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British Jews, Muslims issue joint call for peace

Published time: August 28, 2014 10:30
Demonstrators hold placards as they gather near the Israeli embassy in central London.(AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

Demonstrators hold placards as they gather near the Israeli embassy in central London.(AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

British Muslim and Jewish leaders have issued a joint statement calling for interfaith cooperation and condemnation of civilian deaths in Gaza, saying they should not “import conflict,” but rather “export peace.”

The Jewish Board of Deputies and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) condemned civilian deaths and expressions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism, calling on both communities to “redouble efforts to work together and get to know one another.”

In the wake of mass protests and a spike in anti-Semitism in the UK, the statement acknowledged both sides had “deeply held views about the conflict in Israel and Palestine” and disagreements over its origins and solutions, but insisted there are many points of agreement.

“The death of every civilian is a tragedy, and every effort should be taken to minimize such losses,” the statement reads.

“In spite of the situation in the Middle East, we must continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK. We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead.”

There were, however, differences of opinion following the release of the statement over the implied meaning of the phrase, “The targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.”

The Board argues this can be read as an MCB criticism of Hamas rocket attacks, while the MCB say it concerns both Hamas and the IDF’s targeting of Palestinian civilians. The Board has refused to condemn the IDF or acknowledge it targets civilians.

A spokesman for the Board told the Jewish Chronicle, “We are very clear that the IDF does not target civilians; that’s why we felt able to sign it.”

Jewish men join a protest to support the people of Gaza, in central London.(Reuters / Luke MacGregor)

Nevertheless, the joint statement represents a significant step forward for both groups, which had frozen relations in 2009 when the MCB’s then deputy secretary-general, Daud Abdullah, signed the Istanbul Declaration, threatening violence against Israel supporters and British troops. The MCB has also boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day in recent years.

“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,” the groups said.

With reference to the fresh wave of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the UK, triggered by events in the Middle East, both groups urged caution and responsibility in their protests so that demonstrations and political statements didn’t spill over into racist attacks.

“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,” they said.

The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools. The 250-year-old Jewish Board of Deputies promotes and defends the religious and civil liberties of British Jews.

Up to 80 percent of British Jews say non-Jews blame them for the Israeli government’s actions, according to a recent Institute for Jewish Policy Research study. Most believe the spike is bound up in perceptions of the Israeli state’s actions in Gaza.

Rising anti-Semitism and mass protests against the Israeli assault on Gaza have prompted almost two-thirds of British Jews to question their future in the UK, according to a Jewish Chronicle poll.

Since the Israel Defense Forces’ offensive in Gaza began last month, London has seen a series of large Gaza solidarity rallies, attracting tens of thousands of protesters.

These Gaza solidarity protests, however, have included a visible Jewish presence, with those in attendance calling for a marked distinction to be made between the actions of the Israeli state and the Jewish people as a whole.

More than 2,100 Palestinians have died in the course of Israel’s campaign, which has seen the bombing of UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. On the Israeli side, 68 people have been killed, mainly soldiers.

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