Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to sit in the U.S. Congress, praised on Tuesday recent efforts by Muslim and Jewish leaders in the U.S. and France to win the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit as representative of a new cooperative spirit between the Muslim and Jewish communities.
This effort shows the willingness of prominent Muslims and Jews in the U.S., France and elsewhere to speak up for each other, Rep. Ellison commented.
In August, Rep. Ellison joined other prominent American Islamic leaders in calling for Hamas to release Shalit on humanitarian grounds.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and an advocate for improved Muslim-Jewish relations, encouraged the congressman and other American Muslims to pursue this effort. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and Prof. Akbar Ahmed of American University were among 11 prominent Muslim leaders who signed a letter to Hamas leader Khaled Mashal.
Rabbi Schneier also organized a dinner in New York, which Shalits father, Noam Shalit, attended with several of the Muslim leaders and thanked them for their efforts on his sons behalf. Rabbi Michel Serfaty, president of the Judeo-Muslim Friendship Society of France, was then asked to facilitate a meeting between Noam Shalit and 15 French Muslim leaders who also appealed to Hamas to free Gilad Shalit.
Noting that prominent Jewish leaders recently issued a statement denouncing the heinous arson attack on a mosque in northern Israel, Rep. Ellison remarked, I am glad that more Jews and Muslims are standing together. Lets hope these actions continue and ultimately lead to peace.
Among other recent events showing the new willingness of Muslim and Jewish leaders to stand together when one or the other is under attack, were statements last spring by Dr. Syeed of ISNA denouncing the refusal of Hamas to allow a Palestinian student delegation to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, and an appearance by Rabbi Schneier at a Times Square rally denouncing as Islamophobic Congressional hearings into the American Muslim community spearheaded by Rep Peter King (R-NY).
In August, as a further sign of a thaw in relations between the two communities, a number of American Muslim leaders attended a Ramadan Iftar (break fast) event at the home of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.