Muslim-Jewish Group Halts Talks

TIMES RELIGION WRITER

A landmark Muslim-Jewish dialogue group in Los Angeles has stopped meeting after Islamic leaders requested a freeze amid outrage in their community over Israeli behavior in the Mideast.

Muslims complained that they felt they were expected to pass a litmus test of condemning Palestinian violence without Jews doing the same for Israeli excesses. Jewish leaders expressed frustration that Muslims were not self-critical enough in blaming their own side for some of the problems here and in the Mideast.

In a May 25 letter to the group, Maher Hathout, senior advisor to the Muslim council, said a temporary freeze was necessary because of the "shock, anger and despair" among Muslims after Israel's recent use of American-made F-16 bombers against Palestinians. Hathout, who is out of the country, wrote that he was trying to protect the dialogue by slowing the pace until the Muslim community's sentiments could be addressed.

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said Tuesday that "a number of people are concerned that we are in alliance with groups who support genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians."

Other members of the group expressed shock and sadness over the abrupt suspension of the talks. Five Jewish leaders sent a letter to Hathout and Al-Marayati Tuesday expressing alarm over the action and asking for a resumption of the dialogue. They included Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, Daniel J. Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel.

"Some of us now find ourselves abandoned by our Muslim partners at the very moment when we should be talking with one another," said Freehling, who drafted the letter. "We should be sending a unified message to both of our communities in which we deplore the killing and maiming of Israelis and Palestinians alike, call for a binding universal cease-fire and seek the resumption of talks that would ultimately lead to a lasting peace in that part of the world."

"When I entered this dialogue, I entered with a very clean heart and clear understanding that, as people of religion, we should be able to offer something new to people and rise above our own sectarian interests to serve the divine," said Aslam Abdullah, editor of Minaret magazine.

"I was disappointed when I realized that when Palestinians are killed, the fears and sorrows are not the same" among Jewish dialogue partners.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA said the Muslims failed to condemn Palestinian violence against Jews and rising anti-Semitism in the Arab world and did not even clearly acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

In recent days, he and Abdullah have traded e-mails that underscore the perception gap.

"I think Palestinian blood has yet to be recognized as genuine human blood," Abdullah wrote Seidler-Feller.

"You're talking to the wrong crowd," the rabbi wrote Abdullah on Tuesday. "We condemn all the violence and are out there fighting for justice for the Palestinian people. Don't turn friends into enemies."

At least one Muslim said he would continue meeting with Jewish leaders. Najee Ali of Project Islamic HOPE made Hathout's letter public to protest the freeze and criticize the failure to consult other Muslims before taking the action.

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