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US Jewish activists stand with Muslim allies at interfaith rally

Jewish activists rally in Washington in support of Muslims as two faiths come together to reject bigotry
'Targeting all Muslims is a horror movie that we Jews are all too familiar with' (MEE/ Molly McCluskey)

WASHINGTON DC - Three nights before the beginning of Hanukkah, Jewish advocacy groups organised protests against Islamophobia in 25 cities around the United States. In the nation’s capital, the demonstration, coupled with a march to the White House, was another event in a year that has seen multiple alliances between the two faiths.

In Washington DC, the rally began at 1717 Pennsylvania Ave NW, a block and a half from the White House and home of the offices of the Clarion Project, a nonprofit organization that lists its mission as "challenging Islamic extremism through facts". However, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called it an "extremist" organisation that peddles "anti-Muslim conspiracy theories".

The site also reportedly houses President-elect Donald Trump's transition team and the new consulting firm founded by the controversial former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

The rally was the latest ripple in a groundswell of interfaith support for religious freedom in a year that has seen a rise in hate crimes, particularly in the six weeks since the US presidential election, with the SPLC counting more than 1,000 bias-related incidents in the month immediately following the results.

A week after Trump's victory, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) announced the launch of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, although leaders of the new group said the coalition had been planned prior to the election.

"We are here three days before the beginning of Hanukkah, called the festival of lights, to gather as Jews and allies to shine light on institutional racism, to shine light on white supremacy and to shine light on the hate that the Clarion Project represents," said Alison Glick, Jewish Voice for Peace's local chapter coordinator, and an organiser of the event.

"There is a direct connection between the anti-Islamic work of the Clarion Project and their work against Palestinian rights. We know that connection. We are going to shine light on it. And we are going to root it out from this city, and this country."

With about 100 people gathered, the groups held handmade and professionally printed signs, reading "Jews for Muslims" and "Jews and Muslims Are Stronger Together," and a large banner reading, "If You Want Peace, Work for Justice. End the Israeli Occupation".

Speakers revved the crowd, which chanted like fans at a sporting match. They took breaks so that those in attendance could call the offices of Tishman Speyer, which owns the building where the Clarion Project is housed, to demand the real estate giant terminate the organisation's lease.

The Clarion Project did not respond to a request for comment from Middle East Eye.

US Jewish groups have expressed solidarity with Muslims (MEE/ Molly McCluskey)

Mirriam Seddiq, founder of the American Muslim Women Political Action Committee, who did not attend the rally, said the support for Muslims from the Jewish community is quintessentially American.

"If we have shared American values, which are we believe in the First Amendment [of the US Constitution] and freedom of religion, then every American should be willing to stand up for every other American's right for that, regardless of whatever their foreign-policy perspectives are," Seddiq told MEE.

"I would hope that all day, every day an American Jew would support an American Muslim and their right to live their lives without harassment and bigotry. And it works both ways, that Muslims would speak up for Jews if needed."

Mike Ghouse, founder of the Center for Pluralism in Texas, said that when people stand up for each other everyone remains protected.

"Muslims are simply indebted with gratitude for this beautiful outpouring of support," Ghouse told MEE.

Muslim registry

Among the calls for action at the rally was the end to the proposed Muslim registry and ban of Muslim immigrants to the US. Then-candidate Trump proposed a watchlist of American Muslims in 2015 "to protect America," and he reiterated his support for the proposals again this week, telling reporters: "You know my plans."

'There's absolutely value to these partnerships, because if you add any materials to any fence, that fence becomes stronger.'

-Mirriam Seddiq, founder of the American Muslim Women Political Action Committee

Think-tanks, faith-based policy organisations and other nonprofit institutions have derided the registry. The American Jewish Coalition called the idea "noxious".

"Targeting all Muslims is a horror movie that we Jews are all too familiar with,"  AJC CEO David Harri said in a statement. "It can easily lead to heightened discrimination, persecution, and scapegoating. In the United States, there is no place – no place, whatsoever – for this kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric."

The morning after the rally, President Barack Obama moved to dismantle procedures created after the 11 September 2001 attacks to register and surveil immigrants from mostly Muslim countries.

The programme, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, was developed under the George W Bush administration and required all males over the age of 14 from more than 20 Muslim countries to register with the US government when they arrive, and leave, the country. They had to be fingerprinted and were only allowed to enter and leave the US through designated ports, or face arrest and deportation.

"Registering and tracking Muslim visitors to the United States is not only discriminatory but a tremendous waste of our nation's national security resources," Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR) Government Affairs director Robert McCaw said in a statement. "CAIR will offer a legal challenge to any Trump administration attempt to resurrect or expand NSEERS to target Muslims residing in the United States."

Ghouse said Obama's gesture is just that - a gesture.

"There is always someone who can resurrect [the NSEERS program] if they really want it," Ghouse said.

Several US technology companies have said they will refuse to help the incoming administration build a Muslim registry if asked.  

For Seddiq, the budding coalitions offer a bright spot in what are expected to be challenging times ahead.

"There's absolutely value to these partnerships, because if you add any materials to any fence, that fence becomes stronger," she told MEE. "It is amazing to me that this Muslim Jewish coalition has been gaining such momentum. Who would think that would have happened in such a way?"