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American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America Strengthen Bonds Amid Acts of Bigotry

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***HFR*** HOLD FOR RELEASE FOR STORY BY RACHEL ZOLL*** From left, Eftakhar Alam, with the Washington Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld; Eli Epstein; Belle Yoeli and Ken Bandler, with the American Jewish Committee, meet with staff members from the office of Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017. Bigoted rhetoric and harassment targeting both religions since the 2016 presidential election has drawn people together. VOA

They sat on either end of the congressmen’s couch, one a Jewish healthcare executive whose parents fled Germany in 1936, the other the Kashmiri Muslim chairman of a well-known American furniture chain. The men, Stanley Bergman and Farooq Kathwari, came to draw attention to an outbreak of hate crimes. But Bergman and Kathwari hoped their joint appearance would also send a broader message: that U.S. Jews and Muslims could put aside differences and work together.

“What drove us was the growing prejudice that has emerged in the United States,” Bergman said. “What starts small, from a historical point of view, often grows into something big.”

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The men lead the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, created last year by the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America, amid a flowering of alliances between members of the two faiths. U.S. Muslim and Jewish groups have been trying for years to make common cause with mixed success, often derailed by deep divisions over Israel and the Palestinians.

But bigoted rhetoric and harassment targeting both religions since the presidential election has drawn people together. Jews have donated to repair mosques that were defaced or burned. Muslims raised money to repair vandalized Jewish cemeteries. Rabbis and imams marched together against President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries.

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“I would never have thought I would see some people in conversation, or anywhere near each other. Then I saw people on Facebook standing next to each other at protests — Muslims and Jews,” said Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change in Los Angeles, which has run community relationship-building programs for more than a decade.

Yet despite this surge of goodwill, questions remain about whether these new connections can endure. The sense of vulnerability Muslims and Jews share, and their need for allies at a difficult time, have not erased tensions that in the past have kept them apart.

“This is a start and we’ll see how it goes,” said Talat Othman, a financial industry executive and Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council member, who offered an Islamic prayer at the 2000 Republican National Convention. “We are hopeful.”

Jews and Muslims comprise the two largest non-Christian faith groups in the United States and have a long history of trying to work together.

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The chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, initiated a dialogue with Muslims in 1956, according to documents in the school’s archive. Rabbi Jack Bemporad, a pioneer in Muslim-Jewish dialogue and founder the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey, said his efforts started in the 1970s when he led a Dallas synagogue and local imams started attending his weekly Bible classes.

Over the years, many initiatives on improving relations between the two faiths were organized internationally by governments and peace groups, while some American synagogues and mosques attempted to build friendships locally. Some progress was made, yet relations were often derailed when violence, war and policy disputes erupted in the Middle East.

In Los Angeles, Hasan said local discussions between Muslim and Jewish leaders would falter when participants from one faith would demand those of the other condemn an action in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “It would go back and forth, then eventually Jews asked Muslims to condemn something they couldn’t so they walked away from the table,” Hasan said.

Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, prompting a backlash against American Muslims, and efforts to create connections with Jews began moving “at warp speed,” said Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a Jewish Theological Seminary scholar and a longtime leader in Muslim-Jewish cooperation. Visotzky’s outreach has ranged from a 2008 global interfaith meeting convened by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to serving collard greens at a soup kitchen alongside members of a New York mosque.

Still, the deep divide over Israel and the Palestinians remained an obstacle. Some Jews and Muslims pledged to avoid any mention of the Mideast as they sought common ground. Others hit the issue up front, but their talks foundered. Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, an educational organization with extensive interfaith programs, said U.S. Muslims and Jews, had become “proxy warriors” for conflicts thousands of miles away.

At the same time, advocates for building ties between the faiths regularly encountered skepticism or outright hostility from within their own communities. “Many Jews feel that Muslims around the world are a source of threat to Jews, then why be in dialogue?” Kurtzer said.

