a green light to terrorize civilian populations and destroy the fabric of international order."
1999 Forging contact between Israel and the Muslim world
Due to its high standing and legitimacy in the Muslim world, AJC is able to arrange the first-ever meetings between the Israeli and Malaysian and Israeli and Tunisian foreign ministers. (Israel does not have formal relations or contacts with either of these countries.) Not infrequently, AJC has served to help facilitate communication between Muslim nations and Israel or Jewish leaders.
1999 Providing Turkish earthquake relief
Following the devastating earthquake in Turkey in the summer of 1999, AJC raises $800,000 for humanitarian relief. The money is used to rebuild a school and construct a clinic in the areas of Adapazari and Duzce - both devastated by the earthquake. AJC executive director David Harris joins Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the dedication of the school.
"We, the Jewish people, have chosen to stand with you, our friends, in your darkest hours, just as you have chosen to stand with us on more than one difficult occasion in our own history," says Harris. "We have chosen to be friends, not only on the nice days but on the rainy days as well."
2000 Forging contacts with the Muslim world
AJC and its partner organization, the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, go on an historic joint visit to Indonesia to meet with President Abdurrahman Wahid and other top officials to discuss a possible opening of lines of communication with Israel and the advancement of interreligious dialogue, among other pressing subjects.
2001 Promoting Muslim-Jewish understanding
AJC's Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Institute for Interreligious Understanding releases two pathbreaking volumes designed to advance understanding between Muslims and Jews worldwide. One of the books, entitled Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims, by Professor Reuven Firestone, a scholar of Islam at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, presents Judaism to Muslim readers.
The second book, by Muslim scholar Khalid Duran, subtitled An Introduction to Islam for Jews, seeks to enhance Jewish understanding of Islam.
The books are praised by many experts in the field, including the Crown Prince of Jordan, who calls it "a courageous initiative to promote understanding, wisdom and brotherhood between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the land, which is holy to both of them - and around the world."
2001 Advancing Muslim-Jewish Relations in Germany
AJC's Berlin Office hosts a pathbreaking meeting with Turkish politicians and leaders of major national Turkish social and religious organizations in Germany to discuss common challenges of the Turkish and Jewish communities.
2001 Condemning scapegoating
Following the attack on America by Osama bin Laden's terrorist forces, AJC issues a statement condemning stereotyping and racist action.
The statement reads: "The catastrophic terror inflicted on American soil must not become an occasion for stereotyping or scapegoating.
"Jewish history makes us painfully aware that, too often, times of crisis provide opportunities for expressions of bigotry.
"An entire people or religion should never be implicated because of the heinous crimes committed by some of its members. We call on all Americans of goodwill to denounce any form of ethnic, racial or religious intolerance and reaffirm the American spirit of pluralism and openness."
Compiled by Rebecca Neuwirth, October 11, 2001
Leaders Split On Overtures To Muslims' Organizations
Divisions Emerge As Backlash Brews
By JULIA GOLDMAN
Reports of anti-Muslim incidents following the September 11 terror attacks are causing a split among American Jewish community leaders, with local Jewish organizations joining calls for tolerance and unity while some national Jewish leaders are urging caution in joining alliances that may include groups opposed to Israel.
Initial reports of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias surfaced almost immediately after attacks, which claimed thousands of lives and have been blamed on the Afghanistan-based Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden. Reports have included verbal harassment, threats and a handful of physical attacks on individuals and religious institutions.
Expressions of concern from local Jewish community leaders around the country were almost as instantaneous. In Mobile, Ala., the president of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, Irving Silver, said that one of the first things he did after hearing of the terrorist attack was to call the local police to check that Mobile's small Arab-American community would receive additional security protection.
Similarly, Michael Rapp, executive director of the JCRC in Cincinnati, thought at once of his contacts in the city's Arab-American community. By mid-afternoon, he said, the regional mosque and educational center had begun receiving threats.
The heads of several national Jewish organizations, however, warned late last week that poorly planned ecumenical efforts might unintentionally whitewash the image of those groups that they say have failed in the past adequately to condemn Middle East terrorism.
"We agree there should be expressions of unity among all Americans," Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the Forward.
"Our reservation is that we don't want to give credibility or credence to people who have been advocates for or had associations with an organization that had supported terrorism," said Mr. Hoenlein, whose organization speaks for 54 national Jewish groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League and Hadassah to the four main synagogue federations.
Mr. Hoenlein was referring to some half-dozen Muslim and Arab-American organizations that frequently advocate lessened U.S. support for Israel. Many Jewish community leaders believe those groups are involved in providing support for organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah that the State Department has designated as terrorist organizations.
