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Area Muslims, Jews Agree on Effort to Keep Debate Civilized

TIMES RELIGION WRITER

Leading Los Angeles Muslims and Jews agreed Thursday to move beyond national acrimony sparked by recent Jewish campaigns against public appointments of American Arabs and Muslims.

Pledging to keep Los Angeles on the cutting edge of Muslim-Jewish relations, members of both groups agreed to renew efforts to forge a code of ethics to civilize debate. Participants also agreed to form a permanent group to meet regularly, tackle sensitive issues and possibly engage in such joint programs as feeding the poor.

“We have got to learn how to disagree--with respect and civility and a touch of piety . . . and without lying about each other,” said Maher Hathout, spokesman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, which sponsored the meeting.

The attempt to salvage relations came after Jewish organizations scuttled the appointment of Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, to a national counter-terrorism commission. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, (D-Mo.) abruptly withdrew the appointment this month, citing difficulties in obtaining a timely security clearance for Al-Marayati, after some Jewish groups suggested that the Muslim leader condoned terrorism.

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The Al-Marayati affair marked the third campaign against American Arab or Muslim appointments this year by the Zionist Organization of America and other Jewish groups. The incidents have highlighted community concerns that American Arabs and Muslims are targets of character assassination campaigns aimed at excluding them from U.S. policymaking positions.

Earlier, the Zionist group and others protested the appointment of Al-Marayati’s wife, Laila, to an international religious freedom commission and the appointment of Joseph Zogby, an Arab American attorney, to the staff of assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk. Zogby resigned, but Laila Al-Marayati continues to serve.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist group, said he would continue to protest attempts by any Jewish organization to work with Al-Marayati, Hathout and others who engage in what he called “anti-Semitic statements that justify terrorism.”

Thursday’s hourlong meeting drew nearly 45 participants from major Jewish congregations and Muslim organizations. The Islamic center did not invite local representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and other national organizations that joined the campaign against Salam Al-Marayati.

But David Lehrer, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest regional director, said the organization was willing to take a second look at the code of ethics, which failed to move forward last year after the Zionist group urged Jewish organizations to reject ties with the Islamic center. He also said the league would welcome the chance to join Muslim-Jewish initiatives on hate crimes, religious freedom and other issues of common concern.

Harvey J. Fields, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said the new leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had renewed prospects for Mideast peace and opened new possibilities for local Muslims and Jews to forge greater ties. He said he would seek to win support from the broader Southern California Jewish community for a code of ethics and more dialogue with Muslims.

Allen I. Freehling, senior rabbi at University Synagogue, will facilitate the new group on Jewish-Muslim dialogue.

“The thing that’s missing, especially at the national level, is trust,” Freehling said.

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