U.S. Tensions Straining Jewish-Muslim Relations
Rifkin, Ira, National Catholic Reporter
WASHINGTON - The budding dialogue between American Jewish and Muslim leaders has been severely strained by a roiling debate over the U.S. response to terrorism linked to Middle East extremists.
In recent years, mainstream Jewish and Muslim groups have engaged in tenuous discussions while trying to avoid the more contentious aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 1993 Israel-Palestine Liberation Organization agreement gave the process a major push forward.
Fruits of that dialogue have included cooperation on behalf of Bosnian Muslims and joint stands on religious freedom. Both sides have condemned acts of terror that have threatened to scuttle the Middle East peace process.
Now, the dialogue is threatened.
Jewish groups in the United States claim that Islamic extremists pose a threat to peace in the Middle East and to the United States.
The warnings have angered U.S. Muslims, who argue that the Jewish groups have stigmatized them.
Adding to the tension is the New York trial of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and 11 other Muslims charged with planning a "war of urban terrorism." Opening statements in the case were heard Jan. 30. The defendants have been charged with planning to blow up the United Nations, two tunnels connecting Manhattan to New Jersey and New York FBI headquarters.
At the heart of tensions between American Jews and Muslims are differing views of who is at fault for the recent increase in Middle East violence and for the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"We're at a flash point," said Rabbi A. James Rudin, interfaith director for the American Jewish Committee. "The perceptions are so different."
Moreover, Jewish leaders worry that American Muslim groups are secretly connected to Iranian or Palestinian groups associated with attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world.
Responding to recent violence in the Middle East, President Clinton signed an order that blocks donations from U.S. groups to several Middle East organizations linked to terrorism.
Muslim groups view Clinton's order as a threat to their civil liberties and to their right to criticize Israel and the policies of PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Muslim leaders have repeatedly denied knowing that funds raised in the United States are being used to underwrite terrorism.
Some Muslims contend that at least part of the agenda of the Jewish groups is to limit Muslim political power in America. The Muslim community, they say, which numbers an estimated 3 million to 5 million, is ready to surpass in size the Jewish community, comprising nearly 6 million people. …