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March 2, 2016 2

Recent Controversies in Egypt Illustrate Anti-Israel Sentiment Still Prevalent

Recent con­tro­ver­sies in Egypt illus­trate the preva­lence of anti-Israel sen­ti­ment in a coun­try which has had a peace agree­ment with Israel since 1979.

The lat­est inci­dent involved a din­ner invi­ta­tion by Egypt­ian Par­lia­men­tar­ian Taw­fiq Okasha to Israeli Ambas­sador Haim Koren. Okasha, a TV per­son­al­ity who has a his­tory of mak­ing anti-Semitic remarks on his show, was sub­se­quently ousted from Egypt’s Par­lia­ment after being accused of engag­ing in nor­mal­iza­tion efforts towards Israel. He was also phys­i­cally attacked byan­other Par­lia­men­tar­ian, Kamal Ahmad, who hurled his shoe at Okasha in protest.In a video, Ahmad explained that his action was intended not only toward Okasha, but also toward the Knes­set and the “Zion­ist Entity.” The Al-Yawm As-Sabi news site hosts a video game where play­ers can use a shoe to hit Okasha across the face. At the top of the screen appears the title “Con­grat­u­la­tions, Okasha”, and he is depicted with a black eye in the back­drop of the Israeli flag.

MP Tawfik Okasha (right) hosts Israeli ambassador Haim Koren.

MP Taw­fik Okasha (right) hosts Israeli ambas­sador Haim Koren.

Another exam­ple of anti-Israel sen­ti­ment in Egypt occurred ear­lier this month when the Cairo Inter­na­tional Book Fair fea­tured an Israeli book, Ara­bian Nights.Com, which was writ­ten by Israel Army Radio’s Arab affairs ana­lyst Jackie Hougie. Its inclu­sion resulted in Par­lia­men­tar­ian Muham­mad Al-Masud demand­ing that Egypt’s Cul­ture Min­is­ter launch an inves­ti­ga­tion into the deci­sion to sell the book at the fair.

And a few weeks prior to that, Egypt­ian author­i­ties ordered the can­cel­ing of a screen­ing of Israeli film The Band’s Visit. The film, from 2007, tells the story of an Egypt­ian band arriv­ing in Israel, and deals with the issue of coex­is­tence between Israelis and Egyp­tians. When the issue became pub­lic, Mohammed Munir, the Gov­er­nor of the Cairo Dis­trict, ordered that the screen­ing be can­celed, and announced an inves­ti­ga­tion to deter­mine which offi­cial had ini­tially approved the film screening.

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February 10, 2016 2

The Marrakesh Declaration

By Rabbi David Fox Sand­mel
ADL Direc­tor of Inter­faith Affairs

As a pro­fes­sional in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity who works on inter­faith rela­tions, I am often asked “why aren’t Mus­lims speak­ing out against ter­ror­ism and ISIS?” The answer is that, in fact, many Mus­lims have done so. Equally impor­tant is for reli­gious lead­ers to speak out and address the root causes of extrem­ism in their com­mu­nity, and find ways of dis­cour­ag­ing ter­ror­ist activ­ity, par­tic­u­larly among youth who are con­sid­ered among the most sus­cep­ti­ble pop­u­la­tions. In this regard, one of the most hope­ful ini­tia­tives, some­thing that has not got­ten much atten­tion in the main­stream media, is the “Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion,” released at the end of last month.

The “Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion” is the prod­uct of a gath­er­ing of Mus­lim lead­ers from more than 100 coun­tries around the world spon­sored by the Moroc­can gov­ern­ment and the Forum for Pro­mot­ing Peace in Mus­lim Soci­eties.  At the meet­ing, Mus­lim lead­ers heard sev­eral tes­ti­monies about the grave sit­u­a­tion of var­i­ous reli­gious minori­ties in Muslim-majority countries.

Marrakesh Declaration

At the end of the meet­ing, the Mus­lim schol­ars who gath­ered in Mar­rakesh released the “Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion,” a brief state­ment that in which they:

