Muslims and Jews in Leeds unite to condemn Middle East violence – Qari Asim and Laura Janner-Klausner

Qari Asim is a senior Imam in Leeds and chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. Laura Janner-Klausner is a former senior Rabbi and chair of Reform Judaism.

WHEN we look to the situation in Israel-Palestine, we see tragedy after tragedy. With every death our hearts ache, and with every violation of human rights comes rightful condemnation.

Until an independent sovereign Palestine sits alongside an independent sovereign Israel, it is right to raise our voices for change and violation of human rights.

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But as violence shatters lives in the Middle East, we have been told how many feel they are being silenced. That they cannot share their thoughts without being shouted down or shamed.

A shattered building in gaza as a ceasefire is called in the Middle East conflict.

That dialogue will only bring further tension between UK-based communities, in particular British Muslims and Jews. We believe in robust, difficult and uncomfortable conversations; that ultimately people are good, and want to make the situation better, and not worse.

Since the initial horrendous violence at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, there’s been a reported increase in Islamophobic incidents of 430 per cent and an increase in anti-Semitic incidents of 500 per cent.

On the one hand, the scale and repulsiveness of this data is shocking. They show that what happens in Gaza doesn’t stay in Gaza. Jews and Muslims in the UK are being held to account for what is happening thousands of miles away.

It is simply wrong to see British Jews as representatives of Israeli governmental policy, or of all Muslims as supporters of Hamas. These are not only completely misinformed but racist stereotypes.

Qari Asim is a senior imam in Leeds and chair of the Chair of Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board.

Any temptation to colour a whole group with the actions of overseas bodies must be immediately rejected. We cannot hold each other responsible for the actions of others over whom we have no authority. To do so only leads to more hostility and misunderstanding – here, in the UK, in our homes, on our streets, online and in person.

But, we know this is extremely hard to avoid, especially when lives are being lost in Palestine and Israel and people are being evicted from their homes or displaced in Gaza.

Here’s how to avoid common, but incredibly damaging, missteps which often occur in discourse about the conflict. Comparisons of Israel to the Nazis, while sometimes not made deliberately to antagonise, are unnecessary, anti-Semitic and only proceed to cause distress to a Jewish population whose very existence was nearly extinguished by the Nazis within living memory.

To compare a group with its oppressors is intellectually lazy, but more importantly, insensitive. Similarly, saying that use of the Palestinian flag can be seen as a call to arms and a symbol of anti-Semitism is wrong and causes deep pain and anguish.

Laura Janner-Klausner is a senior Rabbi.

It is vital that emotive language does not slip into accusations that summon trauma and undermine experiences of horrific victimisation. Assuming that outrage, distress and empathy over the situation in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories means that Muslims here hate Jews or support Hamas are also wrong, offensive and dangerous for very delicate and increasingly fraying relationships between Muslims and Jews here.

We must also stand against the convenient hatred of those wanting to divide us. A good example happened on Sunday when the renowned far-right Islamophobe Tommy Robinson attended a pro-Israel rally in London in an incendiary act. The organisers rejected his support and his presence swiftly made clear to be unwelcome by the organisers, as well as major communal Jewish groups.

In the face of intentionally divisive figures and false allies, we must be clear that hate against one group can never ever mean solidarity with another.

Rabbi Laura’s experiences in leading the ‘People’s Peace Process’ as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, has shown the heights that can be reached in reconciliation between groups on different sides of the conflict. If a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who organised the 1976 terrorist Entebbe raid, who spent 14 years in an Israeli prison, can call for non-violent action and peaceful progress alongside his Israeli former-enemies, who are we to lose hope?

On Saturday in Tel Aviv, thousands of Jews and Palestinians marched together to demand peace and call for an end to the occupation of the West Bank. If they can do it over there, we can certainly do it here.

Together, we will be running workshops on having genuinely productive dialogue. If you are interested, you can contact us on Twitter via @QariAsim and 
@LauraJanklaus.

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