Two com­mu­ni­ties find one voice (al­most)

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

MUS­LIM AND Jewish lead­ers have united in call­ing for stronger col­lab­o­ra­tion between their com­mu­ni­ties in the wake of the Gaza con­flict.

In an un­prece­dented joint state­ment, the Board of Deputies and the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Bri­tain con­demned civil­ian deaths as tragic and called for ef­forts to avoid them.

They also con­demned any ex­pres- sion of an­ti­semitism, Is­lam­o­pho­bia and racism gen­er­ally, call­ing on both-com­mu­ni­ties to “re­dou­ble ef­forts to work to­gether and get to know one an­other”.

But the state­ment was not with­out con­tro­versy, with both sides un­able to agree the ex­act mean­ing be­hind one key line.

The line reads: “The tar­get­ing of civil­ians is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able and against our re­li­gious tra­di­tions.”

A Board spokesman had sug­gested that this could be read as a spe­cific MCB crit­i­cism of Ha­mas, some­thing the MCB re­jected.

A spokes­woman for the Mus­lim group said they be­lieved both par­ties had un­der­stood that the line ref­ered to the tar­get­ing of civil­ians by both Is­rael and Ha­mas.

She said: “It refers to both sides, Is­rael and Ha­mas. It’s civil­ians that pay the price. On both sides.”

How­ever, the Board cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied this. A spokesman said: “We are very clear that the IDF does not tar­get civil­ians; that’s why we felt able to sign it.”

And he said it was com­pletely un­true to sug­gest that the Board was “in some way con­demn­ing the IDF”.

The state­ment is seen as the most sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward for both groups in the past five years.

Re­la­tions were frozen in 2009 when the MCB’s then deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral, Daud Ab­dul­lah, signed the no­to­ri­ous Istanbul Dec­la­ra­tion which threat­ened vi­o­lence against Is­rael sup­port­ers and Bri­tish troops.

The MCB had pre­vi­ously boy­cotted Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Day, but that stance was re­versed and work has been on­go­ing to re­pair re­la­tions with Jewish groups. Joint work has taken place

on is­sues re­lat­ing to kosher and halal food.

The state­ment said both com­mu­ni­ties had a right to po­lit­i­cal protest, in per­son and on­line through so­cial me­dia, but demon­stra­tors must act re­spon­si­bly.

“There can be no ex­cuse for racism, vi­o­lence, or other forms of in­tim­i­da­tion, when ex­press­ing views in the me­dia, on the streets, out­side shops or on­line.”

The MCB has been vo­cal in its op­po­si­tion to Is­rael’s Pro­tec­tive Edge op­er­a­tion in Gaza. It lob­bied David Cameron to im­pose an arms em­bargo and said the IDF was “de­ter­mined to make the life of Pales­tini­ans a mis­ery”.

Dr Shuja Shafi, MCB sec­re­tary gen­eral, praised Baroness Warsi’s res­ig­na­tion from the gov­ern­ment, say­ing she had acted for all those “hor­ri­fied by the bru­tal­ity of the Is­raeli war ma­chine against the peo­ple of Gaza”.

He had called on the gov­ern­ment to “speak out more firmly against the gov­ern­ment in Tel Aviv and pres­surise them to stop their bloody campaign and end the siege on Gaza”.

While also back­ing a boy­cott of prod­ucts from Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank, the Mus­lim group had re­peat­edly warned sup­port­ers not to cross the line into an­ti­semitic dis­course when at­tack­ing Is­rael.

Dr Shafi is­sued a state­ment last month urg­ing both com­mu­ni­ties to act with “ci­vil­ity and cour­tesy” and avoid a break in re­la­tions between Bri­tish Mus­lims and Jews.

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