  • Call upon Mus­lim schol­ars and intel­lec­tu­als around the world to develop a jurispru­dence of the con­cept of “cit­i­zen­ship” which is inclu­sive of diverse groups. Such jurispru­dence shall be rooted in Islamic tra­di­tion and prin­ci­ples and mind­ful of global changes.
  • Urge Mus­lim edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions and author­i­ties to con­duct a coura­geous review of edu­ca­tional cur­ric­ula that addresses hon­estly and effec­tively any mate­r­ial that insti­gates aggres­sion and extrem­ism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruc­tion of our shared societies;
  • Call upon politi­cians and deci­sion mak­ers to take the polit­i­cal and legal steps nec­es­sary to estab­lish a con­sti­tu­tional con­trac­tual rela­tion­ship among its cit­i­zens, and to sup­port all for­mu­la­tions and ini­tia­tives that aim to for­tify rela­tions and under­stand­ing among the var­i­ous reli­gious groups in the Mus­lim World;
  • Call upon the edu­cated, artis­tic, and cre­ative mem­bers of our soci­eties, as well as orga­ni­za­tions of civil soci­ety, to estab­lish a broad move­ment for the just treat­ment of reli­gious minori­ties in Mus­lim coun­tries and to raise aware­ness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the suc­cess of these efforts.
  • Call upon the var­i­ous reli­gious groups bound by the same national fab­ric to address their mutual state of selec­tive amne­sia that blocks mem­o­ries of cen­turies of joint and shared liv­ing on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviv­ing this tra­di­tion of con­vivi­al­ity, and restor­ing our shared trust that has been eroded by extrem­ists using acts of ter­ror and aggression;
  • Call upon rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the var­i­ous reli­gions, sects and denom­i­na­tions to con­front all forms of reli­gious big­otry, vil­i­fi­ca­tion, and den­i­gra­tion of what peo­ple hold sacred, as well as all speech that pro­mote hatred and big­otry; AND FINALLY,
  • AFFIRM that it is uncon­scionable to employ reli­gion for the pur­pose of aggress­ing upon the rights of reli­gious minori­ties in Mus­lim countries.

Lest any­one think that this is a depar­ture from “tra­di­tional” Islamic teach­ing, the Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion explic­itly traces its ances­try to the Char­ter (or Con­sti­tu­tion) of Med­ina.  Accord­ing to Mus­lim tra­di­tion, this Char­ter was writ­ten by the prophet Muham­mad in 622 C.E. in an effort to end polit­i­cal strife in the city; it guar­an­tees auton­omy and free­dom of reli­gion to the res­i­dence of Med­ina, includ­ing, explic­itly, its Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion.  While the Char­ter is not a mod­ern doc­u­ment and reflects the his­tor­i­cal set­ting in which it was cre­ated, the prin­ci­ple of reli­gious free­dom is found in the Quran itself and other clas­sic Islamic sources.

The threat of Mus­lim extrem­ism is real, dan­ger­ous, and must be taken seri­ously; even though it rep­re­sents a small minor­ity of Mus­lims, we have wit­nessed its tragic con­se­quences.  The vast major­ity of Mus­lims (and let us not for­get that it is Mus­lims them­selves who are most often the tar­get of these extrem­ists) reject the ter­ror­ists and their ide­ol­ogy.  The Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion is an impor­tant, but cer­tainly not the only, exam­ple of Mus­lims speak­ing unequiv­o­cally, from their own tra­di­tion, against extrem­ism, ter­ror, and the infringe­ment of reli­gious free­dom.  It is a pity that this and other efforts have not gar­nered the atten­tion they deserve.

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January 29, 2016 0

McCarthyism and the Latest Im Tirtzu Campaign

As Amer­i­cans, we remem­ber the crit­i­cal moment that turned around the cam­paign of intim­i­da­tion by Sen­a­tor Joe McCarthy in the 1950’s. As the Sen­a­tor was bad­ger­ing another young Amer­i­can, this time a sol­dier, accus­ing him of com­mu­nism and smear­ing his rep­u­ta­tion, the coun­sel for the defense, Joseph Welch, sud­denly blurted out: “Mr. McCarthy, have you no decency?”

That com­ment, seen by the nation in those early days of tele­vi­sion, seemed to break the spell that the Wis­con­sin sen­a­tor had held over sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of Amer­i­can soci­ety, ruin­ing count­less lives in the process.

It is our hope that Im Tirtzu’s lat­est assault on the good name of some of Israel’s cul­tural icons — Amos Oz, Chava Alber­stein, A.B. Yehoshua, David Gross­man, to name a few — is the one step too far that awak­ens Israeli soci­ety to the dan­gers posed to demo­c­ra­tic val­ues from such assaults.

Im Tirtzu Campaign

Im Tirtzu Campaign

Israel faces many real secu­rity chal­lenges, as evi­denced by the hor­rific mur­ders and attacks tak­ing place almost daily, and the inter­na­tional assaults against Israel’s good name. Exactly because there are real threats is why pro­tect­ing Israel’s demo­c­ra­tic val­ues becomes even more impor­tant. Respect­ing the right to free expres­sion, despite moments of dis­com­fit, ensures a full exchange of views on what’s best for the coun­try and offers the best chance of bring­ing peo­ple together. And inter­na­tion­ally, it is Israel’s demo­c­ra­tic ethos, unique to the Mid­dle East, which gains Israel respect despite the hos­tile cam­paigns that are waged against it.

It is good to see that a num­ber of Israeli gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, includ­ing the Prime Min­is­ter, have con­demned the lat­est Im Tirtzu cam­paign. And it was appro­pri­ate that Im Tirtzu even­tu­ally issued an apol­ogy for their cam­paign malign­ing Israel’s cul­tural icons.

Now we can hope all sides, left and right, will take a step back and recom­mit to the fun­da­men­tal pro­tec­tion of and respect for free­dom of expres­sion as at the core of Israel’s val­ues and well-being.

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