Rabbi wants to bring U.S. Muslim-Jewish teamwork to Europe

February 6, 2009

Rabbi Marc Schneier, a New York Jewish leader who has helped to build bridges with American Muslims, is planning to bring his campaign to Europe to help ease the anger fed by bloodshed in Gaza. “In the light of the recent conflict in Gaza, Jewish-Muslim tensions have been exacerbated,” Schneier, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters during a recent visit to London. “We have seen a rise, I would say an exponential growth in anti-Semitic attacks, rhetoric coming from the Muslim world. We cannot allow for Islamic fundamentalism to grow.”

(Photo: Rabbi Marc Schneier/FFEU)

Schneier helped to bring together thousands of Jews and Muslims across America last November in an initiative in which 50 mosques were twinned with 50 synagogues over a weekend. Jews and Muslims worked together in community projects, formed study groups and got a better understanding of each other’s faith. They publicised this in the short video below and a full-page ad in the New York Times available here in PDF.

An eloquent and persuasive speaker, Schneier has advocated closer links between Jewish and Afro-American communities through the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, where he has worked with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

Schneier feels there is a need for action at the grass-roots level to help heal the rift between Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe.  He is planning to repeat his “Weekend of Twinning” this November and wants to extend it to Britain from North America.  “Jewish-Muslim relations are a great concern here in Europe, so we wanted to bring this programme across the Atlantic,” he said.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews told me they were very interested in the project and wanted to develop it here, building on their own linking programme. However, the climate is not easy.  Israel’s invasion of Gaza in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed has sparked fresh tensions between the two groups in Europe.

An umbrella group of French Jewish groups last week asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy to ensure that authorities do more to stem a rise in anti-Jewish crime. Britain has also seen protests over Israel’s campaign.

(Photo: Pro-Palestinian protesters in Paris, 24 Jan 2009/Gonzalo Fuentes)

Schneier dismissed concerns that members of close-knit Muslim communities in European countries such as Britain and France would be harder to reach than their counterparts in the United States, who tend to be better integrated into U.S. life.

“The challenge here is more of a language barrier than a social or cultural barrier. What we did in North America wasn’t an easy task either. There was much hesitation on both sides,” he said. “I see around the world there are pockets of moderation emerging within Islam. We cannot spurn the hands of the moderates in the Muslim world.”

Schneier’s initiative seems to be working in the United States, but can it be transplanted to Europe? We’d like to hear your comments here.


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Thank you for illuminating a story that addresses the need for real communication between Muslim and Jewish leaders; however, the key element for actual transformation is missing from this model.This work has the dangerous potential of providing an easy out for religious leaders. It can allow them to talk about acceptance and tolerance without exploring the deep differences that do exist and the roots of the hatred which they aim to address.Dialogue, a form of listening and reflection that has no institutional agenda, provides an environment that can and does lead to more sustainable trust and change, for both individuals (the people in the pews and on the prayer rugs) as well as within a community framework.In Dialogue, Rabbis, Imams, Reverends, and others sit as equals with those in their congregations, and together they commit to develop skills for active and generous listening.In dialogue we ask “curious” questions that allow people to discover information about another’s tradition, history and personal connections. People reflect what was said to make sure they understand the intent and the emotions of the person who is teaching or sharing an experience.When we slow down the conversation this way, we acknowledge and allow for differences to exist while barriers of suspicion are dispelled.The work described opens doors, now we must walk through and begin the difficult conversations inside.Marcia KannryFounder – PresidentThe Dialogue Projectwww.thedialogueproject.orgmarcia@ thedialogueproject.org

Posted by Marcia Kannry | Report as abusive

Rabbi, indeed this is a good initiative. All of us are in it together, it is in our interest to team up and do the right thing. You have my suppport for thisAs Muslims we commemorated the Holocaust event to share the pain of the Jewish Peoplewww.HolocaustandGenocides.orgMike Ghousewww.worldMuslimCongress.com

Posted by Mike Ghouse | Report as abusive

Rabbi Schneier’s comment in the last paragraph, ie : “I see around the world there are pockets of moderation emerging within Islam.”, come across as patronizing and a bit arrogant. There arent pockets of moderation. Nearly the entire Muslim world is “moderate” – a word, along with fundamentalism, the use of which needs to be revisited and carefully used – especially in the context of interfaith relations.

Posted by Zeeshan | Report as abusive

The problem is Israel and Palestine. Once that problem is solved, initiatives like this won’t be needed. Until then, initiatives like that are useless, as beneficial as they might seem

Posted by Lukas | Report as abusive

I believe to say that there are “pockets of moderates” in Islam is really insulting. This dialouge should focus on discussions of the elephant in the room “the palestine /israel conflict” – until that is addressed little progress is made.

Posted by nyer | Report as abusive

its good people like him who you won’t see on the news channels being interviewd. its these types of inititaves that are really going to help end conflicts in all types of religous conflicts that are primairly due to misunderstanding and political issues. as a muslim i have no “beef” or quarrels with jewish people; muslims and jews are actually more similar to each other then any other religion. the jewish muslim conflict has more to do with the israeli-palestine issue which is more political then anything else. take iran for example, as much they despise the state of israel, they have the second largest jewish population in the middle east and they enjoy their freedom in country like iran, they are even exempt from islamic law and are protected. for anyone who thinks this a muslim-jewish conflict, they are wrong and misinformed.

Posted by hassan | Report as abusive

An important undertaking to have religious congregations pair up. Yet I wonder if European Muslims would object to the use of “fundamentalist” and “moderate” and how they are being used in the underlying assumptions of this program. If they do object, that could make the initiative less palatable. Perhaps if they must be used, it should be said that we must stem the tide of Jewish fundamentalism which seems to be growing, just as much as we must for “Islamic fundamentalism.” Dialogue might be much better served by an idea moderation is normative for Jews and Muslims and we are simply creating structured opportunities for people to interact in ways that they would naturally be inclined to do as decent human beings.

Posted by SS | Report as abusive

I think is a very risky and hard task, but a great effort to put seeds of Dialogue and Coexistance.This initiative is a way to search Peace. Maybe some consider it is not perfect but it is a positive effort to admire and follow.

Posted by Maria | Report as abusive

Hello. What excellent news – and we’re already doing it here in the UK. Our project, Radio Salaam Shalom, has just entered its 3rd year of Muslim-Jewish co-operative broadcasting. We’d be very pleased to work together to build understanding and awareness of the voice of the moderate majority in our communities.Our website’s just being redesigned at the moment but you can listen to our Gaza-related podcasts from the holding page at www.salaamshalom.org.uk.SALAAM SHALOM!Kyle HannanStation Manager

Posted by Kyle Hannan | Report as abusive