Wanted: Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

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Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s speech at the Islamic Society of North America conference has been flagged by other Jewish leaders as controversial (if not misguided). Critics point to ISNA being named an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorism probe.

But as the Forward pointed out, there was good reason to attend.

ISNA’s condemnation of terrorism, including that conducted by Hamas and Hezbollah, and its open support for a two-state solution, as well as the participation of the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security in this year’s conference, were key factors in Yoffie’s decision to accept the invitation to speak.

From the sounds of it, the ISNA convention seems like the Muslim equivalent of the UJC General Assembly. ISNA claims 100,000 members from 300 organizations. Surely, there’s diversity among it’s members; surely there are many worth approaching for much-needed Muslim-Jewish dialogue. We should be relieved and grateful that ISNA reached out to Rabbi Yoffie.

And yet, the Jewish press mostly focused on the controversy. The Jewish Week article about the event was particularly egregious, failing to report one detail about the actual convention, focusing exclusively on the controversy and critics.

It’s interesting that I needed to go to Indiana’s IndyStar.com for this info about Yoffie’s speech:

his remarks were repeatedly interrupted with applause and his Muslim audience gave him a standing ovation.

This, even though Yoffie made pointed remarks about the pockets of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and the unyielding interest Jews have in preserving Israel as a Jewish state.
I admit that my feelings about this are somewhat personal, as two of my dearest friends — Ari Alexander (of Children of Abraham) and Rabbi Eliyahu Stern — spoke at the conference. But my personal naches aside, it would be nice if we could listen to those Jews who were actually at the conference, those leaders among us looking for a way to jumpstart an interfaith conversation that is long overdue.
So toward that end, here are some of Eli’s thoughts about the conference.
Perhaps the most interesting moments of the panel discussion happened when the audience was given a chance to comment and ask questions. I was struck by how one audience member after another got up and made–almost verbatim–the same statement: “You should know that I know a Jew and she is a good person, a kind person, a smart person. I am friends with this Jew.â€? The first time someone made the comment I yawned, the second time I began to get frustrated and annoyed but by the third time someone felt the to announce to the world that he she knew a Jew and was proud of their friendship it finally hit me what was going on here. “Elli don’t you get it?â€? I said to myself, “These two communities have so little contact, there is so much fear and strife between them that the mere fact that someone is just friends with or even knows with a a Jew at-all is a big deal!â€? Man do we have our work cut out. (MORE)
And here are Ari’s thoughts.

Posted on September 11, 2007

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