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February 19, 1993 - Image 49

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-02-19

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Talks Become A Priority

rimarily because of
differences over
Israel, American
Muslims present the
American Jewish commun-
ity with what is probably it's
thorniest problem in the
arena of intergroup rela-
With the number of
American Muslims, though,
now up to between four and
six million — almost the
same size as the "core"
American Jewish commun-
ity —building bridges bet-
ween Muslims and Jews has
become a priority for some
Jewish community organ-
Jewish leaders in Detroit,
New York, Chicago and Los
Angeles — all cities with
large Muslim and Arab con-
centrations — have stepped
out front on the issue.
This week, the National
Jewish Community Rela-
tions Advisory Council took
a major step toward
heightening the dialogue by
hosting a forum featuring
the president of the Ameri-
can Muslim Council. At the
same time, NJCRAC leaders
attending the group's an-
nual Washington meeting
approved a 1993-94 Joint
Program Plan proposition
calling for closer relations
between American Jews and
Both actions constituted
firsts for NJCRAC, the na-
tional umbrella agency for
local federation community
relations councils. "This is a
watershed event, an impor-
tant breakthrough," said
David Gad-Harf, executive
director of the Metropolitan
Detroit Jewish Community
In his talk, Mahmoud Abu-
Saud, the Muslim council
president, bluntly described
what he said were the
"harsh realities" of current
Muslim-Jewish relations.
Jews, he maintained, often
display "a sense of trium-
phalism that needs to be
controlled" when dealing
with Muslims. He said Jews
and their Christian dialogue
partners have resisted
Muslim participation,
"Jewish writers" tend to
focus on Muslim extremists
rather than the faith's more
mainstream elements, and
that most Jews "blatantly
discriminate against
All this, he continued, has
engendered "a lot of ill-
feelings toward the Jews" on
the part of Muslims, par-


A NJCRAC forum
underscores just
how far great a
distance separates
the two




Artwork from Newsday by Ned Levine. Copyright* 1992, Newsday. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

ticularly for black Muslims
— who see Jews as part of
the white power structure —
and Arab Muslims — who
are "very influenced by the
Palestinian question."
Mr. Gad-Harf acknowl-
edged that the Middle East
conflict has created "a near-
ly impenetrable brick wall"
between American Jews and
Muslims, who often view
each other as "virtually the
enemy." Efforts to establish
closer ties the past two or
three years have "have bare-
ly scratched the surface," he
However, Mr. Gad-Harf
emphasized that those ties
have been somewhat
strengthened by Jewish con-
demnation of atrocities
against Muslims in Bosnia-
Herzegovina, an issue that
the NJACRAC meeting also
took up.
In addition, he and other

speakers noted that Jews
and Muslims are coop-
erating more in such areas of
mutual religious concern as
state laws relating to food
preparation and burials
(Jewish and Islamic tradi-
tions in these two areas are
Deena Shapiro of the
Baltimore Jewish Council

Jews and Muslims
see each other as
"virtually the

David Gad-Hart

urged that an effort be made
to separate the often anti-
Semitic rhetoric of the black
Nation of Islam — the group
headed by the Rev. Louis
Farrakhan — from the

statements of the main-
stream American Muslim
movement. Dr. Abu-Saud
also sought to distance Rev.
Farrakhan from the Muslim
But just how far apart the
two communities are was
underscored by semantic dif-
ferences that arose at the
NJCRAC forum. At one one
point, the Egyptian-born Dr.
Abu-Saud chided his Jewish
audience for mispronounc-
ing Islam, the name of the
religion, and Muslims, the
term for followers of Islam.
The mispronunciations of
the Arabic words caused
them to take on negative
connotations, he explained.
In turn, Dr. Abu-Saud was
corrected for repeatedly say-
ing "Jew Americans." The
exchange led to a palpable
discomfort among the 150 or
so NJCRAC representatives
who attended the forum. ❑

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