Faces of US Muslim and Jewish Dissent ; Those Who Disagree with Their Faith Groups on the Mideast Crisis Keep Silent or Band Together

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Hamza Khan knows the price he pays for supporting Israel. A few years ago, he was impeached as president of his high school Muslim Student Association for suggesting a condolence letter be sent to the Israeli Embassy after a suicide bombing. Since then, he's received hate mail for his unabashedly pro-Israel views.

Today, as Israel's bid to vanquish Hizbullah militants in Lebanon enters its fourth week, the college sophomore is again at odds with the majority of his fellow Muslim-Americans who condemn Israel for using disproportionate force that has killed nearly 650 Lebanese civilians.

That means he stays silent in conservative circles. "If I were to speak out, I think it would be ugly," he says.

Amid tense relations between Muslim and Jewish communities in America over the current conflict, dissent is scarce. But if war has strained interfaith dialogue, it hasn't stamped out intrafaith debate, observers say. Indeed, dissenters in both communities say that there's a growing willingness to consider the fighting from the other side's point of view.

"When something big happens in the Middle East, it creates a more tense environment in general, and one of the most surprising things is that it creates tension within religious/ethnic groups, almost as much as it does between groups," Vicki Armour-Hileman, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, wrote in an email interview.

Jewish-American groups opposed to Israel's policies toward the Palestinian territories say their ranks have swelled recently with those opposed to Israel's bombing.

"I think this is a pivotal moment in the Jewish peace movement," says Cecilie Surasky, spokeswoman for Jewish Voice for Peace in Oakland. "This is energizing people who were being quiet before." Over 2,000 people have joined the group's e-mail list since fighting began, bring the total to 15,000.

In Boston this week, some two dozen Jews wore black clothes and lay motionless at the South Station train terminal to protest Lebanese civilian losses from Israel's bombing campaign. The signs on their chests read: "Not all Jews support Israel's actions!"

The demonstration drew its share of counter-protests. "Most Jews do support Israel," one yelled. But many stopped to thank them for taking a stand against the aerial attacks.

"I have to endure some shouts; it's little compared to what people in Lebanon endure," said protester Marjorie Kent. "So I'll take the shouts."

Insults have been hurled online and at demonstrations across the country. Last week, a gunman claiming to be a Muslim-American killed one person at the Jewish Federation building in Seattle, while at a rally supporting Israel in suburban Detroit, a Jewish driver side- swiped a Lebanese-American counter-demonstrator, nearly hitting her, according to ArabAmericanNews. …


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