Jews and Muslims speak as one in wake of Gaza ceasefire

Jews and Muslims speak as one in wake of Gaza ceasefire

MCB's Dr Shuja Shafi and the BoD's Vivian Wineman.
MCB's Dr Shuja Shafi and the BoD's Vivian Wineman.

Relations between Britain’s Jewish and Muslim leaders reached new levels of public cooperation and understanding this week, in the wake of a open-ended ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.

The Board of Deputies released its first ever joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain focusing on Israel and the impact of the crisis here, with both condemning anti-Semitism and saying the time had come for a “redoubling” of efforts to “get to know each one another”.

Dr Shuja Shafi
Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Shuja Shafi

The Board severed relations with the MCB several years ago amid a number of controversies around positions taken by the latter, principally its boycott of the annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations. But a gradual thawing has been in evidence over the past year as they found common ground in combatting attacks on religious slaughter.

Today’s historic statement – described by a senior Jewish community source as representing a “significant step forward in relations” – said: “We must continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK.

“We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead. While everyone has the right to voice their political opinion, be that in a rally or on social media, we must be mindful of how we convey our protest. 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.

“We condemn any expression of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any racism.”

The CST reported last month that a majority of incidents showed a link to the conflict and said reports suggested that anti-Semitism from Muslims played a “significant role” in the rise.

While acknowledging that the two communities “may disagree about the origins, current reasons and solutions to end the conflict”, the two organisations insist there are points of agreement, saying: “The death of every civilian is a tragedy, and every effort should be taken to minimise such losses.” 

And in what will be seen by some as thinly-veiled condemnation of Hamas, the joint statement added: “The targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions. We pray for a speedy end to the current conflict and for a lasting peace for all.”

It’s understood the MCB intended for the message on civilians to be targeted at both sides in the conflict. Turning to the domestic scene, the statement said: “We call for Muslims and Jews to redouble efforts to work together and get to know one another.

“We need constructive dialogue to limit our disagreements and identify the widest possible range of areas for cooperation. There are more issues that unite us than divide us.”

A Board source said: “We are of course fully aware of the history surrounding the MCB but there is little point in dealing only with those who are already our friends.”

Condemning incidents of anti-Semitism during a landmark article for the Jewish News last month, the MCB’s new Secretary-General Dr Shuja Shafi (pictured) said: “No Jewish person should feel threatened or be made to account for the run-away excesses of the Benjamin Netanyahu government.”

He went on to say: “Whomever is responsible for such violence, they do a disservice to the aspirations of the Palestinian people who have suffered for so long.”

Describing today’s statement as a “bold and constructive step”, Liberal Judaism chair Lucian Hudson said: “The conflict in the Middle East creates a real challenge for the Jewish and Muslim communities of the UK. We can choose to let it define our relationship or we can build our own relationship founded on the many values and experiences we share in common.”

He added: “Liberal Judaism chooses the latter: we encourage our synagogues to reach out to their Muslim neighbours whenever they can and to create a framework in which we can get to know one another both as communities and individuals.”

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