Jewish Journal

When Dialogue Fails

by Morton A. Klein

Posted on Jul. 29, 1999 at 8:00 pm

Our July 16 cover story, "Tense Relations," detailed the friction among local Jewish and Arab groups -- who had once been engaged in dialogue -- over the successful effort on the part of many national Jewish organizations to block the appointment of the Muslim Public Affairs Council's Salam Al-Marayati to the National Commission on Counter-Terrorism. Following is a response and counter-response from two leaders of those groups. For more reader responses, see letters.

For Rabbi Gary Greenebaum to disagree with us on matters of theology or politics is expected. Even to reach an impasse in our discussions is okay. But for the rabbi, speaking for his group, to accuse us of dishonesty is unfortunate, uncalled for, and flat out wrong.

&'009;In an article appropriately titled "Tense Relations," I read, "Greenebaum says his group, dissatisfied with the level of honesty in the partnership with MPAC, had withdrawn from the dialogue a couple of years ago." Greenebaum further said, "Past a certain point I don't understand this sense of betrayal on [MPAC's] part. I don't feel they've always been above board in their relations with the Jewish community, that there is some evidence of saying one thing to a Jewish audience, and another thing to an Arabic speaking audience."

&'009;I have to raise certain important issues pertaining to these statements in addition to a personal disappointment. I thought there was enough personal communication between us to think highly enough about each other to warrant a telephone call to express concern. However, setting personal sensibilities aside, I would like to address the main issue that will affect our organizations and can suffocate a promising model of Muslim Jewish dialogue.

&'009;First, if the rabbi and his group withdrew from the dialogue, "a couple of years ago," why were we never informed about this unilateral decision? Even more puzzling is why a towering pioneer of the dialogue like Rabbi Alfred Wolf, who is a member of the same group, seems not to be informed about such a decision. We maintained a trusting relationship with Rabbi Wolf, who showed his well-known integrity by writing a letter in support of Salam and our organization. He stated that whether he agrees with all our statements or not, he testifies for our moderation and stands by the values of pluralism and freedom.

&'009;Second, I certainly would ask the Rabbi to substantiate what he describes as a "lack of the level of honesty" as well as his assertion that "there is some evidence of saying one thing to a Jewish audience, and another thing to an Arabic speaking audience." I'd like the rabbi to say when, where, and what?

&'009;In case there is any confusion, let me reiterate our stand which we have been saying and writing to "Arabic-speaking audiences" as well as to English and Hebrew-speaking ones:

&'009;We categorically condemn all terrorism, which we define as using terror and violence against non-combatants to achieve political goals. This is an abomination to our religion. We expressed this stand after the bus bombings in Tel Aviv, the shooting of innocent people in Hebron, the bombing of a synagogue in Istanbul and other similar tragedies.

&'009;We differentiate between acts of terrorism, which are crimes against civilians, and the right of people to struggle against a military that occupies their land, on their own territory. And yes, we consider those who do so similar in their stand to Patrick Henry who said, "Give me liberty or give me death." We really fail to see the difference, unless things are seen through a racist lens.

&'009;Maher Hathout&'009;&'009;&'009;&'009;Senior Advisor of the Muslim &'009;&'009;Public Affairs Committee

A Sense of Deception

We at the American Jewish Committee have worked closely for nearly a decade with groups from virtually every ethnic and religious background in Los Angeles. Dr. Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California and Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, both have spoken at AJC programs, and, likewise, our leaders have been speakers at theirs.

AJC's opposition to Al-Marayati's appointment to an anti-terrorism commission is based solely on our intimate knowledge of his work and his organization. Certainly, it is not a question of race or ethnicity. In fact, AJC has just raised more than $1.4 million in relief for the Muslim Kosovar refugees. In 1993 and 1994, AJC co-sponsored the first-ever national conferences of Muslims and Jews, held at Denver University and attended in 1994 by Al-Marayati. When Al-Marayati's wife, Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, was appointed to an important international religious freedom commission, AJC did not protest. In fact, I sat with her on a public radio panel and supported the position she was taking then, and takes now on the commission -- that violations against the religious freedom of Muslims goes largely unprotected and ignored. When Salam Al-Marayati was appointed to the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, we did not protest the appointment, for given the responsibilities of the commission, his appointment was appropriate.

The National Counter-Terrorism Commission, however, is different. Its 10 members are charged with the responsibility of assisting the federal government in formulating strategy on fighting terrorism. These members will be privy to classified information regarding how the United States monitors and combats terrorism against Americans around the world, and how our strategy should change to become more effective. At the very least, commission members should agree with our government on the definition of terrorism, a position that Al-Marayati has not taken. He has refused to condemn Islamic terrorist organizations and uses blanket statements to dismiss Western policy when he states, "Islamic movements with genuine grievances are dismissed by Western analysts as the products of religious fanaticism."

Perhaps the best example of Al-Marayati's inappropriateness for this commission is contained in MPAC's statement the day after a 1997 Hamas suicide bombing attack that took place in a Tel Aviv café, killing three women and wounding 60 others. The statement places responsibility for the act on "the brutal Israeli military occupation in Palestine and Lebanon." The statement continues, "Because the Palestinian people have no avenues to redress their grievances, some of them have been pushed beyond the margins of society and have adopted violent reactions to express their despair and suffering." I should note that nowhere in the statement does Al-Marayati condemn the terrorist act itself or Hamas for perpetrating it.

With regard to Dr. Hathout's complaints that we are being dishonest in finding their statements disingenuous, I can only stand on the record of his and Al-Marayati's statements. Since the end of the intifada and the signing of the Oslo Accords, their statements have been contradictory -- more moderate statements being released to the mainstream press, and more incendiary statements being reserved for their own publications and audiences.

Today, Muslim-Jewish relations in our city are at a new low. All of us of good faith ought to be willing to come together to get things started again. After all, if leaders can sit down together in the Middle East and solve problems, then we ought to be able to move ahead also.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum

Western Regional Director

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