2016-11-23 / Home

Jews and Muslims ramp up alliances in wake of Trump’s election


Yossi Klein Halevi (left) and Abdullah Antepli are co-directors of the Muslim Leadership Initiative. JTA photo by Netanel Tobias/Shalom Hartman Institute. Yossi Klein Halevi (left) and Abdullah Antepli are co-directors of the Muslim Leadership Initiative. JTA photo by Netanel Tobias/Shalom Hartman Institute. For years, whenever Jews and Muslims engaged in dialogue and activism, it usually concerned one issue: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, that appears to be changing. Regardless of what’s happening across the ocean, Jews and Muslims in the United States are joining together to fight for shared domestic concerns.

“It is a perhaps growing recognition that [the Israeli- Palestinian conflict] cannot define how American Jews and American Muslims relate to one another,” said Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, the Anti- Defamation League’s director of interreligious engagement. “The shared concerns we have about prejudice, about bias, about threats of violence, about disenfranchisement— these are the kinds of things that can bring us together.”

Amy Clayman, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey, said that the recent election and the current national climate have given new impetus to Jewish- Muslim relations. “Within the past week we have reached out to several members of the Muslim community with whom we have longstanding relationships to convene a conversation about ways in which we can continue to work together to combat Islamophobia and anti- Semitism throughout South Jersey,” she said.

Last week, the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America launched the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a group of religious and business leaders from both communities who will help draft domestic policy legislation and advocate on issues of shared concern. The ADL is planning to increase its efforts to provide support for legal and legislative efforts in the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry. And the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, which educates young Muslim leaders about Judaism and Israel, held a retreat titled “Living in Trump’s America: Muslim Vulnerability and Jewish Echoes.”

“What’s happened as a result of the poisonous atmosphere that Trump has created is that American Muslims are desperate for allies,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, the Muslim Leadership Initiative’s co-director. “And the argument that MLI has made to the Muslim community—which is that the Jews are, at least in theory, natural allies for embattled Muslims—now has become compelling.”

Both Jewish and Muslim groups have expressed worry about Trump’s rhetoric, and his supporters’ actions, over the course of the presidential campaign. Muslims have protested Trump’s 2015 call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, as well as his insinuations that Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks and have withheld information from law enforcement about terrorism. Anti- Muslim attacks rose during his campaign, and a string of attacks has followed his election.

And while Trump has not explicitly targeted Jews, Jewish groups raised alarm over his endorsements by white nationalists and online attacks on Jews by his supporters, along with his remarks late in the campaign that echoed anti-Semitic tropes. Jewish groups have protested his naming Stephen Bannon, a white nationalist, as his chief strategist. In addition, the ADL decried “a wave of anti-Semitic vandalism” following the election.

In the past, differing stances and sensitivities regarding Islamic extremism or Israeli military action drove groups apart. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he hopes Jewish groups will be more willing to work with his organization following Trump’s election. 

(Voice Editor David Portnoe contributed to this article.)

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