January 18, 2007
Breaking new ground: Jewish, Muslim groups’ program encourages leaders to see the ‘other’ as friend
(Page 2 - Previous Page)In that debate, PJA was the sole mainstream Jewish organization to support him, despite the fact that Hathout was the first Muslim leader to publicly denounce the fatwa on the life of author Salman Rushdie and has long denounced terrorism on theological grounds. Hathout was given the award, but Jewish and Muslim groups remain as divided as ever, and MPAC, as one of the Muslim community's primary public forums, continues to draw ire.
"I think MPAC has been fairly outspoken on issues of foreign policy and the Middle East [in ways] that are not acceptable to many mainstream members of the Jewish community," L.A. Federation President John Fishel said.
Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region, goes farther: "I'm happy to dialogue with moderate Muslims, but these people are not. They're radical haters of Israel."
Sokatch said that biting anti-Israel remarks made by Al-Marayati and other MPAC leaders have angered him, too. But he is committed to a continuing dialogue, because it is, he said, the best way "to establish relationships and understanding between people who disagree." Attempts by some of MPAC's fiercest critics to paint it as a radical Islamist organization, Sokatch said, are misguided.
In 2002, amid the rubble of the collapsed Jewish-Muslim Dialogue, Sokatch and a small group of PJA leaders began meeting informally with their counterparts from MPAC. Frustrated by the failure of the multiagency talks, both sides wanted to see whether they could find common ground. It took but a single meeting between four PJA and four MPAC members to realize they could.
Over Mexican food, the ad hoc PJA-MPAC group agreed within an hour to a mutually acceptable statement on the Middle East, which included a two-state solution and a renunciation of violence by both sides.
The eight-person group met every other month for more than two years, discussing the issues of the day, and, more importantly, forging friendships and building trust. The success of those informal gatherings serve as the basis for NewGround.
MPAC's Al-Marayati said that he is proud to be a part of a new Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
"We need to develop our language with each other so Muslims and Jews can move toward mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual respect," he said. "Otherwise, our children are going to base their relationships with each other on mutual fear and mutual prejudice."
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