As Christian-Jewish relations have picked up in recent decades, Muslim-Jewish relations have apparently nose-dived. However, the animosity has nothing to do with the respective religious beliefs or cultural traditions, which have much in common, but is a tragic offspring of the territorial clash in the Middle East.
Behind the disturbing headlines, there are various initiatives, in the UK and other countries, dedicated to breaking down stereotypes and promoting reconciliation, peace and justice. Within the British Jewish community, among the most prominent advocates are the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians. In addition, World Jewish Aid and Tzedek (Justice/Charity) provide material support around the world to people in need regardless of origin or belief.
Increasingly, there are joint initiatives too. One of the earliest was a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group initiated in 1984, which met clandestinely in London for the first seven years. Today, there are numerous others, now able to meet openly, including the Arab-Jewish Forum. Jewish-Muslim contact is promoted by the Calamus Foundation, the Maimonides Foundation and Alif-Aleph. The latter group has recently published a very
useful survey, ‘A Mapping Report of Positive Contacts Between British Muslims and British Jews’ [ www.aauk.org ].
In the northern town of Manchester there is the Muslim-Jewish Association, while in the Stamford Hill neighbourhood of London, where the two communities live side-by-side, the Muslim-Jewish Forum brings together devout Muslims and Orthodox Jews. In line with their respective beliefs, the Forum is all male, but there are plans to initiate a women’s branch.
There is a Jewish & Muslim Youth Theatre Group at the Tricycle Theatre in London, an interfaith football programme for Muslim and Jewish children hosted by the Arsenal Football (soccer) Club and various other joint cultural, music and drama projects. The newly formed 60-10 Project commemorates both the Nazi holocaust and the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica.
The Three Faiths Forum fosters good relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims. One view is that such broader interfaith projects are less likely to be confrontational than groups of just Muslims and Jews. But experience doesn’t always bear this out.
Fierce differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are often played out on British campuses, where relations between Muslims and Jews are frequently the most fraught. However, this has sometimes given rise to grass-roots Muslim-Jewish dialogue groups and joint seminars, several of them women-only.
In Israel, there are over 130 groups active in the fields of peace, human rights and co-existence, including: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’tselem (human rights in the occupied territories), Children of Abraham, Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), Interfaith Encounter Association, Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Parents Forum, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Palestine-Israel Journal, Peace Now, Physicians for Human
Rights, Rabbis for Human Rights, Women Against The Wall and Women in Black. Most have websites.
In the US, probably the most successful group of many is the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group, which started in California in 1993 and has spread through the country.
While all such initiatives contribute vitally to lowering barriers and enhancing understanding, there is a limit to what they can achieve on their own. There is no avoiding the conclusion that a fair and sustainable solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would also help immensely to ease the tensions and repair the relations between Jews, Arabs and Muslims. This is a goal worthy of all our efforts.
Dr Tony Klug is a Middle East analyst, vice chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum
(UK) and a founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights.
Originally published in the ‘Justpeace’, Pax Christi Newsletter (UK), Nov/Dec 2005. Reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.
Children of Abraham http://www.nccj-mi.org/children.html
Jewish Palestinian Dialogue Group in California http://traubman.igc.org/dg-prog.htm
MidEast Web Dialogue Resources http://www.mideastweb.org/dialog.htm
Tent of Abraham http://www.tentofabraham.org/
Three Faiths Forum http://www.threefaithsforum.org.uk/Index.htm