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Meryl Chertoff Headshot
Samah A. Norquist Headshot

Stay the Course on Interfaith Dialogue

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If all goes according to current reports, some time in September, the Palestinian Authority will submit a resolution declaring statehood to the Security Council of the United Nations. While the United States and possibly other Council members are widely expected to veto the resolution, the PA may take its case to the General Assembly, where the US does not have a veto. A vote in support of the resolution there, while not binding, would pave the way for member nations to recognize a Palestinian state.

This is a highly charged and controversial matter in the U.S., no more so than for two groups, American Jews and Arab-Americans. The pending resolution is already splitting the American Jewish community, with many actively engaged in efforts to secure a US veto of the Security Council resolution, and some arguing that recognition of a Palestinian state could actually advance the peace process. Many Arab-Americans, by contrast, identify with the aspirations for self-determination of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza, a sentiment further fueled by the dramatic developments of the Arab Spring.

This is likely to be a divisive time among U.S. religious and political advocacy organizations working on behalf of both sides. It carries the risk of creating a wedge in what has been a major accomplishment in a different area: the ongoing engagement of these organizations on US interfaith cooperation and religious pluralism. Such a rift would be tragic. Whatever disagreements there may be on foreign policy issues, now more than ever, it is essential that all Americans work together to defeat the forces of hate and intolerance that threaten our core value of religious pluralism and religious liberty

Just recently, the world watched in horror as an episode of sectarian violence rocked Norway. We have seen a number of similar incidents in Europe the bombing of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons deliberately insulting to the Prophet Mohammed, synagogue bombings, and now the murder of the sons and daughters of members of a political party perceived to be working for religious tolerance. We can breathe a sigh of relief that this sort of violence has not arrived on US shores, but we can in no way consider ourselves immune. Indeed, the escalating war of words here directed at disfavored religious ethnic and religious minorities carries with it the risk that loan wolves or extremist factions may escalate from agitation to action.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the Arab American Institute, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and others have a long history of countering this sort of violent extremism. Through educational and community-building projects around the country, they have fostered positive interfaith encounters, educated young people and teachers and built critical personal and organizational bridges. Now, they must be vigilant. They cannot permit themselves to be pulled by the views of members who may try to hold hostage their essential anti-bias mission to the debate on Palestinian statehood. This would be a good time for those on all sides to recognize that there are areas where we must agree to disagree. What unites us, whatever our religious or ethnic heritage, is a common commitment to protect the free exercise of religion by all Americans, and by the need to build bridges among people of many diverse backgrounds to build a strong, inclusive nation.