The concerns of the national Jewish leaders are significant at a time when these Muslim and Arab-American groups — among them the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations — are gaining political and public influence. In only the latest example, the heads of those and several other prominent Muslim and Arab-American groups had been scheduled to meet with President Bush on September 11, before the day's tragic events forced a cancellation.
Several of those groups argued in a letter to the White House that afternoon, and in meetings with Justice and State Department officials September 13, that the administration should speak out quickly against discrimination and violence aimed at American Muslims and Arab-Americans, said Khalil Jahshan, president the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, or ADC.
Their concerns were answered with unusual rapidity. President Bush raised them in a nationally televised phone conversation on September 13 with New York Mayor Giuliani and New York Governor Pataki. "Our nation must be mindful," the president said, "that there are thousands of Arab-Americans in New York City who love the American flag as much as the three of us do."
At a press conference the same day, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "We must not descend to the level of those who perpetrated Tuesday's violence by targeting individuals because of their race, their religion or their national origin."
Leaders of national Jewish organizations stressed that they strongly oppose stereotyping and assigning blame to any ethnic group or religion, even for the worst terrorist attack in American history.
The Jewish community and "like-minded groups have always stood clearly, courageously and unequivocally against any form of defamation, especially group defamation," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
But, Mr. Harris said, "one of the lines we don't cross is a line that takes us into terrain of dealing with people who defend our worst enemies."
In a well-reported incident last year, a founder and current board member of AMC, Abdurahman Alamoudi, roused an anti-Israel rally outside the White House with chants of "We are ALL supporters of Hamas.... I am also a supporter of Hezbollah."
Calls to AMC, CAIR and AMA seeking comment were not returned last week. But in interviews conducted earlier this year, officials at several Muslim organizations said Jewish groups hold them to impossibly high standards of support for Israel. They claimed the pro-Israel lobby is targeting them in order to exclude Muslims from American political discourse.
AMC's president, Aly Abuzaakouk, has been cited by some Jewish groups for statements defending Palestinian attacks on Israelis. In one statement last June, often cited by Jewish critics, Mr. Abuzaakouk said: "People under occupation have the right to resist occupation. That's what the Palestinians are doing."
Speaking to the Forward last summer, Mr. Abuzaakouk said: "I said that and I stand for it, but this is not a carte blanche approval of terrorist actions."
Muslim and Arab-American leaders continued to draw that distinction in the wake of this month's terrorist attacks on the United States. "Any attack which targets civilians is reprehensible," said a spokesman for ADC, Hussein Ibish, interviewed on September 13. "The policy of an organization to hijack an airplane and fly it into a building is wrong," he told the Forward.
But he went on to say, in apparent reference to Israel: "The policy of a government to assassinate political leaders and to shoot demonstrators is wrong."
Despite these differences, Muslim and Arab-American groups have sought dialogue and cooperation with Jewish organizations for several years, usually with little success. AMC's Mr. Abuzaakouk said he believed American Jews and Muslims should try to work together on domestic issues by developing a mutual agenda based on "American issues and American ideals" and shared concepts of justice. Earlier this year, however, his participation in a conservative group called the Alliance for Marriage prompted the resignation of an Orthodox Jewish participant.
Yehudit Barsky, a staff expert on terrorism at AJCommittee, characterized the efforts by Muslim groups to open a dialogue with Jewish groups as tantamount to saying: "Yes, we want to have a dialogue, but we also believe in armed struggle." That, she said, "runs counter to dialogue."
On a local level, however, the question of evaluating coalition partners can be more nuanced and complex.
Southeastern Michigan, for example, is home to one of the nation's largest Arab-American populations — some 250,000 to 300,000 strong, according to some estimates.
The Arab community and the Jewish community "live in the same neighborhoods, we're colleagues at work, we interact with each other," said Rabbi Marla Feldman, assistant director of the Detroit Jewish Community Relations Council. "In our community we're not just talking about national coalition leadership. We have day-to-day relationships with people."
The Detroit JCRC works closely with an Arab-American community center and social service agency, a Chaldean — or Iraqi Christian — community council and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. The Jewish council has also been approached by Dr. Yahya Basha, a Detroit-area radiologist who is the national president of the American Muslim Council.
Dr. Basha told the Forward he was eager to work with the Jewish community on civil- and human-rights issues, such as racial and ethnic profiling and federal funding for faith-based organizations.
As ethnic minorities in the United States, Dr. Basha said, "We need to improve relations and see each other as humanly as possible."
The leaders of JCRC and the local AMC chapter held several discussions, but the interactions have not moved beyond preliminary conversations.
Balancing the need for broad-based community relations with the need for a strong stand in support of Israel, said Rabbi Feldman, is "always a tension and a fine line that we walk."