2019 Was an Unprecedented Year for Muslim-Jewish Relations

Rabbi Marc Schneier and Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa FNL, Secretary General of the Muslim World League. (courtesy)

In 2019, we saw unprecedented global cooperation between Muslims and Jews. Amid great turbulence on the world scene, including horrific acts of violence and murder against both Jews and Muslims by white racist extremists, our two communities deepened ties of communication and cooperation that are profoundly beneficial for both faith communities and a benefit for all of humanity.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, backed by the government of Saudi Arabia and based in holy city of Mecca, wrote a groundbreaking op-ed in the Washington Post entitledWhy Muslims From Around the World Should Remember the Holocaust.” The article unequivocally condemned Holocaust denial and stated, “The lessons of Holocaust are universal and Muslims around the world have a responsibility to learn them, heed the warnings and join the international commitment to ensure ‘never again.’”

Complementing Al-Issa’s important statement were substantive steps by various states in the Gulf region to strengthen ties with Israel and world Jewry. As 2019 dawned, I held meetings in Doha, Qatar with Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the organizing committee of 2022 Qatar World Cup, who assured me that Israelis will be welcome to come to Qatar to join the throngs of fans travelling there from around the world, and that they and other Jewish fans will be able to enjoy delicious kosher food during the games.

Soon thereafter, I was appointed Special Advisor to the King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, a testament to my nearly decade long friendship with His Majesty and my work throughout the Gulf to strengthen ties. That assignation allowed me to attend the ground-breaking Peace and Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain in June as part of Bahrain’s delegation. In a first, the government of Bahrain allowed Israeli journalists to attend and interview leading officials at the conference, focused on facilitating economic aid to the Palestinians. A personal high point for me was taking part in an emotional morning minyan (a quorum) in the Manama synagogue; for the first time in memory. Joining the minyan were Jewish leaders from around the world, including President Trump’s former Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt.

In the United Arab Emirates, there was a giant step forward in July, when Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz visited Abu Dhabi and met with senior UAE officials on the sideline of the UN Environment Conference. The two sides discussed the need to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran and the potential for Israel-UAE cooperation in counter-extremism, technology, energy, agriculture, and water management. Israeli economic cooperation with the UAE and other Gulf States will receive a major boost next October, when the Dubai Expo 2020 opens with the first ever Israeli pavilion.

In July, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna was appointed the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of the United Arab Emirates. Under his auspices, the Jewish community opened a kosher catering company, allowing Jews traveling to the Emirates for business or leisure to have access to kosher food.

We also saw important efforts to increasing Muslim-Jewish understanding in Europe. After holding meetings at sites of Jewish and Muslim martyrdom at the Auschwitz death camp and in Sarajevo, Bosnia; imams and rabbis from across Europe attended a summit in Matera, Italy organized by the Muslim Jewish Leadership Council. The event focused on combatting hate crimes and incitement against Muslims and Jews; much of it coming from right-wing populist groups hostile to both communities.

In the United States, Muslims and Jews strengthened their own alliance against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. On March 17, Jewish communities around America rallied around and raised money for the Muslim community of Christchurch, New Zealand, where a white racist and Islamophobic madman massacred more than 50 worshippers at two mosques. Only five weeks after Christchurch on April 27, Muslims rallied again to succor the Chabad of Poway, near San Diego, where a white supremacist shooter killed a woman and wounded the rabbi and several other congregants during Passover.

In late October, in an inspirational expression of deepening friendship and solidarity between Muslims and Jews around the world, the FFEU and the Muslim World League announced that they would together co-sponsor the 2019 Muslim-Jewish Season of Twinning. Created by FFEU in 2008, the Season of Twinning annually brings together tens of thousands of Muslims and Jews around the world; this year in more than 50 events in 38 countries. Announcing the historic partnership, MWL Secretary-General Mohammed Al-Issa stated, “To defeat hate, we must speak and listen to each other, learn from one another and unite with one another.”

About the Author
Rabbi Marc Schneier is the president and founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. A trailblazer in the field of Muslim-Jewish relations, Schneier created and spearheaded the annual Weekend of Twinning’s of Mosques and Synagogues across the globe; the annual meetings of the Gathering of European Muslim and Jewish Leaders (GEMJL) in Paris and Brussels; multiple unity missions to the United States by Muslim and Jewish Leaders from around the world; and the first Summit of Rabbis and Imams. Rabbi Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali are the co-authors of Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.
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