About six years ago, Bemporad organized a conference on Islamic and Jewish law, but the event was closed to the public, in part to avoid pushback against participants. “We had to break the ice somehow,” Bemporad said. “We thought the way we did it, you could be free to say whatever you wanted.”

He said religious leaders working on such projects are much more open now. Still, the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and in support of the Palestinians has further complicated relations.

The movement, known as BDS, is decentralized and its supporters use different strategies, but many backers say interfaith dialogue with Zionists undermines the Palestinian cause. It has become common for American Jewish organizations to draw a hard line against working with backers of BDS — from any faith. Meanwhile, BDS activists consider it traitorous for Muslims to work with supporters of Israel.

This issue came to the fore over the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, which brings American Muslims to Israel to study Judaism and Zionism. Kurtzer said the first year of the program was kept “completely under the radar.” When the participants became known in 2014, Muslims who took part were accused of allowing themselves to be manipulated and violating BDS.

Among the participants was attorney Rabia Chaudry, a specialist in countering extremism and a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights. She acknowledged the risks from participating in the program, but said she did so hoping to find a new way forward. Last October, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago dropped plans to present her an achievement award because of her work with the Shalom Hartman Institute. Chaudry, now a member of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, said she was not angry. “They felt terrible about it. They got even more criticism for rescinding it,” she said.

Since Trump’s election, members of both faiths seem more willing to set aside such differences as they work on civil rights and other issues, said Abdullah Antepli, who was the first Muslim chaplain at Duke University and is co-director of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative.

It’s impossible to know definitively whether harassment based on religion has increased. The FBI’s most recent data on hate crimes is from 2015. Still, the last year or so has seen some dramatic examples of bigotry, including the waves of phoned-in bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers around the country. Mosques in Florida and Texas were recently set on fire, and authorities were investigating whether the suspected arsons could be considered hate crimes.

“It’s particularly a Trump effect,” Antepli said. “External forces make the Muslim and Jewish communities need each other’s friendship.”

When New York Arab-American activist and BDS supporter Linda Sarsour recently helped raise more than $150,000 for the damaged Jewish cemeteries, some Jews debated whether it would be ethical to accept the donation. But in a sign of changing attitudes, several mainstream Jewish leaders who had worked with her previously defended her.

This new dynamic was evident at a recent New York vigil organized by the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a national organization that brings together Muslim and Jewish women. The gathering at the Jewish Theological Seminary was part of the organization’s response to Trump’s travel ban. At their vigil, they walked to the front of the room in pairs — a Muslim and a Jew — to offer readings and prayers in Arabic and Hebrew. After the ceremony, the women hugged and posed together for selfies.

“There’s a sense of immediate rapport and connection,” said Donna Cephas, a national board member of the Sisterhood, which has added dozens of chapters in the past year. “There is a significant yearning to be in community with people who stand for what we stand for.” (VOA)

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World’s Oldest Board Game Backgammon Being Used by Jerusalem Double to unite Jews and Arabs

Backgammon is acting as a peace maker between Israelis and Palestinians. Every one in Middle-East irrespective of one's religion has an attachment with this game.

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Backgammon- An ancient board game that is acting as a bond to unify Jews and Arabs.
Backgammon- An ancient board game that is acting as a bond to unify Jews and Arabs. Pixabay.
  • An ancient game turning out to be a peace maker between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem
  • Backgammon is a deeply rooted game in the Middle-East, which is uniting segregated neighbors
  • Backgammon is one of the oldest board games in the world

Jerusalem, September 11, 2017: No one had ever imagined the power of Backgammon. And about how this ancient game could act as a game changer in the Middle-East.

Backgammon is one of the world’s oldest board games that is currently being used to bring back peace in the Middle-East.

Jerusalem Double project is a series of Backgammon tournament that takes place in Jerusalem. It is an inter cultural initiative by Jerusalem Foundation to create more interaction between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel is the only Jewish state in the world which is located just at the east of Mediterranean Sea. Jew is a word used for those people who profess Judaism irrespective of the place they live in.

