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February 21, 2003 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-21

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Build Bridges On A Firm Foundation


f your intent is to try to forge better relations
between Jews and Muslims, beware of engaging in
private dialogues until you're sure the other person
shares your values about human life.
Be sure they have the courage to denounce terrorism of
any ilk and suicide bombings against Jews in particular. And
be sure they have the conviction to appreciate why such vio-
lence is wrong.
Don't be duped.
So says Yehudit Barsky, director of the Division on Middle
East and International Terrorism for the American Jewish
Committee, one of American Jewry's top watchdog and
advocacy groups.
And her advice is worth heeding.
It's laudable to try to build bridges of
understanding and new friendships with
Muslims, who have religious ties to some of
Judaism's most sacred sites. But, as Bars
advises, seek out mainstream Muslims.
Avoid fundamentalist radicals, known as
Islamists, who account for only 10 percent
ROBERT A. of all Muslims but unfortunately make up a
higher percentage of their leadership. And
be sure the standards of those you approach,
or who approach you, mirror yours.
In some cases, they will. Sheik Muhammad Hisham
Kabbani of the Fenton-based Islamic Supreme Council of
America's spiritual retreat is on record blasting the brand of
terror Israelis know all too well. Barsky confirms that Sheik
Kabbani's group recognizes the common heritage of Islam,
Christianity and Judaism.
Conflict will mar other cases. For example, Islamists will
justify suicide bombings as a byproduct of Israel's forced
military occupation of parts of the West Bank and Gaza, or
as a legitimate means to break the will of so-called Israeli
"What's the point of having a dialogue with someone who
essentially condones the murder of Jews?" asks Barsky. "You
dishonor our community by sitting with someone
who says that. You also send the message to moderate
Muslims who might speak up and condemn terror-
ism publicly that our standards are not the same as
those of mainstream religion, where everyone roundly
condemns murder. We don't want to send that mes-
I concur: It's wrong to forsake moral standards for
superficial ties.

Barsky, who is fluent in Arabic, has been based at the
AJCommittee's national headquarters since 1999. Her job
involves tracking militants via newspaper coverage, their
writings and speeches, interviews and other informational
pipelines. But she strives for a balanced outlook.
"I come to this job with the very basic thing your parents .
teach you when you are very short: that there are good peo-
ple and there are bad people," Barsky says.
"If someone says they're a leader of the Muslim communi-
ty," she says, "you need to use the same standards in dealing
with that person as you would in dealing with a leader of
our community. If murder is wrong in Judaism, then mur-
der is wrong in Islam. If suicide is wrong in Judaism, then it
is wrong in Islam."
She cites the case of Boruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born
surgeon living in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.
He fired 100 bullets from an automatic weapon at Muslim
worshippers in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs during
Ramadan in 1994, killing 29.
"We openly condemned him," Barsky says.
She expects the same reaction from Muslim leaders when
a follower of Islam commits an atrocity.
Instead, Islamists like Al Qaida terrorist Osama bin Laden
and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Barsky says, "have basi-
cally turned a mainstream religion upside down, inside out
and on its head — and are abusing it for the purpose of rad-
ical causes.
"This is definitely a very difficult area, like a minefield."
The world backdrop is disheartening. The 28-month
Palestinian battle against Israel has taken the lives of at least
736 Israelis and foreign civilians, including four Israeli sol-
diers killed last Shabbat morning when they unwittingly
tripped a roadside land mine as they drove their tank in
northern Gaza.

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Barsky confirms that metro Detroit has the third highest con-
centration of people of Arab descent in the world. She also
confirms that some local mosques are hostile to Israel -
and to Jews.
"That's why I feel great empathy for your communi-
ty here," she says. "You usually are in the middle of it.
You really have an intense concentration of the Muslim
community here, which you don't have in, say,
California or New York."
Leaders with a double standard have swayed many
Muslims, her research has found. Such leaders will
Sharon a
renounce terrorism when speaking to Jews, but in the
comfort of their mosques will preach a radical theology
Sharing Insights
branding Jews as evil — descendants of apes and pigs.
A thoughtful, articulate woman with a keen sense of
of mine calls it the Tasser Arafat' effect," Barsky
Judaism's commitment to tikkun olam, to repairing the
one thing in English and something else in
world, Barsky visited the Detroit Jewish News last week. The
former Anti-Defamation League research analyst was in the
I agree with her that a conversation will be fruitless if you
area for two days to meet with lay and professional leaders .
can't start with acceptance that martyrdom in the terrorist sense
of the AJCommittee's Detroit Metropolitan Chapter.
is repulsive. Barsky gives this scenario: "People will say, 'This is
Sharona Shapiro, executive director of the Bloomfield
the best person we can have a dialogue with right now.' I
Township-based chapter, accompanied Barsky to our
say, 'OK, maybe right now is not the time for a dia-
Southfield offices before taking the New Yorker to Bishop
somebody who can't condemn straightforwardly
International Airport in Flint to catch an outbound flight.
that's what it is.'"
"She updated us on the nuances of the rhetoric and of
To have a robust dialogue that brings change, she says, both
who the players are and what's happening," Shapiro says. "It
sides must embrace, upfront, the history, background, context
wasn't something inflammatory, just basic information."
and impact of what's at issue.
"I think people might have the impression I deal with just
I also see worth in talking to fence-sitting Muslims who
what's nasty, so think I've become very, very extreme,"
a willingness to significantly change the prism that
Barsky says. "That's not the case. But I'm not an in-the-
their view of the world.
clouds dreamer, either."


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