American Jews and Muslim interfaith groups resume efforts after Gaza battles

Multiple faith leaders admitted such efforts were strained by the latest battles in the Holy Land.

Pro-Israel supporters chant slogans during a rally in support of Israel outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, May 12, 2021. A larger debate is playing out nationwide among many U.S. Jews who are divided over how to respond to the violence and over the disputed boundaries for acceptable criticism of Israeli policies. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

(RNS) — Palestinians and Israelis have begun to clear the rubble and rebuild in the aftermath of the most recent conflict. Meanwhile, in the United States, many Muslim and Jewish groups are seeking to once again rebuild interfaith networks and resume efforts put on pause during the hostilities.

Multiple faith leaders who spoke to Religion News Service admitted that such efforts were strained by the latest battles in the Holy Land. Yet, Muslim and Jewish leaders in the United States have vowed to continue the efforts despite complications imposed by the geopolitics of the Middle East.

“While some in our American Muslim and Jewish communities wish to close down partnerships and see the other side as only an ally or adversary,” said Ari Gordon, American Jewish Committee director of Muslim-Jewish relations, “those who sit at the dialogue table are opening channels to express mourning over the loss of innocent life, lower tensions and help our communities better understand the other. “

Gordon said despite the conflict, such efforts were “firing on all cylinders.”

The 11-day war largely took place after Ramadan had ended, though early clashes occurred in April. Muslims around the world observe a daily fast from dawn till dusk during the month of Ramadan. The iftar meal meant to break the fast each day has become an important vehicle for interfaith dialogue in the American context. The AJC has participated in several such events and co-hosted them as well, with this year being no different.

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“As a religious minority, Jews understand the importance of making our faith and practices understood to the broader American public. As with antisemitism, anti-Muslim prejudice persists in the United States,” Gordon said.

The conflict produced new incidences of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate in the United States and globally, in ways that often overlapped. In an interview with CNN during the fighting, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was chided by correspondent Bianna Golodryga for antisemitic comments made on air. Elsewhere, Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo posted an apology Monday (May 24) for comments made on social media regarding Israel conducting a “genocide”; Ruffalo acknowledged that such comments could be used to justify antisemitism.

In the United Kingdom, both Jewish and Muslim groups reported increased hate directed at their respective faith groups during the recent war. Indeed, a 2019 study published by California State University San Bernardino found that anti-Muslim hate and antisemitism incidences tend to rise when there is a prolonged conflict in the Middle East that captures the public eye.

RELATED: Religion plays a role in the renewed conflict in Israel, but it may not be what you think

“The presidency of Donald Trump and the policies it pursued made it OK for some people to attack Muslims and the recent conflict in the Middle East has made it OK for some people to attack Jews,” said interfaith activist Anila Ali. “ We have forgotten, God meant Jerusalem for all of us. You can’t have Jerusalem without Jews, Muslims and Christians together.”

Ali, who is president of the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, said many of her Jewish friends “ went into hiding” during the conflict as they stayed off of social media to avoid the vitriol. She says in the aftermath of the war, the work of organizations like hers remains important.

The human costs from the conflict are difficult to calculate. More than 100 were wounded in Israel and over a dozen more killed, including at least one Israeli solider. More than 250 were killed in the combined Palestinian territories and over 2,000 wounded, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. A further 72,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have become internally displaced as a result of the conflict. The clashes were sparked after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in early May paved the way for several Arab families to be evicted from Eastern Jerusalem. 

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