Palestinians consist of the Arab population that hails from the land which is now controlled by Israel. They want to establish a state by the name “Palestine” on all or part of the land, which is currently controlled by Israel.

“We wanted to bring Jews and Arabs together beyond the daily grind. We wanted to create a joint cultural event in which everyone can share and we wanted to create cross over between neighborhoods that for generations have been completely segregated”, believes Zaki Djemal from Jerusalem Foundation.

Jerusalem Double chose Backgammon as a medium to break the walls between the Jews and Arabs because Backgammon is deeply rooted in the Middle-east. It is highly accessible and inclusive.

Initially, the project Jerusalem Double had faced a lot of resistance from both the communities. But, they went against the wind and left no stone unturned to make this project work. As a result, the Backgammon proved to be a catalyst towards a positive change.

In 2106, when the first Backgammon championship had happened, only 150 people showed up. But this time, 250 people participated in the tournament and competed for a cash prize of 6,000 USD.

Play can create empathy between strangers and apparent enemies and it can give us the confidence that we need to trust in each other and in the world we have been slighted, even after we have experienced pain, suffering, and fear said Zaik Djemal.

Backgammon is an outstanding initiative towards a peaceful morning in the Middle-East.

-prepared by Shivani Chowdhary of NewsGram. Twitter handle: @cshivani31

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Nazi Protests in American Soil and Obsession with Jews: “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville (US) suffuses with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Black Racism Logic

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted

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Anti Semitism and white supremacy
A man holding up a sign reading "Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite". Wikimedia
  • “Unite the Right” rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia was about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee
  • The rally soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism
  • President Trump blamed both the sides for the violence 

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: The “Unite the Right” rally On Saturday, August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was seemingly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee, spreading the message of white supremacy, was soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism.

Saturday evening in a Jewish home is a sight to watch. Some look forward to restart their work, others pleased to use their cell phones again. Whatever it be, the end of Sabbath is an auspicious time when the holiness leaves, giving way to the regular week again. One makes the best of this time, to be able to deliver the approaching week happily, the reason why people at this time wish each other a “Shauva Tov,” or a good week.

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted.

“I was in Israel and as I breathed the spices our sages teach us to comfort our soul while we lose our Shabbat spirits, this ritual barely prepared me for the news that was waiting on the other side. I turned my phone on, only to learn that a rally of White Supremacists and neo-Nazis took place in Charlottesville, Virginia and that those in attendance were shouting that ‘Jews will not replace us’ I realized immediately that it was not, in fact, going to be a shavua tov,” Said Jessica Spengler in a report published in Manhattan Jewish Experience website.

President Trump, two days later, blamed both the sides for the violence in Charlottesville. “I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now,” He said, according to The New York Times report.

In a reaction to which, “Our president not only held counter-protesters to the same moral deficiency as the Nazis themselves but also claimed that not all people at the Unite The Right rally were antisemites. That might technically be true but not the kind of unequivocal condemnation of racism and bigotry we need to hear from the top,” Jessica mentioned.

ALSO READ: Jewish cemetery becomes the fresh hunt of rising Antisemitism in US

“I rarely speak of Israel as a safe haven also since America has been a safe option for Jews for as long as I’ve been alive. The 1800’s saw large waves of immigration to the land of Israel due to the pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe. The rising anti-Semitism reinforced in Europe by 20th century Fascism brought, even more, refugees to what would eventually become the Jewish State. But here’s the kicker: as a Jewish American, I never had to put myself in their shoes. After all, we live in America! But the images of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with swastikas in America in 2017 jolted me and got me thinking…maybe Israel is still needed as a safe haven even for us?” Jessica who’s herself a Jew living in America added.

Jessica believes it’s our responsibility to confront racism and all forms of bigotry, particularly anti-Semitism. She finds it important to speak against the bigotry in America but holds, that to continue to strengthen Israel is equally essential.

– prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha

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Internet Firms Initiate Steps to Counter Online Hate speech and Incitements to Violence

Internet companies have increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs over hate speech and other volatile social issues

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Daily Stormer
GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving joins the celebration during New York Stock Exchange opening bell ceremonies for his company's IPO, April 1, 2015. VOA
  • The internet domain registration of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer was revoked twice in less than 24 hours
  • After GoDaddy revoked Daily Stormer’s registration, the website turned to Alphabet’s Google Domains
  • Twitter, Facebook, Google’s YouTube and other platforms have ramped up efforts to combat the social media efforts of Islamic militant groups, largely in response to pressure from European governments

The internet domain registration of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer was revoked twice in less than 24 hours in the wake of the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a broad move by the tech industry in recent months to take a stronger hand in policing online hate speech and incitements to violence.

GoDaddy, which manages internet names and registrations, disclosed late Sunday via Twitter that it had given Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider, saying it had violated GoDaddy’s terms of service.

The white supremacist website helped organize the weekend rally in Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man plowed a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist rally.

After GoDaddy revoked Daily Stormer’s registration, the website turned to Alphabet’s Google Domains. The Daily Stormer domain was registered with Google shortly before 8 a.m. Monday PDT (1500 GMT) and the company announced plans to revoke it at 10:56 a.m., according to a person familiar with the revocation.

As of late Monday, the site was still running on a Google-registered domain. Google issued a statement but did not say when the site would be taken down.

ALSO READ: People who use Internet a lot may experience increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure when they go offline: Scientists

Caught in the middle

Internet companies have increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs over hate speech and other volatile social issues, with politicians and others calling on them to do more to police their networks while civil libertarians worry about the firms suppressing free speech.

Twitter, Facebook, Google’s YouTube and other platforms have ramped up efforts to combat the social media efforts of Islamic militant groups, largely in response to pressure from European governments. Now they are facing similar pressures in the United States over white supremacist and neo-Nazi content.

Facebook confirmed Monday that it took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Facebook allows people to organize peaceful protests or rallies, but the social network said it would remove such pages when a threat of real-world harm and affiliation with hate organizations becomes clear.

“Facebook does not allow hate speech or praise of terrorist acts or hate crimes, and we are actively removing any posts that glorify the horrendous act committed in Charlottesville,” the company said in a statement.

Several companies acted

Several other companies also took action. Canadian internet company Tucows stopped hiding the domain registration information of Andrew Anglin, the founder of Daily Stormer. Tucows, which was previously providing the website with services masking Anglin’s phone number and email address, said Daily Stormer had breached its terms of service.

“They are inciting violence,” said Michael Goldstein, vice president for sales and marketing at Tucows, a Toronto-based company. “It’s a dangerous site and people should know who it is coming from.”

Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.

Discord, a 70-person San Francisco company that allows video gamers to communicate across the internet, did not mince words in its decision to shut down the server of Altright.com, an alt-right news website, and the accounts of other white nationalists.

“We will continue to take action against white supremacy, Nazi ideology, and all forms of hate,” the company said in a tweet Monday. Altright.com did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Twilio Chief Executive Jeff Lawson tweeted Sunday that the company would update its use policy to prohibit hate speech. Twilio’s services allow companies and organizations, such as political groups or campaigns, to send text messages to their communities.

Arbiters of acceptable speech

Internet companies, which enjoy broad protections under U.S. law for the activities of people using their services, have mostly tried to avoid being arbiters of what is acceptable speech.

But the ground is now shifting, said one executive at a major Silicon Valley firm. Twitter, for one, has moved sharply against harassment and hate speech after enduring years of criticism for not doing enough.

Facebook is beefing up its content monitoring teams. Google is pushing hard on new technology to help it monitor and delete YouTube videos that celebrate violence.

All this comes as an influential bloc of senators, including Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, is pushing legislation that would make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking of women and children.

That measure, despite the noncontroversial nature of its espoused goal, was met with swift and coordinated opposition from tech firms and internet freedom groups, who fear that being legally liable for the postings of users would be a devastating blow to the internet industry. (VOA)