Muslim-Jewish Dialogue Group Falls Apart Over Mideast Conflict

November 27, 2000

Source: Los Angeles Times

On November 27, 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported that "in a heartfelt letter to his congregation at Temple Israel of Hollywood, Rabbi John L. Rosove described the first stage of the breakdown. One of the members of the Jewish Muslim peacemakers group he belongs to had just resigned. He spoke of being deeply disappointed about prospects for peace in the Middle East and recognized that many in his congregation felt the same way. He wondered what the future can possibly hold for Israeli-Palestinian relations and feared that years of suffering could lie ahead for Muslims as well as Jews. The Jewish Muslim Dialogue group Rosove belongs to is made up of about 10 to 15 local community leaders, with about twice as many Jews as Muslims. They have met every month for more than a year, focusing on issues that affect them all. The group did not form to critique events in the Middle East, but while the violence is exploding there, more than 7,000 miles away, the tension is very real here, as well. On Oct. 17, Hussam Ayloush, a Muslim who is local director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, quit the group, calling the dialogue a waste of time. Since Ayloush withdrew, two more members have resigned, one Jewish and one Muslim...Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, also reaffirmed his participation. 'The dialogue is moving on,' he said. 'It won't be held up by any one individual.' The group's first statement of purpose is a code of ethics some of its founding members published last December. They agreed to speak as one voice against racism, stereotyping and violence. They promised to verify rumors with one another before making public statements and to keep their criticisms directed toward the issues rather than indulge in name-calling. The original statement was co-signed by more than 65 Jewish and Muslim religious and civic leaders...Education, dialogue and crisis intervention surfaced as the main objectives. Longer-range plans include publishing scholarly papers on how the two faiths view such topics as mercy, justice, truth and goodness...Part of what makes solidarity difficult is that both Jews and Muslims consider the land now known as Israel to be their spiritual home...Ayloush said he initially tried to work his issues out within the Jewish Muslim Dialogue group. The latest collapse of the peace accord and the escalating conflict in Israel worried him. He pressed the group to condemn Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, whose appearance, accompanied by some 700 armed police, at a Jerusalem site sacred to both Jews and Muslims sparked the first riot...E-mail messages and phone calls flew between group members. It got so time-consuming that David Gardner, a Jewish immigration lawyer who has worked with a number of Muslim clients, withdrew in frustration...He saw a basic problem. Too many members are full-time public advocates for their own community. It is difficult for them to take objective positions concerning events affecting their communities in the Middle East...Al-Marayati retains some hope: 'We need a modest appraisal of where we are now,' he said. 'The priorities for our respective communities are to end stereotyping and violence, locally, which sometimes are a repercussion of events in the Middle East. There are extremists on both sides who do not want to see us succeed,' he said. 'Just being in dialogue is important right now.'