Negative circumstances can sometimes produce a surprisingly positive result. That's the case now with American Jews and Muslims as an outgrowth of the wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts currently making unwanted headlines.
An increasing number of groups and individuals within the two religious communities -- historically wary of cooperating because of their profound political differences over Israel and the causes of Islamic-inspired terrorism -- have come to each others' assistance in response to the incidents.
If you haven't kept up with this twist, the following stories can bring you up to speed.
It's a step forward when generally estranged communities come to each other's aid. But let's be realistic.
This new-found cooperation does not for a second offset the gravity of the hateful incidents, which have also impacted non-Muslim, non-white immigrants.
Nor does it mean that the cooperation will continue once the current crisis passes, which I certainly hope is soon. I say this because this scenario has played out before.
The 1994 Oslo peace accord signing is one such instance. American Jews and Muslims fervently embraced cooperation then, only to back away from each other when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heated up yet again. Anger and distrust on both sides forced the swift pull back.
So my advice to journalists covering this story is to be careful not to over inflate the strength of this cooperation. The participants you interview may exude enthusiasm about their efforts, which is to be expected, but restrained story telling will better serve you and your audience.
Remember the adage about the enemy of my enemy being my friend -- at least for the moment. And who might that mutual "enemy" be?
For many Jews and Muslims it's President Donald Trump. They blame him for stirring up the alt-right, who they blame for the heightened anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish incidents.
Casting Trump as the enemy brings up another aspect of this story that should not be overlooked.
By and large, it's the liberal political and religious wings of the two communities -- that is, those who have opposed Trump all along -- that are most enthusiastic about working together now. And the political conservatives and religious traditionalists? Not so much. They tend to support at least some of Trump's agenda or they simply frown upon interfaith cooperation in general.
Let me be clear. I fully support American Jewish and Muslim cooperation. I'm just aware of the baggage the two groups drag into their relationship, making it exceedingly difficult for them to overcome ingrained tribal attitudes, even in an American context.
This late-February essay from The Tablet, a Jewish center-right publication, gets to the heart of the tension with this sub-head: "Do Jews have to make common cause with people who want to kill them?" (This is a commentary piece, of course, so I'm dispensing here with the usual tit-for-tat protocol that requires a similar cautionary tale from the Muslim side -- though I assure you they exist -- solely for space reasons.)
The piece, written by an ardent American Jewish Zionist, focuses on Linda Sarsour, a longtime Arab-American left-wing activist. Sarsour also has a history of stridently anti-Israel rhetoric and activities.
... Sarsour [is] now one of the anti-Trump movement’s most visible leaders. Sarsour, a longtime Arab-American community organizer, was one of the heads of the Women’s March in Washington and is the named plaintiff in the high-profile lawsuit against Trump’s immigration ban. The image of her, hijab-clad and flashing a defiant smile, rivaled the pink knitted hat as the unofficial symbol of the march.
She is also a proudly outspoken supporter of BDS [the effort to boycott Israel on all levels]. “Nothing is creepier than Zionism,” she has tweeted, a remark that, along with the fact that in December she posed for a photo with a former Hamas operative, stirred a series of critical pieces on right-wing websites in the days following the march on the capital. Within hours, Sarsour’s newfound friends and supporters -- do I even need mention that Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon were among them? -- burst forth with a social-media-driven campaign dubbed #IMarchWithLinda, in which the stories about her background and views were presented as vicious hatchet jobs by pro-Trump legions determined to slow the momentum of the anti-Trump brigades. Indeed, how could a woman who last week made headlines for organizing a fundraising drive that raised more than $56,000 to repair the desecrated Jewish cemetery in St. Louis harbor hostility to Jews?
Among those who have pledged allegiance to Sarsour are prominent Jewish leaders and rabbis. Criticism of the Muslim activist was nothing but “a deliberate smear campaign from the far right to delegitimize the march itself,” said Los Angeles Rabbi Sharon Brous, expressing the view of many other anti-Trump Jews. “This is a time for serious coalition-building, for standing beside other minority populations that are targeted. It is time for people to stand for and with each other. There will be in the mix a number of different perspectives. I don’t feel at all uncomfortable about that,” Brous has said. “A much greater problem would be if the Jewish community stepped out of activism because we’re afraid that someone on the stage has a position on BDS different than our own.”
There's a lot more relevant material in this piece. I recommend that you read it all.
I attended the Washington march, knowing that Sarsour was a prime organizer. But as a Zionist, I'm conflicted about her prominence in the anti-Trump faction (with which I largely identify). So I'll pay close attention to her speech going forward.
President Trump has sure made for some unlikely political bedfellows. But who knows? Perhaps some surprising, positive twist will emerge from all the current uncertainty.
Scribes, you might want to follow this awkward tale of political and religious rapprochement as it unfolds in your own backyards. Look for regional lists of leaders in interfaith dialogues, especially those between Jews and Muslims, and proceed from there.