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Jews and Muslims must stand together and refuse to be enemies | COMMENTARY

In the more than 15 years that each of us — a Jew and a Muslim — has been involved in the sacred work of building ties of cooperation between grassroots American Jews and Muslims, we have found that whenever spasms of violence erupt in Israel-Palestine, even Muslims and Jews who have become friends and allies tend to pull back and avoid talking to each other. They do this out of concern that if they share their feelings about the conflict, they may jeopardize the relationship they have built.

What is different this time is that dialogue once avoided, is now taking place in some communities. The ties of mutual affection we have built and the sense of solidarity and common purpose we have achieved has given us increasing confidence that we can have that difficult conversation about Israel-Palestine, even at an awful moment like the one we are presently experiencing, and come out of that dialogue with our friendships intact. Indeed, we have reached this point because a critical mass of American Muslims and Jews have come to understand that strengthening ties between our communities is not only morally uplifting but is crucial to ensuring our well-being in the face of the recent sharp rise of white supremacy, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in America.

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A central facet of our Muslim-Jewish alliance building has been living out the credo that we will be there to stand up for each other if either community is the target of incitement or physical attack. In 2017, when the Trump administration instituted its infamous “Muslim ban,” American Jews rushed to the airports to demand the release from custody of Muslims being held there, and American Jewish organizations fought hard to get the Muslim ban overturned. In 2018, when a neo-Nazi gunman slaughtered 11 Jews at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue, leaders of the Muslim community in Pittsburgh rushed to the synagogue to offer their support, and Muslims across the U.S. raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the shattered Pittsburgh Jewish community.

Jews and Muslims, the two largest minority faith communities in America, have become staunch allies in an ongoing battle to fight the spread of bigotry and to the cause of preserving democracy and pluralism in America. Despite our very real differences over the rights and wrongs of Israel-Palestine and what is the optimum solution to the conflict, we are determined not to allow what is happening over there to imperil our success in strengthening Muslim-Jewish relations where we live.

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As a testament to how far we have come, we now see national Muslim-Jewish organizations like the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom issuing a statement that goes beyond simply calling for an end to the violence in Israel-Palestine, but urging the Biden administration to call on Israel to end displacement of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. NewGround, an eclectic body of Jewish and Muslim young people, argues that “as we struggle with our fear and grief, it is critical to struggle out loud and together.”

Indeed, more and more American Jews and Muslims are coming to understand that Israel-Palestine can actually be a cause that unites, rather than divides us, if we resolve to work together to support efforts by nongovernmental organizations over there focused on saving lives, improving the quality of life for both peoples, and strengthening human ties between Israelis and Palestinians. Making common cause will have the effect of further buttressing our relationship on this side of the ocean and thwart the efforts by forces who would use our differences over Israel-Palestine as a wedge to pull us apart here in the U.S.

Having said that, we remain clear eyed that the conflict in Israel-Palestine is spilling over violently into the U.S., involving members of our own communities or malign outside forces intent on driving a wedge between us. Anti-Semitic hate crimes are proliferating. Pro-Palestine demonstrators badly beat a Jewish man in Times Square, New York, while a mosque in Brooklyn was desecrated with graffiti. At this fraught moment, Muslims and Jews need to come together and lead in de-escalating the tensions in our respective communities. What is needed now, as never before, is a willingness by people on both sides to reach across the psychic barricades, look each other in the eye, acknowledge each other’s pain, and declare: We refuse to be enemies.

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Sabeeha Rehman (sabeeharehmannyc@gmail.com) and Walter Ruby (walterruby@gmail.com) are co-authors of “We Refuse To Be Enemies. How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship At A Time” (Arcade Publishing, 2021).

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